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Oil's Response to Climate Change Bad for Investors

The oil industry's decision to not grapple with climate change means those firms will grow at a slower clip than the broader markets, says Jeremy Grantham.

This video is the fourth of four with GMO's Jeremy Grantham. You can watch one, two, and three here.

Jeff Ptak: I wanted to close by switching gears a bit and talking about the presentation that you just gave to our assembled delegates here in the conference in a general session. It was on climate change which is an issue that you've taken up with great fervor and passion. One of the issues for the advisors that have gathered for our conference is, they may believe very strongly, concur with you, but they don't quite know what to do. If you were to sit down across the table from an advisor that wants to take up this issue on your behalf, or for their grandchildren as you put it memorably in the speech, how would they do that? How do they implement? What are the things that they should look for or push for?

Jeremy Grantham: Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, keeps telling the investment community in England and anyone else who wants to listen to him, that the investment community is severely underestimating the pain of climate change in various quarters, notably in the oil industry, and, to a lesser extent, the chemical industry. 

I would bring that to the investor's attention. You are going to be dealing on a 10-, 20-year horizon, you're going to be dealing with stranded assets. Incidentally, on a two- or three-year horizon, oil may have a last hurrah before the electric cars arrive, but when they do, there will be some tough times for a long time. That's one thing you should bear in mind. 

Secondly, the world is getting greener rather rapidly on a global basis. Carbon taxes are coming in here and there. Quite a few green investments are being subsidized, and the green investments themselves are becoming so spectacularly cheap in the case of electrification, solar storage, wind, that they're becoming economic far faster than anyone realized.

Collectively, they will have more rapid growth. They really will. You can virtually depend on that. That's not a guarantee of making money in the stock market, but it's better than the alternative, and the rest of the market will grow less fast. Oil and chemicals will perhaps be going backward. If they rolled with the punches in the oil business, I think they could do quite well. Cut back on capex, put some money into alternatives, but they're not doing that. They're fighting it every inch of the way, and they're funding propaganda that climate change doesn't exist. This is not an appropriate or ethical way to do it, and there's not a good financial way to do it either. Rolling with the punches would be much better for investors.

Ptak: Jeremy, thank you so much for your insights, and participating once again in our annual investment conference. From the 30th Annual Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago,  I'm Jeff Ptak.