Elon Musk on ESG, or: spot the phony!

A recent Globe and Mail article reported on Elon Musk’s recent attacks on ESG

Here are some extracts from the piece, written by Jeffrey Jones:

  • Elon Musk is no fan of the environmental, social and governance scores used to evaluate companies for inclusion in investment funds. Seeing his company booted from a major ESG index hasn’t exactly tempered his criticism.
  • This month, Mr. Musk’s Tesla Inc., credited with elevating electric cars to emission-fighting status symbols, was dropped from the S&P 500 ESG Index, the basis for its inclusion in several passive investing funds. The exclusion has only worsened the fall of Tesla stock, which has tumbled 43 per cent in the past month and a half.
  • Tesla was cut after its ESG ratings fell because of a number of factors, including its lack of a low-carbon strategy and codes of business conduct. Even more galling to the world’s richest person, Exxon Mobil Corp., the oil major, was added to the roster.
  • Boy, was Mr. Musk mad. “Exxon is rated top ten best in world for environment, social & governance (ESG) by S&P 500, while Tesla didn’t make the list!” he tweeted. “ESG is a scam. It has been weaponized by phony social justice warriors.”
  • …The risk of having someone such as Mr. Musk, with his immense megaphone and massive following, referring to ESG as a leftist conspiracy against business is that it emboldens like-minded politicians, and could result in delaying or blocking legislation and regulations for such important issues as climate change and corporate disclosure.

That last point is surely a key one. On the face of it, it’s absurd that something as broadly forward-looking as ESG, especially the existentially-charged “E” part of it, could be regularly branded as some kind of leftist overreach. But the world provides almost daily reminders of how powerful right-tilting interests take savage pride in rejecting any form of forward-looking rationality. As I write the first draft of this article, much of the news is focused on the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, with widespread expressions of disbelief at the continuing Republican resistance to any kind of gun control or safety measures; indeed, Republicans are as likely to interpret such incidents as being a basis for more “gun freedom” rather than less. The refusal to change one’s position in response to avoidable carnage is, to the Republican mind, a proof of virtue rather than of perversity, a demonstration of adherence to God-given principle no matter how strong the earthly test.

In the same way, if the toll of global weirding is accumulating, as measured by hurricanes or famines or floods or whatever you want to focus on, then to reject progressive ESG reporting initiatives, or restrictions on drilling, or imposed efficiency standards, might be held up as an impassioned defense of freedom in the face of amassing “socialist” forces (the terrible future paradox may be that the better ESG reporting “works,” the more enmity it will attract as an input into changing corporate behaviour). Aging demographics and stretched economies and the practical difficulties of accumulating and maintaining wealth over coming decades will only add to this dynamic, it seems to me. But maybe I’m being too pessimistic. The Globe and Mail itself, within days of the article referenced above, published another opinion piece, by Andre Pratte, which argued:

  • The adversaries of ESG and stakeholder capitalism underestimate the forces behind the movement. Citizens of Western democracies know that capitalism is a fantastic engine of prosperity, but they have also come to understand that large externalities are involved – whereby the private actions taken by companies can produce public costs that burden society.
  • As customers, employees, and investors, they are demanding that businesses play a role in alleviating the environmental and social costs of rapid but unequal economic growth.

Well, let’s hope that this “demand” persists and grows to the necessary extent. As for the Elon Musk article, it continues one dispiritingly toxic trend, of allowing the foibles of high-profile billionaires to distort every aspect of public discourse. In the part of downtown Toronto where I live, Teslas have become extraordinarily common recently – sometimes I see several of them go by in succession. Whatever relative environmental virtue they may have over regular automobiles, it seems unlikely to me, given the nature of downtown living, that most of these purchases (which, after all, still result from an inherently resource-heavy, planet-depleting production process) couldn’t have been avoided through an alternative strategy of walking, cycling, public transport, ride-sharing, selective use of an already-extant vehicle, and so on, none of which of course would carry anything like the same virtue- and wealth-signaling status. When one adds in Musk’s perhaps even more resource- and ego-heavy space adventures, his commitment to only vote Republican in future (thereby backing the agenda of Big Oil, and of calculated anti-environmentalism in general) and periodic boosting of the wretched bitcoin, and his Twitter-fueled corruption of whatever’s left of our collective public space, this is someone on whom those understanding citizens and investors cited in Pratte’s article might do well to turn their backs…

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

One thought on “Elon Musk on ESG, or: spot the phony!

  1. Pingback: Iлон Маск проти ESG, а ESG проти Ілона Маска - ESG UA NvD Platform

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