The Color of Money

Warren Buffett, throwing green at the green

Not every mega-bajillionaire is a Madoff fraud. A whole lot of ’em got rich by being very, very smart. When some of the world’s most innovative executives and wealthiest investors start throwing money at green technologies, you better sit up and take note.

The Sunday Times of London has just published its Green Rich List – 100 individuals worth £200m (roughly $400 million) or more who have invested heavily in green technologies or environmental causes.

Top of the list is the Sage of Arkansas, Warren Buffett, who’s heavily invested in wind power and the development of the Chevy Volt. Right behind him is Bill Gates, who is backing the California-based Sapphire Energy, which is creating photosynthetic algae as a replacement for gasoline. Sapphire Energy just invented a hybrid algae-fuel/electric vehicle out of a Prius and drove it cross-country in 10 days.

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went in together to fund Tesla Motors. Together they’ve invested nearly $80 million in solar and wind power, plug-in hybrid cars and other ideas. Their goal is to make renewable energies cheaper than coal, and General Electric just announced an alliance with them in order to get it done. They’re a perfect example of the New Guard joining forces with the Old Guard in the service of the avant-garde.

Now, it must be said that this list is ranked, as far as I can tell, by total net worth rather than by the level of financial commitment. For precisely that reason, however, it is worth looking at the bottom of the list. There are an awful lot of Chinese names there, with a few Singaporeans, Japanese and Koreans – and they’re all betting on solar power and efficient transport. Chen Wukui, whose industry happens to be solar power, has thrown $430 million toward a photovoltaic complex near Leshan. Huang Ming founded his solar-power water-heating company just ten years ago and is now worth nearly $400 million. It’s notable that he started out in petroleum.

Joining all of these 100 folks together is that they have become astoundingly wealthy by successfully placing their money where the future would be. Let’s all remember that ExxonMobil and just about every other energy corporation is a publicly-traded entity. There have been many recent debates regarding what we can do for the environment, and while a Spiegel Online article details extreme adventures in personal conservation, recent New York Times opinion pieces have argued that buying recycled paper towels etc. are a drop in the bucket compared to what you can achieve by writing your CongressCritters and Senators. But you and I know that in this transitional time, money still continues to have more power than a single vote of individual conscience. As long as we continue to invest in the biggest polluters, and the biggest opponents to environmental sanity, we are committing a twofold treason against the planet: we are making money off Earth’s slow sizzling, and we are investing companies with the power to lobby Congress against legislative change.

So let’s get behind the Green mega-rich, and put our money where their mouths are – because they have had a track record of making money by thinking about the future. You don’t need to have a private audience with the Sage of Omaha to know the way the wind blows.

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