In the opening scene of the film, The Graduate, the operative word was “plastics.” Today, Dustin Hoffman is all grown up, though that scene remains a movie classic. For billionaire Jeremy Grantham the new word for this era is “topsoil.” Necessary to feed a burgeoning global population, topsoil is disappearing at the rate of 1% a year. Depending upon where a person lives, just enough good topsoil remains to grow crops for another 30 to 70 years. (“An Investing Prophet Takes on Climate Change,” by Ben Steverman et al, Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan. 21, 2019, pgs. 24-27.) As Grantham observes, “Even without climate change, it would be somewhere between hard and impossible to feed 11.2 billion people,” the number the United Nations predicts will be the world’s population by 2100. (Ibid pg. 24.)
The billionaire’s remarks cross some delicate lines, like the basic right to have children. But, he counters, ”We can’t pretend there are no limits to the planet.” If people refuse to face up to the problem, then, “perhaps they hate their grandchildren.” (Ibid pg. 24.)
Though comfortably among the 1 percenters, Grantham is critical of the wrong turn capitalism has taken. Capitalism, he concedes has “given corporations every conceivable advantage while the man on the street has lost every conceivable advantage.” The last lopsided Republican Tax law, he admits, didn’t help anyone but the rich. The squeeze on unions and Donald Trump’s talk of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change are further complications that move the country toward what he calls a “rogue state.” (Ibid, 26.)
The tycoon isn’t taking the trend sitting down. He’s placing a billion dollar bet he can change it.
Some people are wary of the super-rich. What makes them think they can operate successfully in the public forum, they ask. Grantham’s reply is that he will look at our challenges with “fresh eyes.”
I admit, I’m uncomfortable with Grantham’s confidence. Donald Trump had fresh eyes, but his solutions have become part of the problem. Still, as I’ve written earlier, some of the super-rich are beginning to think as Grantham does. They want to get involved. Frankly, it would be nice to have these men and women walking the same road as the common man. If they don’t walk with us, all of us may live just long enough to see the road end. If they pour their old money into seeking new technologies for the planet, that will be a plus. What’s more, they won’t be the only ones to profit.