The Al Gore that spoke at Columbia on Tuesday was probably not the man most students expected to see.
“I am here as chairman of an investment firm with real world practical experience,” he said plugging his investment fund, Generation Investment Management LLP.
Columbia’s World Leaders Forum welcomed Gore to Low Library on Tuesday morning to discuss sustainable capitalism. Student registration for the event filled within minutes of going live last week.
Gore spoke about the importance of sustainable investments, which consider what will be most beneficial in the long term.
“The alleged conflict between taking sustainability into account and getting higher returns is a myth,” Gore said.
He argued that the fast-paced financial world puts more emphasis on short-term gains than on long-term consequences of investments.
In addition to being marketed as a WLF speaker, former Vice President Gore was at Columbia headlining a two-day conference for investors on the topic of sovereign wealth funds and other long-term investments—hosted by the Committee on Global Thought and the Sovereign Wealth Fund Research Initiative.
Part of sustainable capitalism, according to the theory, is recognizing the unseen cost of things like pollution for the future. “As more people connect the dots, the assumption of the free use of the atmospheric commons as an open sewer is going to collapse,” he said.
Sustainable capitalism, he argued, “unleashes a higher fraction of the human potential.”
After the event, Patrick Bolton, professor of business and economics, said that this purpose of the conference is particularly innovative.
“What was really novel was to put climate risk on the table as a very important aggregate risk that these long term investors have to take into account,” Bolton said.
While Gore spoke, students sat in Roone Arledge Auditorium for a live broadcast, after an email Monday afternoon notified those waitlisted for the event that, “due to the overwhelming response,” the speech would be broadcast.
By the time Gore took to the podium, approximately 40 people, many of them waitlisted, sat in the auditorium to hear his talk. But 10 minutes before the former vice president began speaking, event organizers took students off the waitlist and brought them to Low.
Alex Ng, CC ’14, was waitlisted but made it into Low, along with about 20 others, he said. “I went down to Lerner, and I saw that there was basically nobody there, so I thought I might as well wait at Low and hope for the best.”
Nuno Lamas, a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said he thought the venue of Gore’s speech should have been changed due to the demand. “They should have considered moving the address to a bigger space,” he said.
Patrick Woolsey and Katie Bentivoglio contributed reporting.