THE BLOG
05/18/2014 09:15 EDT | Updated 07/18/2014 05:59 EDT

The Billionaire Balancing Act

Most people go to Hawaii. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison bought it. In the summer of 2012, Ellison bought most of Lanai; 141 square miles of virtually untouched island paradise southwest of Honolulu with one school, 3,200 people and only 30 miles of pavement. Ellison wants to turn his island into a "model for sustainable enterprise."

Massive fortunes tend to bring out either a generous nobility or a base vindictiveness in people. There are noble billionaires who are spending their massive wealth on projects that will hopefully cancel out the environmental crimes of the vindictive mega-rich. Just as there is always balance in nature, good balances out bad in the life or death struggle against global warming.

Most people go to Hawaii. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison bought it. In the summer of 2012, Ellison bought most of Lanai; 141 square miles of virtually untouched island paradise southwest of Honolulu with one school, 3,200 people and only 30 miles of pavement. Ellison wants to turn his island into a "model for sustainable enterprise."

Electric cars will rule the road, the sun and wind will power the island and the organic farms will be watered with fresh water converted from seawater. James Dole, the founder of Dole Foods, bought Lanai in 1922. Most of the pineapple groves on the island are abandoned. There is a strain of tree that Ellison would do well to consider for his tired pineapple groves.

Pongam trees are drought-resistant evergreens that grow to about 40 feet. On average, one hectare of Pongam trees can absorb 30 tons of carbon per year. Pongams are the Swiss army knives of the woods. The seed pods from the beautiful lavender blossoms produce everything from medicines, soap and antiseptics to insect repellent. Pongoms seem to have been designed as a source of biofuel; they grow up to 40 feet tall, thrive on marginal lands like abandoned pineapple groves, require little water, are pest-resistant and don't need fertilizer.

Larry Ellison isn't the only billionaire trying to fund a sustainable future. Sir Richard Branson founded the Carbon War Room [CWR] in early 2009. He brought together 15 other high-powered entrepreneurs from around the world to figure out how to make the business case for carbon dioxide reduction and sustainable energy development attractive for entrepreneurs. The CWR took a page from Larry Ellison's idea of converting Lanai into a model for sustainable development in June 2012 when it joined the Caribbean island of Aruba in an attempt to go to 100 per cent renewable energy and create the world's second sustainable country by 2020.

Jeremy Grantham is a wildly successful fund manager and a dedicated behind-the-scenes supporter of environmental causes: the Oz figure of the environmental movement. He became a legend in the financial world for predicting all the major stock market bubbles of recent decades. Grantham made big money for his clients and himself until the mid-1990s when he went on holiday with his children to the Amazon and Borneo.

"And without thinking about it, you start talking about the logs along the side of the river and the lack of mature forests in Borneo," he told a magazine. The man who made a fortune pegging all the major ups and downs of an unpredictable market, has made a call on the most critical market of them all: our environment.

Grantham says some investors shy away from recognizing market trends with head-in-the-sand reactions to some environmental challenges. "In a bull market you want to believe good news," he says. "You don't want to hear that the market is going to go off a cliff." Grantham says climate skeptics are guided by ideology and choose to ignore the obvious effects of climate change, like Superstorm Sandy.

"They have profound beliefs -- as opposed to knowledge -- that they are willing to protect by all manner of psychological tricks. So you have people who are very smart like great analysts and hedge-fund managers who on paper know that their argument is wrong, but who promote it fiercely because they are libertarians," he said. "They are using incredible ingenuity to steer their way around facts they do not choose to accept."

Grantham is hopeful for the future, and as he did with all of his predictions, he backs it up with facts. "The business mathematics of alternative energy are changing much faster [than many people] realize." Grantham thinks higher carbon taxes along with "the increasing affordability of alternative energy, will mean that coal and oil from tar sands run the very substantial risk of being stranded assets."

This is an excerpt from Capt. Trevor Greene's new, self-published book, There Is No Planet B: Promise And Peril On Our Warming World.