22 January 2012

What Juices People? Money! What's Going to Save the World? Money!

Today's post is courtesy of a fascinating conversation I had this past week with a special young person in my life — a carpenter, an artist and a thinker all in one.

This is someone who understands that if you're not outraged by what's going on in the world, you're not awake. But, and I suspect this is due to his equally young wife's influence, instead of bitching about it, he reflects thoughtfully and comes up with solutions, both conceptual and material solutions.

Imagine my surprise and curiosity when he quite assuredly told us that environmental activism isn't going to save the world, money is. Making a lot of money. By creating huge economic opportunities that just happen to also be kind to the Earth. Here's my recollection of what he shared with us.
Saving the world has to make money. What binds people and ideas together? Money. Money is the glue in our society. Nobody's on your side otherwise.

Distributing an idea to save the planet? You have to sell it. And who's going to sell it? Only someone who is going to make a lot of money off it. Otherwise, you're spinning your wheels!

Forget every idea that isn't a revenue-generator. It has to be economically viable. If it can't compete in the marketplace, it's dead before you start. It's like you're knockin' on a big steel door with a dime. It's just not going to open.

Where is the money to fight the oil corporations? You don't have the money to fight them. Dress like them. Go to their meetings. Don't fight them, because you're going to lose. Do it the same way the corporations do it, but with different intentions. Use ethical underhanded conniving!

Get in the race, he entreated us. (But enviros "don't do money," I responded. We're not in the race because we don't see life as a race, but a walk in the forest.) Just as you cringe at the word "money," he told me, corporations cringe at "environment."

Go from fighting corporations — and being ostracized by corporations — to being in synch with them, inside them. Remember that just because you're a corporation doesn't mean you have to be exploitative. There are social enterprises, B-corps, etc.

Fixing these problems is not going to be free, it's going to cost a lot of money, in jobs and research especially. Take, for example, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The question isn't how to clean it up, but how to make money off cleaning it up (for example, recouping the oil in efficient, environmentally friendly ways). That way, the clean up doesn't have to depend on volunteers with lousy equipment.

For example, what's the only thing that's stopping shark finning? Tourism. Shark tourism. So boost that sector of the economy. Help people make more money by showing off sharks to tourists than by killing them for their fins.

Another example. Design a mid-sized gasifier, somewhere between a $20,000 bells-and-whistles Swedish unit and a backyard oil drum unit. Couple it with a compatible generator, sell it to farms. Waste biomass generates energy and then becomes charcoal, a fertilizer. Farms can become energy independent. Get Honda to run with this, but keep your finger in it so you can make money for the next environmentally friendly idea.

This change has to have its own legs and run by itself. People have to want this.
As someone with not one ounce of entrepreneurial spirit in her (note the complete lack of ads on my blog and website), this all came as quite a shock to my (belief) system. But I suppose what my young friend was trying to say was simply, "You have not been successful in beating them. Now join them."

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?