September 26th, 2017

Betting on Chaos: Financial Firms Seek to Cash In on Climate Change

By Mitch Jones

Earlier this month the Financial Times reported that a new climate change prediction market [subscription required] is being created in the United Kingdom. The market, similar to a sports betting book, is the “brainchild” of the financial firm Winton Capital. Initially, the market will allow bets on levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and on temperature rises, but Winton Capital hopes to expand it in the future so that sea level rise, extreme weather, and other pollution levels become the topic of bets.

What’s equally strange is that Winton Capital is paying for this market out of its philanthropic budget. There’s nothing philanthropic about betting on climate change.

This announcement is just the latest outgrowth of the perverse attempt to reduce the value of nature to financial values. And, in this instance, it is coupled with a claim that monetary bets – in which real people can make real money for placing bets on climate change – will reveal a “scientific consensus” about what damage we are doing to our climate. So, not only does it minimize the real devastation climate change is already sowing across the planet – it also seeks to reduce the work of the scientists investigating how climate change is developing to nothing more than the prognostications of sports fans betting on this week’s game. It’s the latest letter in Nature Climate Change reduced to little more than a racing form at Ascot.

As morally repugnant as that is, the article in the Financial Times makes clear that hopes of supporters for this sort of market don’t stop there. An adjunct professor of physics at the University of New Mexico is quoted as saying that he hopes the new market created by Winton “will lay the groundwork for a more developed way of betting on the future of the environment.” He is also concerned that the Winton market is too small because it would need “big money” people who see betting on our future as “an actual big investment.” His hope is to have such a market on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

So, the hope here is that one day this sports book of climate disaster can morph into a full blown climate change futures market. The hope, let’s be clear, is to create a new market in which people can make money betting on other people’s misery.

While such a hope should always give us pause, in the wake of major hurricanes that have devastated islands across the Caribbean and the deaths of thousands of people in flooding in South Asia this hope should cause outrage.

And yet, this desire to reduce the science of climate change to financial bets ought not to have surprised us. It is the advance of the ideology that seeks to replace real regulation of pollution with pollution markets and to reduce the value of nature to a form of capital. And, it is as misguided as those attempts. Like them it is not about truly trying to prevent climate change or save our environment – it is an attempt to allow business as usual and to find new streams of profit for financiers.

We do not need to find a “market consensus” on carbon dioxide levels. We already know there is a scientific consensus that humans have put too much carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and we know that if you understand that science, then you know we must act now to get off fossil fuels and move to 100% clean energy as quickly as possible. Instead of gambling on side bets about how bad climate change has become, we should be doing everything we can to prevent it from becoming worse.

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