Grantham's Greenbacks

by | May 19, 2009

Jeremy Grantham is very rich and very worried. According to the Sunday Times, he has donated £24million to fund climate change research – £12million each to the London School of Economics and Imperial College:

Grantham believes climate change could lead to the collapse of Earth’s ecosystems and even threaten human civilisation.

So concerned is Grantham, 70, over this issue that he has set up the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, endowed with £165m of his own money, to fund environmental research and campaigns. From it he is funding the LSE and Imperial donations, and other grants to American groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

This is actually rather old news, which we reported on back in January. But it’s worth another look because, in his exclusive interview with the entirely credulous Sunday Times, Grantham is given full rein to expound on his personal fears and his political prescriptions:

“climate change is turning into the biggest problem humanity has ever faced … We are destroying the planet. We are in the middle of one of the greatest extinctions of species Earth has seen. If it continues unchecked, humanity will soon be running out of food and water … the environment, especially climate change, is going to be the central issue for all society, including business, politics and the economy…

Of course, ‘the environment, especially climate change’, already is ‘the central issue for all society’. We’re rather surprised he hadn’t heard.

But like all establishment greens, that’s not enough for Grantham, who demands no less than the reorganisation of society to save the planet:

…Capitalism and business are going to have to remodel themselves and adapt to a rapidly changing and eventually very different world.”

So the capitalist wants to reorganise capitalism, seemingly in the interests of ‘saving the planet’. To further this objective, he funds organisations with close relationships to the state and academia.

The Sunday Times draws on research conducted last year by Professor Cathy Pharoah, co-director of City University’s Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, who

suspects climate change is such a big problem that many would-be donors do not know how to donate or who to give to.

“Climate change has yet to become an attractive issue for many donors,” she said.

She also found that the top 50 environment charities had income of £977m in 2007 — less than half the £2.1 billion achieved by the 50 top overseas aid charities, such as Oxfam. The National Trust is the organisation that raises the most money — about £63m a year.

The implication is, of course, that climate change charities need more money, and that it’s not right and proper that overseas aid charities should have twice the income. This is rather a strange observation in itself. But it’s not even a useful distinction to draw.

Overseas aid charities have been busy reinventing themselves as climate change charities. Oxfam, for example, has launched its own campaign against power stations in the UK, on the basis that their emissions harm the world’s poor:

Coal or renewable? The old way, or the new. We head right back to dirty energy with E.ON’s Kingsnorth. We destroy our chances of avoiding a climate catastrophe and let climate change push poor people deeper into poverty. Or we innovate and start a clean energy revolution. Now is the time to choose.

In the context of environmentalism in general, these charities have all but dropped their traditional push for overseas development in favour of promoting sustainability, which by its very nature means less development.

And like all establishment greens, Grantham has a rather low view of his fellow humans

“Humanity is largely innumerate,” said Grantham.

“They don’t understand how frightening the numbers behind climate change really are…

‘They’… hmm. Being unfettered by membership of humanity, Grantham is free to see things how they really are:

What’s more, the people who can count, the scientists, are paralysed with fear about overstating their case. They have consistently understated the risk and so allowed politicians to ignore it.”

If ever a claim deserved a bit of journalistic scrutiny, that one does. But instead, the Sunday Times adds its own hand-waving statements about what scientists think into the mix:

Scientists argue, however, that there is little point donating money to save birds, woodlands or coastline from short-term threats if they are simply going to be wiped out by global warming later on.

Would that be all scientists? Most scientists? Some scientists? A scientist? Well, according to the evidence presented in the article, it’s no scientists. Or, at least, no scientists’ opinions are offered to support the claim. Instead, it hands straight back over to Grantham for corroboration:

Grantham agrees. With three grown-up children and his first grandchild on the way, he sees money spent on climate research as an investment in the world his grandchildren will inherit.

He is, however, increasingly pessimistic about what kind of world that will be.

“Our species is very bad at dealing with issues like these, so the outlook is bleak. There is no alternative to doing all we can but I suspect humanity is going to face a lot of grief.”

That one person is able to influence the direction of the climate ‘debate’ to the extent that he funds entire research organisations will be an irony lost on environmentalists. You can safely bet £24 million that none of the £24 million Grantham has invested will be allowed near any research which shows any danger of undermining the political argument for action to stop climate change. Meanwhile, the $22 million that Greenpeace unearthed flowing between Exxon and lobbying organisations between 1998 and 2006 is still held as ‘evidence’ that powerful interests dominate the ‘debate’.


  1. Strange Bedfellow

    If this guy is so concerned why doesn’t he donate all his money instead a few paltry millions? If he seriously believes the Earth would end, isn’t that the correct approach…what’s the use of having any money if we’re all going to be burned to a crisp?

  2. geoffchambers

    On the point about research being tainted by its sources of finance, Monbiot has a new article quoting the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change to the effect that warming is going to be even worse than we thought.. I’ve posted a comment on CiF to point out that this organisation is funded by Exxon, Shell, BP and Total among others. I made the same point to John Vidal, Guardian Environment editor, when he quoted the same research back in March. Comments were swiftly closed on the article and my comments are now subject to moderation, and nearly always refused.
    I find it interesting that Monbiot has utter faith in research financed by Big Oil, though of course no sane human being would believe that the source of funding for research is a valid argument for or against the truth of the findings, would they?

  3. rob

    The difference between Grantham and Exxon of course being that Exxon stands to lose revenue should the public become fearful of climate change, while Grantham is acting as a concerned citizen. I have much more faith in those who donate for a cause rather than to protect revenue.

  4. Ayrdale

    Grantham should be putting his money into projects such as ARGO, studying ocean temperature and heat interchange between the oceans and the atmosphere, and the CLOUD experiment at CERN, studying cloud formation and cosmic ray action.

    But then if he did, he may find that the situation is by no means dire, and that humanity is not on its last legs. Now that wouldn’t do at all would it ?


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