Episode 175: A discussion with climate expert Dr. Michael Dorsey

Today's guest is Dr. Michael Dorsey, Global Energy, Environmental, Finance, and Sustainability Expert. Dr. Dorsey is a serial organization builder and leader in for-profit, non-profit, scholarly, and governmental realms.

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You've done so many different things and so many different aspects of industry, philanthropy, and activism, do you have a personal mission and do you have consistent criteria that you use to assess what projects you get involved with?

That particular question was the one that compelled me to sort of reflect the most because I certainly wouldn't say I have a static strategy for approaching problems. There's certainly been an evolution in the way I look at things and particularly now, given the fact that more of what I do is on the business side as it were, on the money-making side. Call it what you like.

But for me, if there are a few touchstones they would be in general, not so much on the money-making side or on the activism side or philanthropy, but across the board, as it were is looking for things that ultimately can deliver justice in a large way, in a way that is fit for a purpose and at the scale of which we need it in society, and trying to align with individuals and institutions and organizations that share that view. And also similarly, not just sharing the view because like my dad used to say ideas and views are like assholes. Everyone's got one. But really trying to deliver on that notion of delivering justice in a way that is fit for purpose and at the scale to which we need it.

So that's something I think that strives, for me, cuts across what I'm doing. No doubt there are probably folks out there that know some of the projects that I'm involved in that, you know, can be critical about, you know, to what extent is, you know, X doing, you know, that at scale, and look at those other problems in there. But I think in the main, that's something I've been committed to working on. It's something that, you know, I'm part of the Series A round of change finance which is CHGX, the ticker. We went IPO in '17 and it's a fossil-fuel-free ETF. And the CEO there, Andrew, my good buddy, loves to say that basically, we're the and ETF of the Fortune 500 without the 400 largest assholes. But some might complain and say, well it's only narrowly focused on, you know, being fossil fuel free. What about all these other things? What about companies that are, I don't know, doing prison labor. We try to weed those out incidentally, but we have some other screens that we use, not just fossil fuel-free only.

So some might wanna nitpick and say, well, that thing isn't doing enough on justice across the board. But my response would be, it's a vehicle to attempt to deliver on that larger ethos of scaling justice in the biggest possible way to ultimately, hopefully, benefit the greatest number of people. So again, scaling justice that's at scale and fit for purpose and trying to realize that in a big, big way. So, that's something that cuts across both the business work that I do, as well as the advocacy work with different organizations, as well as other sorts of things. And, and ultimately even to some extent, I think personally, trying to actualize that and deliver that.

Is there a specific problem that you're focused on? I mean, you talk about delivering justice. What problem are you aiming to solve with your life work?

Well I'm a subscriber to the idea injustice anywhere really is a threat to justice everywhere, right? So I would say that if we can begin to tackle in a meaningful way, in a meaningful way that reduces things like uncommon equality, reduces the burden that, that we see falling disproportionately on the poorest of the poor in this country, and really around the world.

Of those that are the poorest of the poor, we know we've got great data on this, that those folks that are the poorest of the poor pay a disproportion of income if they have it. And if they don't have income, they pay literally with their health and wellbeing to a crisis that they're contributing the least to, in this case, the climate crisis. So those that are poor but, being poor by definition means you emit less. Poor folks oftentimes don't have a, certainly two cars or two houses. Sometimes don't have a car at all. They're dialed into a public transportation system if they can afford it. Sometimes you see the poorest of the poor are walking long distances. We see this quite often in local media. You hear that story of the guy who walks so many miles and some good Samaritan decided to pony up and get the person a car 'cause they would see that person when they were driving to work.

So we know that those that are at the bottom of our society bear a disproportionate amount of problems, whether it's paying money, whether it's having their health and wellbeing compromised. So I'm trying to attach myself with projects and with investments and with initiatives that I believe can ultimately do something to check that problem. I think that there's an upside there, you know, with change finance to some extent. I believe certainly in, you know, the core of my business is on renewable energy. We do renewable energy at a utility scale. We do a little bit of wind but 99% PV. That delivering that utility (wind and solar) at scale is the secret sauce as it were, and it's not really a secret, but the secret sauce on thwarting the unfolding climate crisis which is absolutely upon us.

And I think right now, our portfolio in Spain, we have just over three gigawatts in development. That right now is 10% of the Spanish target for the whole country for 2030. They have a 30-gigawatt target that they've set in, in motion. So I hope that we will have even a smaller percent because hopefully that target will grow in Spain but I think that the position we, we now have with that amount of PV assets in development is ultimately contributing to checking the climate crisis, as well as delivering, in this case, a commodity the cheapest way to generate power is when it's solar renewables. So that work, I believe that plays some role, some may when they do the math, may say it's ultimately marginal, but I think it plays a role in trying to stave off injustice.

