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Whose Ox Was Gore-d?

Global warming has now officially joined the ranks of topics it is no longer acceptable to make light of. Due to the stunning popularity of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which looks an awful lot like those public service documentaries they used to show during sixth period in the high school auditorium-The United States …

Global warming has now officially joined the ranks of topics it is no longer acceptable to make light of. Due to the stunning popularity of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which looks an awful lot like those public service documentaries they used to show during sixth period in the high school auditorium-The United States Department of Agriculture: Fun and Helpful! or Our Friend, The Amoeba-everyone now has to be terribly serious about the subject, and admit that the polar ice cap is melting and Armageddon is nigh.

The only holdouts are ornery varmints like the folks at The Wall Street Journal editorial page who cheekily continue to publish iconoclastic op-ed pieces by professors from MIT warning that there is in fact no scientific consensus on global warming. But everybody else has pretty much thrown in the towel, conceding that if somebody as serious and thoughtful as Al Gore says that the end is near, then the end must be near. And, to be perfectly honest, what in blazes does the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology know about global warming, anyway? I mean, really.

Working from the assumption that global warming will devastate large areas of the planet in the coming decades, it seems appropriate to ask how savvy investors plan to profit from the coming apocalypse. Citigroup recently published an analyst’s report recommending solid infrastructure stocks like Archer Daniels, Caterpillar, General Electric and Monsanto, all of which should conceivably be involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Smart Money has also addressed the issue. All this makes sense; reducing greenhouse emissions is certainly on the agenda. But by concentrating on mammoth companies like GE and 3M, investors could conceivably be overlooking some small, less obvious ways to earn a solid return on capital during the bleak years ahead.

                                                                                                  

For example, is it really too early to start stocking up on Northern Minnesota real estate? No matter how bad global warming gets, it’s probably not going to have much effect on life in Northern Minnesota. And if the Atlantic and the Pacific do ever swell to such heights that they start to lap up in the suburbs of St. Paul, wouldn’t it be a good idea to invest in Minnesota beachfront property now? I’m not saying that Northern Minnesota winters are any picnic, but frankly, I don’t see how Northern Minnesota real estate, Northern Minnesota amusement parks and Northern Minnesota night clubs can be beat. Tough times demand tough choices. If I were running Starbucks, I’d start opening 10,000 new coffee bars up in the North Country right now. And I might be taking a gander at Northern Michigan condominiums as well.

The publishing industry is another investment sector that is easily overlooked by investors who are unable to focus on the big picture. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the next few years will bring us a tidal wave of pop apocalypse books: The One-Minute Eco-Manager, Photo-Voltaic Cells For Dummies, The South Beach Global Warming Diet Guide, Ten Places to Visit Before You Drown, Warm Mountain, The Five People You Meet in Heaven After the Arctic Melts, and Who Moved Cape Cod, Montauk and Santa Monica?

Still, the safest bet of all could be investing directly in Hollywood studios. Thanks to the surprising success of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s new career as a moviemaker is well and truly under way. So keep your eyes peeled for An Even More Inconvenient Truth, The Tipper Point, and Mission Impossible IV: Making Al Gore Fun to Watch.

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About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.