Capitalism produces the technologies we need; activism is needed to get them deployed.
The following is a short talk I’ve given a couple times recently.
We need capitalism AND activism to go fast on climate.
Let’s take capitalism first. There’s so much climate technology innovation happening. It’s exciting. And finding ways to get excited and be optimistic is the key to sustainably working on climate.
I love geeking out on the latest products, seeing how they can all fit together to make life better, healthier and save money. Electrifying your house in particular is a great experience if you can do it… we did, it was so interesting.
Thanks to capitalism, for the first time in our lives, we have great alternatives to fossil fuels… super efficient technologies that are ultra cheap and powerful, just like chips and software. What do I mean super efficient? An eight hundred megawatt coal plant has hundreds of employees, not counting the ones who bring the coal. A similar capacity wind plant? 20. Solar? 10. And rooftop solar’s even simpler… much cheaper than paying for all the gas and coal plants and wires in a utility grid.
Climate technology is getting so good, and scaling so fast, that some days I feel like climate capitalism will fix everything.
Except it wont. Which is why I’m a climate activist too.
All this new stuff is barely making a dent in global emissions so far. Because fossil fuels are locked in.
Fossil fuel revenues are $4 trillion a year globally, a quarter of which is profit… that buys a lot of raw political and grassroots power.
Then there’s jobs. Hundreds of millions of people work in the fossil fuel industry or in sectors that support or depend on them as an input… that’s a huge political lobby.
Then there’s infrastructure – the wells are already drilled, pipes are in the ground, supertankers on the oceans, furnaces in buildings.
And finally, microeconomics and natural self-interest. Monopoly utilities can make a 10% ROE adding new gas generators, but zero adding distributed renewables… so why would they? Heat pumps are cheaper for consumers, but installers can make much more profit just replacing a gas furnace… so that’s what happens.
So the fossil fuel lock-in is daunting. And it’s burning fossil fuels which is burning up the planet. That’s what this boils down to… we’ve gotta stop burning stuff.
Fortunately, things are starting to change, gaps are appearing in the lock-in, dollars are starting to shift and minds starting to change. But it has to happen faster.
So I also do activism: supporting people who are trying to change minds and the flow of dollars at scale, both for profit and non-profit. And having lots of conversations with people – sometimes awkward ones. I’ll talk to anyone who will listen to me, try to appeal to their self interest, educate them and inspire them.
Some examples: I’ve pushed the head of equities of a large well-known brokerage firm on disclosing the emissions of their fund holdings. I told the head of a major non profit he should kick a Chevron exec off his board, because no matter what they say, they’re still spending 99% of their capital budget on more fossil fuels. I tell Realtors they should stage their listings with induction ranges, because that’s what younger buyers want, not unhealthy gas stoves.
I work with a group called Law Students for Climate Accountability, trying to hold the most prestigious law firms accountable for how much fossil fuel work they do. And I support journalists who are trying to tell the climate story, including the part about how the fossil fuel companies and their funders are barreling ahead, knowingly continuing to invest in burning up the planet.
I’ll leave you with this: There’s billions of people living through floods and fires, droughts, scorching heat, asking who’s gonna do something about this. They hope someone powerful somewhere will do something. That’s us. People with talent and capability who can change minds and money flows.
There’s a ton of ways to work on climate, and they’re all great, capitalism to activism and everything in between.
You have power. You can be a leader. You can be a capitalist and/or activist. There are millions of people around the world working on climate, and willing to speak up and fight because they recognize we need to move much faster on climate… for our kids, for us. Scientists, entrepreneurs, policy people, people trying to do the right thing in their community. From the Pope and the head of the U.N. to the hundreds of indigenous people who die every year trying to protect forests and natural ecosystems.
Climate is an all hands on deck situation and I hope you’ll consider getting involved, however you can.
It sure feels great to be trying.