How to make this new decade count

(or: let’s make humanity less awful again)

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 towards a net zero carbon economy well before 2050 (#netzero<2050). Of course, we still can (and should) attempt to change our cilization’s trajectory in the 2030ies or the 2040ies 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’s getting 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, inspite of this realization, you and your family keep hiking into 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 those (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 are now to 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. So how can we help transform the ignorance and denial, the paralysing 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, market-libertarian think tanks, and radical nationalists.
  • Second, we need to rethink what 21st century philanthropy/civil society means in light of the climate crisis, what role it can (and should) play as a catalyst of collective, systemic, societal change and as a counterweight to the reckless “philanthropic” funding of climate science denial.
  • Third, we need to consider a pro-active role for the government as a catalyst and propellant for national/regional transitions to #netzero<2050. In the context of a “Green New Deal”, for example, governments can put an effective price on greenhouse gas emissions, ban/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 sector), and — most importantly — 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 inequality) and new dedicated public debt (especially considering that i) capital has never in human history been more inexpensive/taxpayer-friendly, ii) global institutional investors are looking for environmentally sustainable long-term allocations, and iii) central banks are eager to avert the next economic crisis) should be conceivable. 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:

  1. Strengthen the climate movement (i.e. climate urgency awareness building, climate activism and non-violent civil resistance, climate policy design, advocacy, and lobbyism) in any way possible; financially as well as non-financially, at local, national and global levels. We all can do this by joining/supporting a relevant organization, by articulating the necessity for urgent and bold climate action to decision makers, by enabling, driving and promoting the systemic transition to #netzero<2050 professionally (e.g. as an employee/leader/investor/influencer) and privately (e.g. as a citizen/consumer/community member/shareholders). To start, a few recommendations for organisations to support can be found here (in addition to the Citizens Climate Lobby).
  2. 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 theory and his new app may serve as a valuable tool in our fight against fake news, misinformation, and anti-science sentiment. In addition, these resources can be useful as well.

In case you are interested, I have written a more detailed analysis about the climate crisis, and strategic challenges, choices and priorities — feel free to take a look and leave any comments/suggestions here.
In addition, you can find a related presentation here.