Friday, April 26, 2013

Warren Buffett, Spin-master Extraordinaire

There has been a lot said recently about Warren Buffett's pro-environmental investments and pronouncements; he's being hailed as an altogether admirable figure, a green-friendly philanthropist.  In this article on Bloomberg in 2012, (  he said, “A company must invest in the key ingredients of profitability: its people, communities and the environment."

Sounds great, doesn't it?  But I've just been reading in Sierra magazine about Buffett's ANTI-environmental choices, the ones he doesn't say much about:  He is heavily invested in coal:  his MidAmerican Energy Holdings "relies on coal for roughly half of its 18,000-megawatt generating capacity".  In addition, Buffett's Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway Company earns $5 billion in annual revenues from transporting coal, and it lobbies aggressively on the industry's behalf.

Buffett's BNSF Railway Company is also a 1/3 owner in the proposed Tongue River Railroad, which is currently slated to be built in Southeastern Montana.  Needless to say, the ranchers and Native Americans and Amish farmers who currently live in the area are not happy about it.  But there aren't many of them, and they are easy to miss.  What is also easy to miss, is that the 42-mile railroad will ultimately enable Buffett's company to ship coal to China via the West Coast.  This is significant, because US demand for coal is dropping, and Buffett sees China as his new market. 

The new railroad will also make it possible for  Arch Coal, one of America's largest coal companies, to stripmine the nearby Otter Creek coal tracts, thereby creating one of the largest coal stripmines in the country.

Railroads may be a great form of "green" transportation, as Buffett also pointed out in the article... but NOT when they're shipping coal. That's about as environmentally-UNconscious, and as cynical, as anything I've ever heard of.

Buffett is NOT, ultimately, a green-investment hero. He's a personable ultra-capitalist, who has a way with words.  And ultimately, he is just one more amoral self-promoter, a large and extremely successful corporate shark, out to make all the money he can, and never mind the lives and homes and lands that are devastated in his wake  He may be better than some... but only because that bar is set so very, very low.

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