The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC) in its latest report, has given humans its starkest warning: to end burning of fossil fuels and shift our industries toward renewable resources within the next ten years. This requires the global transition toward the goals of the UN Climate Accord in Paris in 2015, to be re-assessed at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021. This means shifting to regenerating the Earth’s natural re-cycling and restoration processes which humans have exceeded during the past Industrial Age. This means mimicking Nature’s technologies, as we humans have done in the past.
The days of empty promises of “net zero by 2050” are too little, rely too much on offsets and are too late, as reported in key articles in New Scientist, August 21, 2021. Today we must focus on reducing emissions to zero before 2050. Our beloved children are demanding this: This Is the World Being Left to Us By Adults, New York Times, August 18, 2021.
This does not require further technological research, but instead, to use and scale up all the regenerative technologies and means already available. Current consumerist lifestyles, political will, and incumbent special interests are slowing this transition to more sustainable, equitable, greener, knowledge-richer societies of the incoming Solar Age. This now rapidly advancing transition leaves legions of research professors, think tanks, technology pundits, venture capitalists, stock market players, and lobbyists still on the wrong side of history, with their intellectual and financial assets stranded and losing out. As we have reported in our Green Transition Scoreboard® annual reports since 2009, private sector investors, asset managers, entrepreneurs, and global NGOs are helping drive this green transition into mainstream politics in the European Union (EU), the USA and in many other countries. Other reports that confirm ours include RethinkX: How Humanity Can Choose to Reduce Emissions 90% by 2035 through the Disruption of Energy, Transport and Food with Existing Technologies, (2021). Even this report omits the additional expansion of the world’s food-based only on its 3% of freshwater which could be expanded with nutritious halophyte, salt-loving plants thriving for centuries in 22 countries without fertilizers or pesticides on unused and desert land as we detail in Capturing CO2 While Improving Human Nutrition and Health, (2018).
We humans can re-focus our big brains, ingenuity, and innovative spirits on five priorities for the good of all and our common future: Re-thinking, re-designing, reducing, reusing, and regenerating nature. As systems thinkers know, the key intervention points to steer organizations in new directions are at the top: by re-thinking the mission and changing the rules to focus on the new conditions and goals. In computer terms: look at the current source-code and operating system’s decision algorithms and then, as necessary, change the outdated code. Re-program financial algorithms by weeding out obsolete assumptions hidden in the math. These errors in finance continue causing food shortages and escalating hunger in many countries reported in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, August 23rd, 2021.
This re-thinking leads to the next priority: re-designing the operating models, methods, and organization’s structure to produce the desired new outcomes. This re-design process usually reveals previously overlooked inefficiencies and wasted inputs, offering many ways of reducing costly inputs, often to zero - as in the case of many better-designed buildings that now produce, rather than consume energy. Newest construction methods are reported in The Economist, August 21, 2021, which can help reduce the construction industry ‘s 11% of CO2 emissions. Another example is the capturing of 2.9 million tons of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, which is leaking from oil wells in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico which the IPCC report says are key to meeting climate goals. These methane emissions could actually be captured and sold profitably, according to Bloomberg Business Week, August 23, 2021. We must also heed cautions of systems scientists that our models cannot be relied on to give us answers. Algorithms can never be truly ethical but must be steered by higher human judgement, as I emphasize in Let’s Train Humans Before We Train Machines.
We also see the efficiency of collecting mineral ores needed for electronics, batteries from the ocean floor, contained in natural rocks with all the needed rare earth elements, as well as cobalt, manganese, copper, lithium in these natural ore-based nodules. The DeepGreen company is designing sea-going collection vessels to retrieve these nodules, and life cycle analyses find this over 90% more efficient than mining on the Earth, where the one percent of ores recovered leave 99% of waste rock tailings poisoning the land. Environmental groups have rightly supported a ban on such sea-based recovery to first assess damage to the ocean floor. The issue is always assessing technologies in comparison with current practices, as I describe in The Politics of Production: Mining in the Crosshairs, which include making diamonds and other gems out of ambient CO2 as does Sky Diamonds and other companies.
