Reporter's Notebook

Al Gore's Plan to Save Capitalism: Does It Make Sense?
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Below are Atlantic notes, from James Fallows and others, in response to his November, 2015 article on Al Gore’s campaign to make capitalism more sustainable—and profitable.
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Felix Salmon Isn't Buying What Al Gore Is Selling

The new issue (subscribe!) has my article on Generation Investment Management, the London-based financial firm Al Gore co-founded more than a decade ago. Generation has been very profitable, and Gore and his colleagues contend that its success should draw attention toward the rewards of environmentally conscious “sustainable capitalism.”

From the current issue

Felix Salmon, the prominent financial writer and senior editor for Fusion, has some thoughts about this piece, what Al Gore and his colleagues are up to, and what it all does or does not mean. As will become obvious, there are parts of Salmon’s letter I like and agree with more than other parts, and I think that many of his complaints boil down to this not being a different kind of article for a different kind of readership in a different, more financial-insidery kind of newspaper or magazine. Or by a different writer! Some other parts, I think, are versions of the “$20 bill on the sidewalk” outlook I mention in the article: the Gore/Generation practices can’t really be that successful, because if they were everyone would already have adopted them. (“That can’t be a $20 bill on the sidewalk, because if it were someone would already have picked it up.”)

But there are also some good fundamental questions he asks about the implications of this model, which I’m resisting answer piecemeal and will begin responding to tomorrow. For now, I’m grateful to Salmon for letting me quote it in full and kick off the discussion.

Felix Salmon writes:

This is a fascinating and yet frustrating article, at least for me. It’s by far the most in-depth thing that has ever been written about Generation, but I feel like it doesn’t really answer any of the questions I had about the company, most of which arose when I wrote this piece about why more investors don’t divest from fossil fuels. The Generation view would have involved me putting something in there about how solar is a much better investment than coal, or some such, but because Generation is so secretive about its results, I couldn’t really do that.

So anyway, here are my questions:

From our new issue: Al Gore and David Blood, two of the founders of Generation Investment Management, who believe that their firm can help engineer a paradigm shift in modern capitalism. Don’t laugh. (Photo for the Atlantic by Christopher Griffin)

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I was interviewing Al Gore about a decade-long project he had undertaken that had largely escaped public notice.

My article about that project, an audacious attempt to show that a “sustainably” minded investment strategy could make more money than one simply focused on profit-maximization whatever the side effects, is now coming out in our November issue and has just gone online. You can read it here: “The Planet-Saving, Capitalism-Subverting, Surprisingly Lucrative Investment Secrets of Al Gore.” (Of course, Subscribe!)

In every issue and most every article, we try to tell you about ideas and developments you might not have come across before. As a reporter, I like the job best, and feel most alive, when being exposed to some new-to-me culture or organization or approach to life. A Chinese factory, a software startup, a genomics-research lab, an aerospace design center, a Border Patrol unit—these are the sorts of places that I’ve had the luck to spend time inside, begin learning about, and try to describe in the magazine. The structure of a great many of our Atlantic stories, and nearly all of mine, then boils down to: “Here’s a question I had, here’s how I looked for answers, and here’s what I found.” That’s what I’ve done in this case, and I think the results contain genuine news.