We clearly have a climate problem and we clearly have an injustice problem. Are they the same problem?

They, unfortunately, become that, I would say. They become intertwined in a way that the other exacerbates the other. It's funny, the knowledge of the climate problem is actually quite old. It's much older than a lot of people assume. It wasn't the data gathering at Mauna Loa in Hawaii in the US that sort of first revealed that there is this crisis. You go back to the late 1800s and Swedish physicist, Svante Arrhenius, basically worked out the math for the greenhouse effect and what would happen if there was basically a running up of carbon emissions and, for the most part, he got the forecast right. Some small errors in his math but he basically got it right. So there was a longer understanding of this problem of global warming than a lot of people know about or even, you know, recognize. I've written about this stuff, the history of climate science as it were.

But I think now, fast forward after essentially a solid generation, sadly, this'll be a stain on humanity when scholars look back 200-300 years from now. And this generation, we've always had sort of, through the short arc of humanity, modern society as it were, there've always been I would say "a bumpy relationship with science" and put that in quotes. But I think it's this generation that will go down in history as having had the leaders of the most powerful agencies, institutions, and governments have adopted fanciful thinking.

Really I think we had the age of empire, I think when all is said and done and when we pitch out 100 years from now and certainly 200 or 300 years from now, I think it'll be fair to say that this is the age of the kakistocracy, the rule of idiots and bad men and incompetence, really ruling over large swaths of the Earth, if not the entire thing. It's hard to say that now, but the previous American President will absolutely go down as, again, kakistocratic ruler. There was a time where people were recording his lies and so forth and he is a Bonafide liar, but really just incompetent.

Because of that generation, this 30, 40 years of these incompetents, mismanaging the climate problem, that mismanagement has webbed and interlocked something that didn't necessarily have to be. But it's really molded it almost together with injustice. The failure to get out ahead of the unfolding climate crisis has huge, huge downsides for those on the margins, they've been dying more so than wealthier people. Those that are the poorest of the poor get harmed typically first. When the waters flood, they don't just have their house basement flood, they drown in that water, they die in that water. In New York, about 50 odd folks died from the aftermath of the most recent hurricane to sack the United States, Hurricane Ida. The supermajority of that half a century of individuals were black, brown, and poor folks living in substandard, unofficial, illegal housing, and they literally drowned. They died. They were murdered, I think it's fair to say, by those folks that had been incompetently mismanaging the climate crisis. So, yeah, right now climate is absolutely bound up with these problems.

What are the changes that we need?

For example, the more ambitious commitment that the current Administration has made, we already know is not enough.  If you're a student of political economy, you kinda know that if the government says something, it's probably being conservative. It's probably not gonna be enough. So you know, a 50% commitment of reducing emissions is, is somewhere between 50 and 100% off the mark, you know, by 2030 which is a new commitment.

It sounded great, it's double the commitment from this bad agreement, which [laughs] you know, why would that even be important? Lots of environmentalists are going around and plotting. So in terms of climate, we now are in the space where we know that carbon neutrality is not enough, right? We've gotta get on about getting carbon pollution out of the atmosphere just as fast as we've gotta get on about getting to zero emissions. So there's a double problem now that we have. We've gotta build out those renewal energy resources to reduce emissions drastically, but we've also gotta get out the carbon pollution that we put in the atmosphere because we, we know that the science is here that this stuff is actually gonna cause problems over a long horizon. So we've gotta speed up the way in which we reduce emissions much more aggressively than we're working to deal with it now.

That's an absolute thing that we need to work on. And then in doing that, if, and I think it is certainly, if renewable energy and certainly other solutions, but let's just focus on renewable energy. If that is gonna be a critical part of the solution, and we're now in the space where we could potentially give away power generated by renewables for little to no cost for those that are the poorest of the poor, we ought to begin to think about how we can do that. Right now, nobody's thinking about that. Nobody whose thinking about putting in renewable energy is thinking about how we can actually deliver on the right to energy as a human right. But on the business side, there's nobody doing that.

That's really what's around the corner. How we can deliver this free energy which is, it's essentially free. When you're down at oh, and margin zero and then, that's called something you can give away and still make money. So we're not thinking about that. How do we quickly get to net zero in this case and reduce emissions? But then what comes after that? We can't just sort of, oh, net-zero, done. We already know that that's not gonna be enough. The science is already there about why that's not enough.

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