Thousands of products and services sold to protect societies and ameliorate harm produced by ill-designed industries can be eliminated - along with their advertising and marketing costs. For example, trillions spent today treat diseases caused by marketing of unhealthy diets: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and antibiotic resistant illnesses due to over-use in industrially raised cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens.
Next: the priority of reduction of unhealthy, unnecessary, or toxic production reveals all the opportunities for reuse and re-making industries, operations, and products designed for re-use, re-manufacturing, and continually upcycled components in our emerging circular economies. The “take-back” laws in the European Union ( EU), the USA, and other countries drove many companies to re-make their products for easy re-use, disassembly, repair, and re-sale.
All these four steps lead to regenerating and restoring our home planet’s functioning - continually replenishing our life forms with harvesting our daily free photons from the Sun. These Nature’s principles which have successfully operated and evolved for 3.8 billion years are advocated by the Biomimicry Institute and its founder Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry (1993) and her B.3.8 company, in which I have been an early investor, which teaches corporations and cities how to operate on these Nature’s Principles.
Let’s now look closer at these five priorities to meet the IPCC’s ten-year window to keep our planet below 1.5 C degrees of warming and may prevent 2021’s climate disasters from worsening. Some effects are already irreversible, including rising sea levels which will continue for centuries.
Job one is re-thinking obsolete economics still driving too many governments and financial decisions programmed into investment algorithms, now limiting options for multiple transitions to a cleaner, greener more equitable, and sustainable societies, as I described in Time To Dethrone Economics and Fixing The Money Meme. This begins at the top with finance ministers and central banks, which need to shift their money-creation toward buying green bonds instead of fossilized assets and mortgage-backed securities, which only fuel housing and other asset bubbles. For their Quantitative Easing (Q.E.), the NGO, Positive Money, based in London and Brussels has already persuaded the incoming head of Britain’s Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, and Christine Lagarde, head of the European Central Bank, to make such shifts. We need broader metrics Valuing Love Economies, based on traditional values of the Golden Rule that still drive all the informal sectors in all societies that are unpaid, based on mutual aid, barter, swaps (all now on electronic apps). These unpaid productive sectors produce un-accounted trillions in all societies and are actually larger than the official GDP-money-measured market sectors.
Next is re-thinking corporations beyond their current dilemma as puppets of finance, to focus on their goals and governance, still chartered to serve the public good, along with making profits, ego needs, and greed. The movements of ethical investors and asset managers since the 1980s are paying off in the new investment models of over 600 ESG-themed “impact”, green and ethical funds. The wide acknowledgment of these broader social mandates can be seen in the mainstreaming of ethical, green, and social impact enterprises, along with the adoption of Benefit Corporation certification, and the hundreds of successful companies in solar, wind, energy efficiency, LED lighting electric vehicles and charging stations, the hundreds of new companies offering plant-based foods and beverages, supplanting animal-based meat, along with regenerative agriculture. There are more people on our planet employed in cooperative enterprises than all profit-making corporations combined, according to the United Nations.
Ethical Market’s mission since 2004 has encouraged such re-thinking in all our annual Green Transition Scoreboard® reports since 2009, see particularly Transitioning to Science-Based Investing, (2019-2020), as well as our books, TV series distributed to colleges worldwide, as described in my Time To Re-think Our Technology Choices.
These re-designing activities are evident in most incumbent industries from their early founding in the 19th and 20th centuries, based on plentiful natural resources. free use of air and water, as well as a then much smaller human family. Today, the Earth’s resources are diminishing, ever more polluted, and culminated in the climate disruptions and catastrophes awaiting our now almost 8-billion-member human family if we do not re-design our production methods, technologies, lifestyles, and goals.
These now obsolete, incumbent industries are struggling to re-invest in the renewable sector companies and re-deploy their stranded assets stuck in fossil reserves that cannot be burned without further cooking the planet, and so becoming worthless. Many such companies have gone bankrupt, particularly in the coal sector.
