Why Corporate America Ignores Climate Change

Vanguard founder and inventor of the "index fund," John C. Bogle, explains why corporate America has turned its back on environmental damage and ignores the coming climate crisis.  From a 2014 interview with Humankind producer, David Freudberg.

Excerpted from: "The Philosopher of Finance with John C. Bogle," Humankind Program 207, David Freudberg, Producer, Public Radio, 2014, accessed 04/24/2016 on NPR (KDAQ, Shreveport, La.).  Reproduced in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.  A transcript of the above video follows.

BOGLE: I read the financial press, which is followed by the investment community.  There's a lot of coverage of profitability, a lot of discussion of gaining a competitive edge.  There is virtually no discussion of environmental consequences — of the effect of a culture of unlimited consumption on the human being.

Greenhouse gas emissions are huge in the United States.  We're facing this climate crisis that could well trump everything... {Freudberg: Yup.} ...in short order.  Why is the social and environmental impact of corporate America virtually never discussed?

I think it's because it's not today. You know we're very short-sighted, we don't have long horizons, we expect technology to bail us out.  But, I think it's partly the issues are very intractable, partly they're expensive, partly the rest of the world — such as like China — wants what we have.  And, they want our standard of living, they want the number of cars we have, and it's this whole competitive thing.  It's hard to say they aren't as entitled as we are at this high standard of living.  At some time, very soon — and really in the century that started long before this — the world has to pay for its misdeeds to the environment.

But when you get to a microscopic thing, that's like the grand view, and then you say: well, how does it effect this country and that country, and that country, and then how does it effect this corporation and that corporation, the other corporation?  And, it's distant.  You know, the stock market, for example.  I don't think analysts are much worried about, let me say, 2025. And I think there's always just this — I hope not vain hope — but this hope that somehow technology and solar and wind and all those kind of things which are a long way from helping us very much, and natural gas, which is better than coal — better environmentally, and probably better than gasoline, too — and yet we're still digging a lot of gasoline up there in the tar sands of Athabasca — it used to be called.

So, it's shortsightedness, I think, as much as anything else.  It's opportunism, it's...

FREUDBERG: Shortsightedness because people don't have a long attention span?

BOGLE: Yeah, it doesn't seem to matter in the marketplace.  We're a marketplace-driven economy that has this great big cloud of doom hanging over the world.  And, you can argue that there is.  But, until it becomes much more apparent, you're not going to see much reaction.