For some time I have believed that climate change and wealth disparity are two existential challenges facing human civilization. Various factors have recently made me think they could both be by-products of another troublesome and perhaps age-old human issue – the concerted effort of a few rich folks to protect their excessive wealth.
This connection was in full display in a Bloomberg interview with former US Vice President Al Gore. I certainly do not often go to politicians for inspiration these day, but it appears that recovering ones can be a source.
Gore is a co-founder of Generation Investment Management, a firm that manages $20B of investments in companies whose core includes a social purpose. They include an electric bus company, an electric scooter business that swaps batteries instead of waiting to recharge, a restaurant management firm work to reduce food waste, and a supplier of solar power to off-grid homes in East Africa.
His observations support the idea that protecting the status quo to protect existing wealth is not the way we should be tackling the future:
Generation looks for companies that do not borrow from the future, because they have proven to be far more likely to be successful than their competitors in almost every sector.
The biggest obstacle to the growth of sustainable finance is inertia. Changing established systems is difficult. But once change is embraced the feeling of change is powerful.
California is growing faster than the national economy even while its emissions reductions have been much larger.
The US Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that the fastest growing jobs in the US are solar PV installer and wind turbine technician.
A coal industry lobbyist now heads the EPA, but the private sector has increased coal plant retirement and cancellation since Trump took office.
He also has some valuable reflections on democracy:
In the US, democracy was hacked by lobbyists (as agents of the selfish few) long before the Russians hacked it.
In order to deal with the climate crisis, we have got to deal with the democracy crisis.
Dealing with it means speaking up, in a mature way rather than making it something that everybody tiptoes around.
So climate change can be seen as the result of efforts to prolong practices that have concentrated wealth, too much of which gets used to pervert the democratic process. As Mr. Gore contends, this effort has successfully undermined the checks and balances that are designed to inform decision-making. Gore’s message is that an alternative model based on creating a healthy, low-carbon, low-waste society is a viable, and creates plenty of opportunity to earn a living (doesn’t that sound better than the usual “get rich”). But don’t expect the selfish few to let go easily.
By Peter Halsall, P.Eng, MASc