By Young-jin Choi, guest blogger
The 2020s are going to be among the most critical and significant decades in human history, calling for all the determination, energy, and resources we can muster in order to accelerate a global transition toward a net-zero-carbon economy well before 2050, or #netzero<2050. Of course, we still can (and should) attempt to change our civilization’s trajectory in the 2030s or the 2040s as well, but our room to maneuver and our positive welfare creation potential will likely be severely constrained by then.
To utilize a metaphor: Imagine you are on a hiking trip in the mountains with your family, with the intent to reach a lodge (a warm and safe place) near the summit, before it gets dark. To further increase the stakes, a storm warning has been issued for the evening. Along the way you realize that a supposed shortcut has actually led you off track, on a pathway which is leading downhill into an uncharted and dangerous terrain (the local rangers explicitly warned you not to go there). It is obvious that the longer you continue on this path before making a turn, the more time and strength it will take to eventually get to the lodge. Yet, in spite of this realization, you and your family keep hiking in the wrong direction for hours, until you are approaching a point at which the only way to reach the summit before nightfall is an increasingly arduous (but not impossible) climb.
Humanity has been on such a metaphorical journey for the past decades, with the main difference that the mostly 21st-century-born generations, who may have to spend a stormy night in the wilderness, are not the same as those mostly pre-millennial generations who failed to turn around earlier and now must decide whether to take their chances or to continue further downhill.
We never asked for such an enormous responsibility, yet we are finding ourselves in this extraordinary period in human history, where our collective action—and inaction—is shaping the planetary conditions for life on earth for thousands of years to come.1
So how can we help transform the ignorance and denial, the paralyzing fear and depressing frustration, the urge to run away or give up—all of which is to be expected in the face of an overwhelming existential threat like the climate crisis—into fearless determination and bold climate action? Among many possible answers, I would like to emphasize the following three points.
First, we need to be clear and focused about which forces blocking progress we are really up against, namely well-funded fossil fuel industry associations and lobbyists,2 market-libertarian think tanks,3 and radical nationalists.4
Second, we need to rethink what 21st century philanthropy and civil society mean in light of the climate crisis and what role they can (and should) play as a catalyst of collective, systemic, societal change and as a counterweight to the reckless funding of climate science denial.5
Third, we need to consider a proactive role for the government as a catalyst and propellant for national and regional transitions to #netzero<2050. In the context of an ambitious Green New Deal,6 for example, governments can put an effective price on greenhouse gas emissions, ban or reverse new fossil fuel energy projects and phase out fossil fuel subsidies, hold fossil fuel companies liable for damages, facilitate the development of new technologies and promote their rapid deployment (e.g., in the construction sector7), and commission huge green infrastructure modernization projects (e.g., in terms of renewable energy supply, flexible power grids, electrification, public transportation, etc.).
Since an extraordinary emergency justifies extraordinary measures, the possibilities of a dedicated wealth tax (especially considering unprecedented levels of social inequality8) and new dedicated public debt should be conceivable. Consider that:
1. Capital has never in human history been more inexpensive and taxpayer-friendly.9
2. Global institutional investors are looking for environmentally sustainable long-term allocations. And
3. Central banks are eager to avert the next economic crisis.10
I’m sure, if anything, it will be misguided stinginess and a lack of visionary responsible leadership that 21st century-born generations will reproach us with in hindsight.
In conclusion, there are two areas of engagement that I believe can make a particularly significant difference in the 2020s:
First, strengthen the climate movement (i.e., climate urgency awareness building, climate activism and nonviolent civil resistance, climate policy design, advocacy, and lobbyism) in any way possible, financially as well as nonfinancially, at local, national, and global levels. Everyone can do this by joining or supporting a relevant organization, by articulating the necessity for urgent and bold climate action to decision makers, and by enabling, driving, and promoting the systemic transition to #netzero<2050 professionally (e.g., as an employee, leader, investor, and/or influencer) and privately (e.g., as a citizen, consumer, community member, and/or shareholder).
Second, while remaining generally open to rational, scientific, and honest discourse: Expose and rectify any ill-fated attempts at discrediting or trivializing the climate crisis, climate science, climate activism, and climate solutions. In this regard, John Cook’s inoculation theory11 and his new app12 may serve as a valuable tool in our fight against fake news, misinformation, and anti-science sentiment. In addition, resources provided by Skeptical Science13 can be useful as well.
I sincerely hope that, together, we can contribute to humanity choosing the pathway in the 2020s that leads to a brighter future. I look forward to it!
1. Timothy M. Lenton et al., “Climate tipping points—too risky to bet against,” Nature, November 27, 2019. http://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0?c=1d9fca04-35d2-4ba2-8...
2. Sandra Laville, “Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies, says report,” The Guardian, March 21, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/22/top-oil-firms-spending-...
3. Graham Readfearn, “How the Mont Pelerin Society ‘Neoliberal Thought Collective’ Is Influencing Donald Trump’s Presidency,” Desmog, November 29, 2017. https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/11/29/how-mont-pelerin-society-neolibera...
4. Cristina Maza, “Far-Right Climate Denial Is Growing in Europe,” New Republic, November 11, 2019. https://newrepublic.com/article/155669/far-right-climate-denial-growing-...
5. Douglas Fischer, “‘Dark Money’ Funds Climate Change Denial Effort,” ScientificAmerican.com, December 23, 2013. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dark-money-funds-climate-chan...
6. Edie.net, Green New Deal, definition. https://www.edie.net/definition/Green-New-Deal/262
7. Tim Smedley, “Could wooden buildings be a solution to climate change?” BBC.com, July 24, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190717-climate-change-wooden-archit...
9. David Trainer, “The Fed Is Irrelevant: Low Interest Rates Are The New Normal,” Forbes.com, February 1, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2019/02/01/the-fed-is-irr...
10. Adam Tooze, “Why Central Banks Need to Step Up On Global Warming,” ForeignPolicy.com, July 20, 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/20/why-central-banks-need-to-step-up-o...
11. John Cook, “Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation,” SkepticalScience.com, May 17, 2017. https://skepticalscience.com/incoculation-theory-cook17.html
About the Author
Young-jin Choi serves as an expert for systemic/climate impact investing at PHINEO gAG, a leading nonprofit think and do tank for impact-oriented philanthropy in the German speaking area. For additional reading, see “The next 30 years: The #GreatTransition to #NetZero<2050,” Medium.com, December 29, 2019.