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Flipping the Greenfinger: Risky Investments During the Climate Crisis

Tue, Jul 7, 2009

1. How To, c. Earn More Revenue

As more teeth-grindingly bad news about climate change is published every day, decision-makers around the world are tapping into their collective adrenalin: do we Earth-dwelling humans choose “fight” or “flight” as a response to our current situation? Namely, should we try to devote all of our time and energy to solving the energy crisis, reducing our carbon emissions, and setting up measures to prevent another, similar disaster in the future? Or should we cut our losses now, scope out real estate near another star, and stack up on freeze-dried ice cream for the centuries-long journey to Plan(et) B? Whatever the case, as a businessman you have a choice to make: in which of these dramatic options, complete conservation or mass migration, if either, do you invest your hard-earned cash? After all, even in the face of imminent annihilation, we all deserve to treat ourselves to one last Disney vacation. Basically, the question is this: how can you make money off of the Apocalypse?

The answer: invest in it.

As we wrote about in an earlier post, the new green economy is full of untapped investment opportunities. But while that article provided you with relatively safe advice, we all know that the real fun (read: capital) is in the experimental, uncontrolled, too-ambitious projects of the future. The proprietors of such endeavors are called “greenfingers,” not only for their willingness to push the proverbial panic button, but for their flippant attitude toward the planet, their fellow man, and common sense. These are the people you want to follow. Remember that Google was once two college nerds’ pet project, Apple Inc. was once outdated and almost bankrupt, and even McDonald’s was once just a hot dog stand at a California airport. The following four industries may be the dangerous, stupid ideas of today, but they could be the Googles and McDonald’ses of tomorrow. In fact, they might even save our children’s lives.

1. Qteros

Based in Marlborough, MA, this research laboratory has discovered a microbe that can transform biomass into fuel. In other words, they’ve found a way to make your car run on mud. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is: right now the biomass conversion rate is minuscule, little more than an interesting science project. To become viable competition for big oil, Qteros will need at least an $18 million subsidiary from the U.S. government and millions of tons of biomass. So far, the company has raised more than $30 million without government help from venture capitalists and taxpayers. If the company is awarded a piece of the $800 million R&D stimulus package being given away by the Department of Energy, it will be well on its way to becoming a serious contender in the alternative energy race. Then it will simply need those millions of tons of waste. All interested parties, start taking laxatives now. You may even be able to produce enough fuel to power a couple of…

2. Space Mirrors

Imagine thousands of diaphonous, wiggling sheets of metal floating outside the Earth’s atmosphere like a set of delicate armor encasing our planet. It’s a poetic image, but one that may soon become reality. In fact, scientists estimate that reflecting as little as one percent of the sun’s rays could rectify global warming. The technology is far away, but not impossible; see for example the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch sometime in 2014, could be seen as the prototype for an entire potential mirror armada. Getting a fleet of that scale into space would take scores of energy as well as decades of work, but it could be the best blunt solution to global warming without requiring that we change the basic way we live. Besides, who says we have to launch them from Earth? There’s always…

3. Virgin Galactic

Granted, Richard Branson’s newest and most ludicrously colossal pet project is a tourism industry, but that’s just for now. Will Whitehorn, Virgin Galatic’s president argues, “You could not develop the system at this stage without developing the markets.” So the company’s goal right now is to demonstrate the feasibility of cheap, fast space travel. Did I mention that it’s environmentally friendly? Well, as green as shuttle launches can be: Whitehorn claims that by using aircraft to carry spacecraft, the carbon impact of a typical launch is dramatically lessened. And the organization sees space travel as an educational resource, citing the ability to monitor climate change from outside the planet’s limits. If Branson’s and Whitehorn’s scheme succeeds, a massive human migration from Earth may be possible within a century or two, but for anyone who wants to stay here, it may be worth looking into…

4. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation

Cryonics (or cryogenics) is kind of like Bigfoot: everyone knows it’s a dumb hoax perpetuated by the delusional or gullible or those hoping to make a quick buck off of them, but we all secretly wish it was real. Still, desperate times make even the most hardened cynics into believers, and what sounds better as a remedy to the heat than some downtime in a freezer? Excuse me, I meant deep cooling vitrification system, one has to give the ALEF credit for a comprehensive website, even if their ethics are a bit hazy. In any case, if you’re interested in cyronics, investing may be a better way to participate than volunteering to be a test subject. But if you don’t have a moral compass and laugh in the face of death, don’t walk into that cryo-coffin just yet. There may be an even better investment opportunity for you in…

5. Nuclear Energy

There’s not much to say about this option, but it could be economically safer than you think. In the wake of nuclear proliferation threats from both Iran and North Korea, it’s starting to feel like Cold War 2.0. If you missed out on capitalizing off of worldwide anxiety the first time, why not give it a go this time around? America’s nuclear power generation is expected to grow by 119 billion kilowatthours by 2030. No one has to know where you’re buying shares, right?

These are just a few ideas on how to profit on the possibly fast-approaching demise of the human race. Of course, it’s difficult to predict which apocalyptic hot dog stands will turn into multi-billion-dollar worldwide enterprises, but with creative thinking and a little luck, you too can get a piece of the doomsday pie.

Matt Lurie wrote this from the wi-fi-enabled fallout shelter he shares with Bigfoot.

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