Becoming President: Dream or Nightmare?
08 December 2021
If you described a childhood dream, would it sound at all like this? Becoming President at the age of 67 of a company that you yourself founded, as it hits unprecedented growth rates, is acknowledged as a leader in its field, its future in the hands of one of the most capable CEOs around, the team including your much-loved eldest daughter, the team itself packed with people you consider friends as well as colleagues, your co-founder a good friend and elder statesman of the industry, and the theme of the business in the limelight of world social, political and media attention. It sounds like an idyll, doesn’t it?
Let me tell you now, it’s not. It has just happened to me, every bit of it, but it’s not a dream. It’s a nightmare. Why? Climate Change.
Green Angel Syndicate is not my achievement, it is a collective achievement, achieved by a team the power and capability of which is unparalleled in my long and varied working experience. I have known and worked with a lot of different teams, in a lot of different sectors. There is none that I have experienced to match this one. It deserves its own roll-call of honour, which this article is too short to give. Let me just name two: Simon Acland, our Chairman, and Cam Ross, our new CEO. Simon wrote the bible of angel investing. He is that good. The professional credibility and status he brought to Green Angel Syndicate has been an extraordinary factor in its success. Cam is an entrepreneur with a gift for company development, combined with forensically detailed systems development. His capability is only matched by his work rate. Again, like Simon, extraordinary.
So yes, we are very powerful indeed, our success is no accident. This is a service business in which people are all important, and we have all been optimal in winning and justifying the trust of our customers – our members and our Portfolio Companies – over the years.
But our purpose is the fight against climate change. We remain unique in the UK as the only angel syndicate specialising in climate change and we are still like a voice in the wilderness, bringing a note of urgency and immediacy, simplifying and focusing on the need, in a way that the rest of the investment world can only follow slowly behind.
That is the cause of the nightmare. However successful we have been, Green Angel Syndicate is like a tiny sailing boat, navigating alone through immense seas in the middle of the worst ocean storm since records began. We are fighting overwhelming odds.
I was asked recently whether I would like to write a book about optimism. It was a serious question from a good friend to Green Angel Syndicate and me. It comes at a time when the challenge is real, for me and for all our team. Are we optimistic?
The time, precisely, was just as COP26 had ended and the dust was settling. Never has there been a more shattering moment in the thirty years since our world has been addressing the problems of Climate Change. This conference, the 26th of its kind, had been introduced as arguably the most significant conference in history, the conference that would determine the future of the human race, the last chance to avoid the problem of climate change, the point at which the world had to make up its mind.
Instead of a definitive answer, we have come away with compromise. A set of agreements that all balance the need to fight climate change with other social and economic needs that rely on activities and processes that cause climate change. We give with one hand, take with the other. It all seems so balanced and rational, so much so that many of the outcomes of the conference are seen as cause for celebration.
But here is the undeniable fact: global carbon emissions will increase in 2022. They will not decrease. They will increase again in 2023, not decrease. In fact, the single largest contributor to carbon emissions in the world, which is now China, will not reach peak emissions until 2028, at the earliest, and possibly later than that.
To make clear what this means, there is a direct correlation between carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and global temperature. We know that there is a direct correlation between global temperature and climate. We know that the development of human civilisation has taken place in the last 10,000 years – the Holocene Period – in relatively predictable and consistent climate conditions all over the world which were caused by a relatively constant concentration of 300 particles of carbon per million in the atmosphere. Small variations are observable, but little more than 5-10%, and indeed we have seen variations in temperature and climate throughout the last millennia, responding to these small changes in carbon concentrations.
But we also know that the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere has now reached 420 particles per million, and is certain to reach 450 within the next decade at current emission levels. With increased emission levels in 2022, 2023, 2024, the figure is going to be worse. We are in the process of seeing a rise of 50% to a level unknown in human history, and we know it will not stop there.
COP26 has been a disappointment. It has been dominated by a range of agreements based on compromise and gradual change, rather than absolute decisions and immediate implementation. It is questionable whether COP26 will cause much to be done at all. Politicians’ intentions often belie their subsequent actions, as has been seen with many of the promises and agreements reached at previous COPs.
In the face of disappointment, what place is there for optimism? I have described our situation today as a nightmare. This is what we are facing. A nightmare for vast swathes of the global population. But a nightmare is also not yet a reality. We are dealing with reality, and in dealing with reality, there is always hope.
Green Angel Syndicate is operating in the world of hope, the creation of inventions and innovations that are unknown, sometimes untested, with the capacity to bring about change for the better. We are helping to make these visions – dreams of another kind – turn into a reality that will make a difference to climate change, and carbon emissions. We are the peddlers of hope.
So of course I am optimistic. I have become President of something that is worth presiding over, something that I believe in, and have believed in ever since I first founded it. As President, I can now do so much more to help Green Angel Syndicate establish its profile, spread its message, attract its investors and supporters, broaden its investment base, so that its capacity to invest to reduce carbon emissions and/or remove carbon from the atmosphere grows and grows.
At the same time, I am relieved of the burden of day-to-day business management, passing that mantle to someone who is going to be enormously better at it than I am, giving me the comfort that the base of the business has an absolutely solid foundation. Cam and I have been working closely in the last two or more years to reach this moment, we are now ready to expand with full speed. We both understand this shift in our roles and its importance for the business. But most of all, we both share the ambition, the excitement and the vision. We are both optimistic.
Should I answer the original question? If you described a childhood dream, would it sound at all like this?
Yes. It would sound very like this. One of the most familiar childhood dreams involves the heroic struggle against fearful odds, whether it’s King Arthur or Pocahontas, Mulan or Mowgli. That was my dream too. It turned out to be my reality, and I am glad it is. I may be 67 now, but I have not finished. The biggest battle is still ahead of me, and I feel ready for the fight.