Blog: Jeremy Grantham, climate change and ‘the race of our lives’ by Jana Green

In April 2022 our funder Jeremy Grantham spoke at a climate change event organised by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. We sent 3 Grantham Scholars and our Centre Administrator Jana Green to Oxford to watch. In this blog, Jana reports back on what Jeremy Grantham had to say.

Jeremy Grantham

Jeremy Grantham is an investor, philanthropist and a passionate warrior against climate change. He is also the funder of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, where I’ve worked for over 2 years now. I wanted to meet the legendary man in person, so I jumped at the chance to go to Oxford with Charles Gillott, Manasi Mulay and Hanyu Qi.

Charles Gillott, Jana Green, Manasi Mulay and Hanyu Qi in Oxford for Jeremy Grantham’s talk.

Hybrid events at their best

The talk was at the famous Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. When we arrived the room was quite full and Jeremy Grantham’s face was up on a big screen. Grantham, who lives in the United States, unfortunately wasn’t able to come over to the UK in person, and so gave his talk via video call.

However, the panellists were all there in person. They were: Richard Manley (Managing Director and Head of Sustainable Investing at CPP Investments), Anna Skarbek (CEO of the Climateworks Centre) and Irena Spazzapan (Partner at SystemIQ).

The Race of Our Lives by Jeremy Grantham

‘We’re living beyond our means and we would need 3 planets or more to satisfy our needs… These risks will accelerate unless we change our ways, and change them fast.’

This is how Jeremy Grantham started his talk, and we knew immediately that this was not going to be a happy listen. It was called The Race of Our Lives after all, and we had all read Grantham’s paper published under the same name in 2018.

He has always been vocal about his views and pessimistic (or you might say realistic) predictions. As such he and his wife Hannelore have dedicated a considerable amount of money to protect and improve the health of the global environment and to fight against climate change.

During the talk, Grantham presented some grave facts and figures. Overall the biggest issue is the unprecedented rise of CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere and rising global temperatures. Grantham says that this, taken together with population growth, means a serious risk to us all.

Some parts of our planet are predicted to be inhabitable by 2070 – this information shocked me as I hadn’t thought we were on our way to reach this grim milestone so soon. We can see some of the climate change effects already in 2022 – wildfires in northern areas such as Canada, the Arctic and all over Europe and even in the UK this summer. Ice melting, heavy downpours, storms and floods and extreme droughts seem to only be getting worse.

Jeremy Grantham on a screen behind 4 people sitting at a table. These are the panellists at the event.
Panellists at the ‘Race of Our Lives’ talk.

Research for a sustainable future

Later in the talk Jeremy Grantham gave us some hope. He described his investments in green energy and carbon sequestration projects, both of which may be crucial for us to solve the problems we are facing.

According to Grantham we need to focus on solar, wind, geothermal and fusion power and getting rid of CO2 in the atmosphere if humanity is to stand a chance in the future.

A good example of Grantham’s investment into carbon sequestration projects is the Grantham Double Hundred Challenge recently launched at our University. Academic staff could receive £100,000 to accelerate research ideas with the potential to remove 100 million tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere at US$100 or less per tonne.

Jeremy Grantham on the role of business and governments

However, Jeremy Grantham warned us that despite everything we’re doing, it is still not enough.

‘We must expand on our strengths in technology while fighting our predisposition toward wishful thinking, procrastination, and denial of inconvenient long-term problems. We must also find inspirational leadership, for without it this race, possibly the most important struggle in the history of our species, may not be winnable.’

Simply put, we need to do more, and businesses and governments play the biggest roles in this endeavour.

At the end of his talk, Grantham implored the audience to vote for green politicians. And for people to especially support those who are pushing for a carbon tax program that sets limits for total CO2 production and promotes CO2 sequestration. Sequestration means reforestation, improved soil management and direct CO2 recovery from the air.

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology where Jeremy Grantham spoke.

Changes individuals can make

The talk also highlighted changes that we as individuals can make.

Grantham gave examples like LED lighting, high-efficiency heating, washing machines, refrigerators and insulation. Also using electric vehicles, not commuting to work in a car, taking fewer flights on planes and doing more video conferencing instead.

Additionally, and perhaps controversially, Grantham says we should consider having fewer children. This is several times more effective than all the changes mentioned above as it represents one complete lifetime of carbon footprint, plus that person’s descendants.

After Jeremy Grantham’s talk there was a lively panel discussion with questions from the audience.

Discussion focussed mainly on climate change in the context of finances and investments, and I can’t pretend to even begin to understand this topic! The gist of it was businesses need to be greener and act responsibly. Also, investment companies should invest in green energy, carbon sequestration and technology development projects.

Together we can prevent some of the worst predictions for the future. But only if we act before it’s too late.

Jeremy Grantham on a screen next to a slide called 'India and Southeast Asia will be too hot for human habitation in 2070'.
Another slide from Jeremy Grantham’s talk, this one with dire predictions for parts of the world by 2070.

Everyone needs to do everything they can

‘Everyone needs to do everything they can. What I’m doing, I’m doing to secure the future for my children and grandchildren. This is about survival. This is the race of our lives.’

Grantham’s parting words were food for thought as we caught our train back to Sheffield.

One hopeful thought I kept coming back to is that our Grantham Scholars (or ‘the Grantham Superheroes’ as I call them) are already doing everything in their power to help fight climate change and secure a more sustainable future for all of us via their PhD research.

I am really proud to be supporting the Grantham Superheroes in these endeavours.

More on Jeremy Grantham

You can find a full recording of the Race of Our Lives talk in Oxford here.

The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures is a collaboration between the Grantham Foundation and The University of Sheffield.

The Existential Threats Of Climate Change. Watch Jeremy Grantham give a passionate speech about the climate crisis.

We’re in a race for life, says Jeremy Grantham. Jeremy Grantham tells University of Sheffield graduates in the USA that we’re in a ‘race for life’.

“Scientists should say what they honestly believe instead of being so damn conservative.” Jeremy Grantham. Eco’ri features a piece about our funder Jeremy Grantham, including his opinions about climate change scientists and capitalism.