699: Robert Litterman, part 1: A Carbon Tax and Managing Risk

July 11, 2023 by Joshua
in Podcast

I met Bob at a conference on climate at my old school, Columbia Business School. He knew another participant, Gernot Wagner, with whom I recorded an episode I’ll post soon, and was a peer with past guest Mark Tercek. I didn’t work in finance, but I understand Bob and Mark were like deities there.

Bob brings two huge new things to climate (he talks about climate almost exclusively among our environmental problems, though we touch on others briefly in the conversation). First, he knows risk management. Most of his career, he didn’t think much about the environment, but when he learned about it, he identified that we have to manage risk, so he dove into the issue.

Second, he connected with a group of conservative politicians promoting what he sees as the most effective solution: a carbon tax. That he’s working with groups normally seen as resisting climate action could bring people together.

Also, just after we recorded, the New York Times published a big piece on Bob: A Renowned Economist’s New Idea for Stopping Climate Change.

A personal note: I don’t challenge his views because I’m learning them and meeting him. I agree our economic system doesn’t account for pollution and depletion. Without proper accounting, no business can stay in business that long, nor can any government. So I consider proper accounting essential, but it’s only extrinsic. It doesn’t change our culture or the values driving it. Since our culture has abandoned, at least regarding how we treat each other when mediated through the environment, Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You, Live and Let Live, and Leave It Better Than You Found It, a tax won’t fix a values problem.

I didn’t challenge Bob in it in our conversation, but I find when people focus on climate and greenhouse emissions they nearly always “solve” them with “whack-a-mole” ideas that increase biodiversity loss, deforestation, and other problems. They claim they’re solving one thing at a time, but I see them not addressing the culture causing everything.

I look forward to more conversations with him.

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