Governments are tightening rules and enforcement and requiring companies to disclose their risks due to climate disruption, for example, by the Taskforce on Climate Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and by the USA Securities and Exchange Commission. Some entrenched old companies are trying to wrest more subsidies from their governments and taxpayers, so as to add wasteful, costly mechanical systems to capture CO2 from fossil-burning power plants and bury CO2, rather than recognizing that carbon is a useful resource too valuable to burn! Yet many companies and governments will still come to COP26 with promises of “net-zero by 2050” promises, still based on fraudulent use of “offsets” (planting or saving a forest somewhere else). They rely on the unrealistic ideas of capturing CO2 with these costly energy-wasting machines or using biomass instead of oil or coal, which use land and water needed for humans, as examined further in New Scientist, August 21, 2021.
Reducing and eliminating wasteful practices are yielding huge saving both for companies and consumers, as in the shift from internal combustion gasoline cars to electric vehicles (EVs), which are simpler to make and run, with many times more mileage. The efficiency of EV s can be almost doubled again by increasing voltage from 400 to 800 volts in their drive systems, as reported in The Economist, August 21, 2021. Solar-heated roofs on homes once paid for, require no fuel, reducing homeowners bills to fractions of earlier fuel costs and grid-based electric bills. The greatest saving in the USA is possible in its medical-industrial complex, based on treating disease with pharmaceuticals, hospitalization, and surgeries. As humans shift to fitness, healthy lifestyles, more plant-based diets, as well as public health and prevention-focused systems and universal coverage, already available in EU and other advanced societies, lives can be saved along with trillions in unnecessary costs. This includes reducing billions of costs to companies in today’s employer-based, private insurance plans, co-pays, as well as consumer bankruptcies, 50% of which are due to medical bills. Insurance companies can re-direct their policies to climate risks and the property losses from stronger storms floods, fires already costing billions, as well as sea-level rise which will now continue for centuries.
Following the principles of Nature, where there is no waste, are leading to the adoption of renewable resources, clean energy and production methods, re-useable products, and “upcycling” of former wastes sent to landfills and choking our oceans. Humans are learning these lessons from Nature directly: from climate crises to pandemics. The new concept of circular economies is now well-established and covered by the Circular Economy Institute, founded by global navigator, Ellen MacArthur after she traversed the planet in a rowboat! The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed over years by all sectors of the UN’s 193 member countries and ratified in 2015. For example, we see the global shift from animal-based meats and fish to cell-based alternatives where no more animals need to be slaughtered and the double-digit growth of plant-based food and beverage companies, with many meat companies now adding their own lines of veggie burgers, chicken nuggets made from plants, also covered by the Good Food Institute.
If this global trend continues, we may see two-thirds of all our planet’s agricultural land re-used, no longer pasturing cattle, and growing their feed. Instead, these lands can be released for growing human food and re-wilding back to natural biomass and trees, removing tons of CO2 from our atmosphere and restoring it into our soils. Farmers in the USA will soon be compensated for re-storing their soils while capturing CO2. Companies leading in the Circular Economies include TerraCycle, incentivizing householders and citizens in many communities, and ECOR, a global company upcycling all kinds of discarded materials and turning them into beautiful, useful products.
We humans are moving in this direction following Nature's principles, as they did before the Industrial Revolution which began in Europe over two hundred years ago when our technologies using fossil fuels began loading the Earth’s atmosphere with CO2. As the IPCC now warns, this remaining “Carbon Budget” will run out in a few years and we must hasten the transition to circular, renewable societies, and lifestyles beyond consumerism, toward fairness and our earlier value systems based on the traditional Golden Rule. This cooperative Golden Rule: “Do as you would be done by” is the basis of most international agreements and treaties. As the incumbent fossilized sectors fight their rearguard actions, Ethical Markets surveys with GlobeScan in twelve countries, show that wide majorities of citizens already favor expanding money-denominated GDP with all the scientific statistics on health, education, and the environment. Time for economists to catch up!