9 Industries That Are Cashing In as Our Planet Heats Up
Despite the fact that 98% of climatologists accept manmade climate change as a fact, almost a quarter of Americans still believe that climate science is junk science and that global warming is a grand hoax. Major oil companies have poured a lot of money into fueling climate skepticism. But while Big Oil wants to keep the public fooled, the major players in the industry, like Exxon and Shell, know better. They also stand to profit handsomely from a hotter planet. And they are not the only ones. Manmade climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting widespread emission of CO2 into the atmosphere, may be a catastrophe for most humans and non-human species, but for a select group of industries, global warming represents just another opportunity to make money.
Here are nine industries that will profit at the expense of the planet.
1. Big Oil
Its website pretty much says it all: "ExxonMobil believes that it is prudent to develop and implement strategies that address the risks to society associated with increasing [greenhouse gas] emissions." That doesn’t exactly sound like a company denying the fact of climate change. Similarly, Shell Oil, as far back as the 1980s, began planning for the end of the fossil fuel era. “It seemed inevitable that we would decarbonize for many reasons, climate among them,” said Peter Schwartz, who was head futurist at Shell at the time. In 1998, after an in-house study, Shell actually set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10% within four years. Ten years later it even advocated a carbon tax rather than a cap-and-trade strategy, which it deemed more damaging to company profits.
Now the warmer world has presented Big Oil with new ways to make more money. Exxon has partnered with Russia to look for more places to drill for oil in the Arctic seas. With the sea ice rapidly melting, summers are getting longer and it is easier to search for more fossil fuel in the formerly frozen wastelands. Shell has dumped over $6 billion so far into Arctic drilling. With roughly 27 billion barrels of oil suddenly more accessible, Big Oil stands to profit from the hotter world it helped create. “I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska,” a former Shell executive once said at a trade conference.
One species that won’t mind a warmer planet is the mosquito. Ideally suited to sultry conditions, the mosquito and the diseases it carries will proliferate in the coming decades. Already, in the Florida Keys, we are seeing an increasing number of tropical diseases like Dengue fever, which kills tens of thousands of people worldwide every year, and chikungunya, a virus causing high fever and joint pain. Biotech companies like the English firm Oxitec, and eco-capitalist Jason Drew, who has invested $30 million in the firm, are hoping to cash in on the climate-caused crisis. Oxitec has invented a genetically modified male mosquito that sires baby mosquitos that require certain nutrients that are unavailable in the wild, resulting in the death of the young mosquitos. While the goal, to eliminate or at least severely cut down the number of mosquitos, is laudable, the method is not popular among many activists, who fear the unintended consequences of releasing millions of genetically altered Franken-squitos.
3. Flood Control
For years climate scientists have been warning about rising sea levels and the threat to coastal cities, mostly to deaf ears. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy changed all that. Katrina submerged 80% of New Orleans under as much as 20 feet of water. Sandy flooded whole neighborhoods in New York, not to mention the subway tunnels. The weather catastrophes cost billions of dollars and in many ways the affected cities have still not fully recovered, even years later. Enter the “climate change adaptation” industry, including companies like Flood Control America, which constructs invisible steel walls cities can quickly throw up at the threat of major storms. "There is simply too much money invested in coastal real estate — commercial, municipal and residential — to abandon properties to rising sea levels," Bryan Fryklund, an executive at FCA told the theverge.com. FCA has constructed floodwall barriers around communications giant Verizon’s headquarters and Bellevue Hospital in New York, and at New Jersey’s Port Authority.
Flood disaster planning is currently almost a billon-dollar industry and is expected to double by 2020. "The question isn’t whether this industry is going to explode, but by how much," Grant Ferrier, the founder of the marketing firm Environmental Business International, told theverge.com. Meanwhile, Dutch companies like Dutch Docklands, located in a country below sea level and experts at keeping the ocean at bay, are happy to share their expertise — for a price.
4. Air Conditioning
It stands to reason that as the Earth gets hotter, human beings will strive to cool off. The winner in that scenario is the air-conditioning industry and companies like Daikin Industries, which makes energy-efficient air conditoners. In many areas of the country, like Northern California, air conditioning has been relatively unneeded. Not so on a CO2-warmed planet. As the temperature rises in formerly comfortably cool parts of the country, the A/C industry will profit big time.
5. Big Agriculture
Monsanto is a hated name among most environmentalists, but that has never stopped it from making oodles of money, and neither will climate change. Drought is just another word for opportunity for this agribusiness giant. As one of the leaders in the controversial genetically modified organism industry, Monsanto is hard at work developing GMO crop seeds that are drought resistant. Despite the fact that conventional methods have yielded seeds that are as or more resistant to drought as the GMO variety, Monsanto stands to market its products to Africa and other drought-prone markets at a tidy profit. As climate change progresses, the agriculture colossus will no doubt happily adapt to the hotter, drier world.
6. Wall Street
Good times, bad times, it matters not to Wall Street, which is always adaptable enough to figure out new ways to make money off of virtually anything. Wall Street firms like KKR invest in hedge funds that trade in weather derivatives, betting for and against weather disasters. Other firms are buying water rights, in anticipation of worldwide shortages, and water plants. Some like, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, are advising rich clients to buy farmland, betting that a hotter world will need reliable food production.
Huge shipping firms like Beluga and Nordic Bulk Carriers traditionally have had to traverse the Suez Canal or other longer routes in order to deliver goods. The Northeast Passage was not a shipping lane option due to the arctic ice. Thanks to global warming, however, what was formerly a route that could only be used with an icebreaker plowing the path for the cargo ship, has become open seas with a few easily avoided ice floes. No icebreaker needed. At a savings of $300,000 per ship, Beluga stands to increase revenue by millions of dollars a year.
Where some people see disaster, entrepreneurs see opportunity. Such is the case with Israel Desalination Enterprises. Watching the trends at ski resorts worldwide and seeing the increasing temperatures and decreasing amount of natural snow, IDE swooped in, and using its reverse-osmosis methods that allow snowmaking in warm weather, has kept skiers swooshing down the slopes. IDE also makes desalination plants that turn salt water into drinking water, a necessity that some cities, like Santa Barbara, Calif., are already considering in the increasingly dry world.
In 2012, 97% of the ice cover in Greenland melted during the summer months — the first time in 123 years. That was ominous news for climate scientists and the world in general, but sweet opportunity for mining companies, which now had the chance to dig in formerly ice-coated areas of the Arctic for rich mineral resources like zinc, iron ore, uranium, copper, and gold. Despite environmental concerns about mining and the resulting pollution, Greenland has opened the gates to mining concerns in order to employ its people. Meanwhile, Alcoa, the giant aluminum company, hopes to build a huge aluminum smelter there, powered by all that flowing melting water.