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The Grapevine: Pale, Stale, Males

Published March 19, 2020

A version of this article ran in the March issue of BRAIN.

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Pale, Stale, Males: I read those three words and laughed, wishing I had come up with that clever phraseology. But I didn't. I found it tucked away in an article on the shifting interest of big-buck investors — think hedge funds, private equity and others — as they consider moving away from fossil fuel investments. Not just coal, but oil and natural gas. Dickon Pinner, at a recent finance conference, described pale, stale, males this way: "They think quarter to quarter. They just want to ride out the bull market, retire, play golf, go party on their yachts." Pinner is a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. When he talks, big money listens. He and others warned that the economics of climate change — if nothing is done to address the elephant roaming the globe — will be "seen as one of the worst mistakes humans have made." I hasten to point out that Pinner is no pinhead nor a bleeding-heart environmentalist nor a conspiracy theorist postulating crackpot theories. His resume is impressive. And his role at McKinsey is tied directly to risks posed by climate change and sustainability issues. More importantly, from Pinner's standpoint, big money should view climate change as an opportunity to make more money, and do good at the same time. For the climate change deniers reading this, pay attention to the money and quit listening to the deniers. You'll be better off in the long run. From Pinner's POV, asset managers are waking up and sniffing the future. A survey of the rich and powerful found that among the five most probable global risks over the next 30 years, climate change ranked No. 1. The first time ever. Ponder that for a moment, you deniers.

Pale, Stale, Males II: If there ever was a pale male, it would be Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, an asset management company that keeps an eye on $7 trillion worth of investments. While Fink may be a pale male, and he is, he's far from "stale." Fink, in a mid-January letter to investors, pointed out that climate change has put money management "on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance." And BlackRock will begin a measured move away from fossil fuel investments. For those who read the financial press, it was pretty much a one-day story, except among those pale males who pay attention. And the females working in finance, too. And there's a lot to pay attention to when it comes to money and climate change. Unless you live under a burgeoning rack of gravel bike inventory and accessories dubiously labeled "gravel," think about this: Insurance companies "get" climate change. That's big money. And, sadly, for those living in a fire-prone country, alongside rivers, in tornado alley, anywhere near coastal Florida and other such climate sites of destruction, insurance rates are rising, insurers are abandoning markets, and more states and the federal government are becoming insurers of last resort. So, think of insurance actuaries — those unknown statisticians who study risk — as bean counting canaries in a global mine of methane. Big money is paying attention.

Pale, Stale, Males III: No western nation seems to have put more pale, stale males in positions of environmental power than the troglodytes now infesting the Trump administration. Depending upon who's counting, this administration is attempting to roll back close to 100 established environmental safeguards, ranging from coal-polluting power plants to weaker fuel economy standards to eviscerating clean water regulations to encouraging wetland degradation to opening vast areas of public lands to oil drilling and rampant fracking. (Think Moab and Ashley Korenblat!) It's a soul-crushing list, and thankfully, for now, most of Trump's efforts to bollocks up the environment are tied up in court. But young Americans are paying attention to all this pale, stale, male bravado as the deniers strut their stuff for Trump. A ton of studies have emerged over the last few years from a variety of nations affirming that eco-anxiety among children, teens and young adults is a real thing. This is no joke. And my favorite young Swede, Greta Thunberg, whom I have praised in the past, has put a face to eco-anxiety for the world's youth. (Greta, with her wily wit, also appears to take pleasure tweaking our thin-skinned Tweeter in Chief, for which I applaud her.) As one would say in the bicycle industry, Trump and his minions are off the back — way off the back — when it comes to our collective environmental future, which looks increasingly bleak.

Pale, Stale, Males IV: I'm a pale male, and I can assert with zip likelihood of a challenge that our industry is a bastion of pale males. The question then is: How many are stale? How many fret over market share, unit sales, quarterly numbers and have a fetish with innovation? Too many, I fear. A better question to ask is: "What does our industry stand for besides selling stuff?" That's no small question. I tested it on a variety of industry pros while wandering about the Outdoor Retailer show in February. The reaction was mostly this: "Good question." And no one had a good answer. That's sad. Someone mentioned advocacy, but advocacy fails to move the visceral meter. Bland. Hard to explain. Results mixed. My answer: Stand with the damn environment! Become an industry obsessed with its role as a change agent in an age of environmental peril. As youth participation continues to slide — our future customers, I hasten to add — we need to send a message of hope: that bicycles, e-powered or otherwise, can play a role in slowing what appears to be a steady march toward environmental Armageddon. These kids are looking for answers. For a little hope. Our industry has a partial answer, and we are failing to capitalize on it. I'd call it the Pale Stale Male Syndrome (PSMS). It's long past time to consider a message that helps unify our industry. I would assert that embracing the young and their justifiable fears over the planet's future would be a great place to start. Now that would be an Ambassador Program I could support.

 

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