How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Embrace Change: The Story Of A Trader-Turned-"Treehugger"

Richard Gilmore portrait photo
Portrait of Richard Gilmore, guest author.

Until the early years of the 21st century, I was a climate change skeptic. Despite mounting scientific evidence, to accept the truth of climate change would have meant that one of the fundamental bases on which my comfortable life and lifestyle were founded - the burning of low cost and abundant fossil fuels - was unsound. Like many others of the time and many still today, faced with a choice between a convenient ignorance and a difficult reality, I chose ignorance.

By the time I was born in the mid-1970s the possibility of a human-induced climate change had already begun to concern scientists. Fourier had described the natural greenhouse effect some 150 years before, and in 1975 the concentration of atmospheric CO2 was around 330 parts per million - much lower than today but already an increase of almost five per cent since the beginning of the 1960s.
All of this was of course completely unknown to me at the time, and in early 1993 I began what I assumed would be a lifelong career in the financial markets.

In those first months on the job, debate raged among traders as to whether the Dow Jones could break through the 4000-point barrier or whether oil would approach $20 a barrel. The European Community had just established the single market and Billary re-directed its mail to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Six months earlier, the Rio Earth Summit, with its landmark conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity, passed virtually unnoticed in the world of finance as the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere quietly passed 350 ppm.

The next seven years were kind to a young and ambitious trader. Markets largely rose, matched by rising salaries and bonuses. The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 raised fears of a global economic meltdown and pushed oil prices down to US$8 a barrel the following year. Markets quickly recovered however, aided by bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and US Federal Reserve (and looking at the global financial crisis of 2008, it seems few lessons were learned).

Financial markets remained oblivious to new evidence of a changing climate. Instead, the focus of the trader was now the dot-com boom and the opportunity to make lots of money by speculating on the new email and internet technologies. Then in 2000 the dot-com boom became the tech-wreck, wiping out the paper wealth of many (myself among them).

I began to question the direction of my life and took more of an interest in the world around me. Sure enough, as I questioned my purpose, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere continued to rise, and by the end of 2001 it had crept silently, invisibly, insidiously past 370ppm.

It was then I learned that climate change was real, that it was caused by human activity and that it was an urgent matter. However, like so many people before and since, my new-found awareness did not translate into action. I felt paralyzed by the scale of the problem and so I did nothing.

It would be four more years before I was finally motivated to act.