5 Questions: Bevis Longstreth

Bevis Longstreth (Photo by B. Cronin)

By Brian PJ Cronin

Bevis Longstreth, a Garrison resident who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (and a current board member of Highlands Current Inc.), was appointed last year to a six-member panel assigned to consider the effect of climate change on the state’s $209 billion pension fund.

Bevis Longstreth (Photo by B. Cronin)

The Decarbonization Advisory Panel has wrapped up its work. What did it recommend?
The major recommendation is to treat the financial impact of climate change as a matter of urgent risk, to be addressed at the earliest possible time and with a high degree of seriousness and expertise.

There’s a bill on the floor in Albany to force the state to follow the panel’s recommendations. You testified against it. Why?
If a fiduciary has to be told by a legislature to divest [from industries that produce emissions that contribute to global warming], a lot of people would assume that the fiduciary duty by itself wouldn’t bring you to that conclusion. If New York State mandates it by law, it doesn’t have an impact on any other state. But if the comptroller, in the exercise of his fiduciary duty, says, “Hey, I have to decarbonize this portfolio because of the reasons advanced by the panel and my own good common sense” — that kind of leadership would have an impact across the country.

How does the work of the panel fit into the newly approved state climate bill?
It reinforces it. It’s all of a piece, with the urgency of doing all that can be done by the states and by courts and by citizens to achieve the goals of the [2015] Paris climate accord, which are inadequate, so you try to overachieve. Our recommendation was to decarbonize the [pension] portfolio by 2030. There’s a global consensus by the most thoughtful and responsible figures that countries become carbon-neutral by 2050. But if that’s going to be the case, investors better get out a lot earlier than that.

The report urges the state to “start where it can and grow ambition swiftly.” Why is that?
You don’t start writing a novel by imagining what happens on every page. You start at the beginning. It’s like driving from New York to Boston in the dark. You go along the road as far as your headlights project, and sooner or later you get there. The risks of climate change, and the opportunities, are all there but you have to accept the science and understand the implications. Pacific Gas & Electric didn’t understand the impacts that climate change would have on its business until California burned up and it went into bankruptcy.

What’s next?
I’d love to help wherever I can. Governments will not lead; they need to be driven to this, and it’s hard to convince people they ought to worry. If they have grandchildren, it helps. But things are starting to change. A recent Gallup Poll asked: “Is the seriousness of global warming generally exaggerated or underestimated?” In 2010, you had “exaggerated” at 48 percent and “underestimated” at 25 percent. By 2018, “exaggerated” had dropped to 33 percent and “underestimated” had risen to 41 percent. Those lines have crossed, and they’re moving away from each other at an increasing rate.

2 thoughts on “5 Questions: Bevis Longstreth

  1. Of course these five questions and answers are not the whole story, but taking them for what they are:

    The answer to the second question essentially says, “Be patient and wait for the same greed and self-interest that made capitalists rich by destroying the planet to make them rich by saving it.”

    The answer to the third question seems to contradict the first as it warns investors that destroying the planet isn’t going to be allowed forever.

    As for the third question, we don’t have to imagine what’s going to happen, we already have the five-act structure clearly defined, and we’re headed for the the wrong climax. In Longstreth’s drive in the dark to Boston, the climax has us racing over a cliff into the rising Atlantic, not cruising to a posh self-congratulatory party for investors who slowly understood how to make more money from our planetary emergency.

    What’s next? In question 2 he argues against a government trying to do something. Now he’s blaming them, saying governments are incapable of doing anything. The fifth answer willfully ignores nearly every point in history where people together, with or without governments, have managed to overcome evil, improve humanity, and reverse willful environmental abuse, usually caused by the same antagonists Longstreth wants to come around to helping in their own good time.

    Think about whatever historical precedent inspires you. The time to get a map into the hands of Longstreth and those he’s advising is nearly gone. We should all ignore this advice that the likes of a “smarter” PG&E or Central Hudson will eventually save us, and keep working.