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The Stalemate of Green Investing


The mystery of why America continues to rely on foreign oil and contaminate its environment-and subsequently why the green industry holds the promise of becoming a $6 trillion market but remains speculative, volatile and fragmented-is answered in the intriguing book, "The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers and the Fight to Save the Earth" (Eric Pooley, Hyperion, 2010).

The U.S. has continued to shirk leadership on environmental issues, most notably at the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, when it argued that as long as India and China refuse to reduce their exponentially larger carbon emissions, there is no sense in America joining the 37 other industrialized nations in signing an agreement to protect the earth's climate.

Last year, Congress failed to pass a climate bill that would cap and trade carbon emissions and create tax incentives to switch to alternative energy, but it failed only partly because President Obama focused his political capital on the healthcare bill instead.

The far bigger reason, Poole says, is that big oil and coal interests have hired the same Big Tobacco public relations and advertising agencies that told the public cigarettes don't cause cancer, and they have been doing an excellent job at lulling much of the public into believing global warming is a hoax.

Poole concedes that some environmental strides have been made. Obama has "begun the process of regulating carbon dioxide, increased fuel economy standards, passed an $80 billion green stimulus package and created a greenhouse gas reporting system covering 85% of U.S. emissions," he says.

But even with these new regulations and half the states now with emissions reductions plans-without a climate bill and a clear path toward new sources of fuel, there will be no wholesale change in U.S. energy consumption or significant investment by private capital.

For now, green mutual funds mostly invest in isolated pockets of opportunities, with the best investments in countries that have become leaders in alternative energy directly because of cap-and-trade programs: wind capture in Denmark, carbon capture and storage in Norway and electric generation from biomass in Sweden. Ironically, sensing this is the wave of the future, China is now spending a staggering $9 billion a month to develop wind, solar and other clean energy technologies.

Winslow Management, an environmentally focused investment management firm founded in 1983, points to numerous opportunities for sustainable energy growth, the biggest of which is the $64 billion global wind power market, projected to grow 14% a year.

Since Washington has failed to forge a national direction on alternative energy, hopefully these disparate private investments will hit a critical mass-before the earth reaches irreversible global warming tipping points scientists warn against.

It will be up to investors, then, to lead the charge on the environment, make green investing mainstream and boost Winslow's growth projections to become even more compelling.