“Was that you I saw in the crowd on the Saturday of the Headingly test against the Kiwis, dressed as, ahem, a generic cartoon frog?” I asked the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company Kermitted Asset Management when we caught up last week. “Don’t be silly,” he replied. “The days of me doing my own marketing stunts are long gone – and, anyway, I have graduate trainees for that now.
“No, I was doing something far more appropriate to my age that weekend – hanging out at Glastonbury.” “Of course you were,” I nodded. “Paul McCartney, Diana Ross and a spot of Greta Thunberg to help ease things through expenses?” “More Kendrick Lamar, Billy Eilish and paying my own way with great pleasure,” countered the chairman.
“Much as I admire her energy, you know I struggle to buy into Greta’s rather downbeat view of the impending apocalypse – and I imagine she feels the same way about my belief that shrewd asset allocation by the wonderful world of investment is our best hope of a happier ending. So rather than listen to her words, I retired to my modest accommodation in the Tenthouse Suite to ponder the importance of actual language in ESG.”
“Aided by a purchase from one of the Festival’s freelance vendors?” I laughed. “I know we’ve touched on this before,” said the chairman, ignoring me. “But how on earth can we tackle the world’s very biggest problems, if we can’t even find a common way of discussing them? It’s like we need a ‘reverse Babel’ – a blast from on high that gets us speaking the same language rather than creating many different ones.”
“If your solution to all this is divine intervention, I fear the Thunberg thesis just got a good deal more probable,” I sighed. “I admit that prospect did have me languishing in my glamp-site – at least until I head Jack White was making a surprise appearance on the Park stage,” the chairman replied. “But then I had a bit of a revelation.” “Was it in the Woods?” I asked. “The Spinney? Greenfields?”
“The TISA Big Picture Conference,” said the chairman. “More precisely, the panel session on transitioning to a sustainable future, where young Rob Gardner of SJP started talking about the idea of carbon sequestering – and not artificial ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere but taking advantage of Mother Nature. In a good way, I mean – not like we have for the last couple of hundred years.
“Take elephants as an example: while moving through the forest and foraging for food, they reduce the density of smaller trees and plants, leading to an increase in the proportion of larger trees, which leads to more carbon being stored in the forest – and that’s before we get to the more obvious fertilizer benefits. Anyway, don’t you see? A common language has been staring us in the face all along – and it’s one we’re all fluent in!”
“You may need to spell this out,” I prompted. “M-O-N-E-Y,” said the chairman helpfully. “According to a neat little IMF report, The Secret Work of Elephants, from the end of 2020, we can use the average market price of a metric ton of carbon dioxide to arrive at a total present value for the carbon-capture services of African forest elephants. Using the 2019 figure of $25 per ton, that comes to more than $150bn in all – or $1.75m per beast.
“And, given poachers might hope to make around $40,000 from the ivory of one elephant, does environmental economics alone not suggest we should be doing a good deal more to combat the ivory trade – if not actually paying the poachers to stay at home? Same goes for little Greta’s compatriots and other whaling nations, given the carbon-capture services of a single great whale is worth, not millions, but billions of dollars.
“I mean, if the wonderful world of investment can’t solve its communications fractures by putting a monetary value on everything then what hope is there for the world? Except maybe holding out for the discovery of an actual Babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – though presumably we’ll have pushed it to extinction before we discover what it can do.”