By Karim Sayyad and Sasja Beslik
Modern civilization, as currently constructed, is unsustainable. If we stay on our current trajectory, the death of our planet is all but certain.
Contrary to what many environmentalists may say, this is not your fault. You, alone, are not responsible for climate change, and you alone don’t bear the burden for avoiding our impending ecological catastrophe. Your summer trip to the Canary Islands is not the source of our problem, nor is the plastic spork you use at lunch.
Climate change is bigger (and more complex) than any one person. The true culprit, however, is the economic system that has actively promoted and encouraged climate change over the past several decades.
Everyone — politicians, business executives, ordinary citizens — wants economic growth. We take this as a given. But for all of our emphasis on growing the world economy, there’s shockingly little discussion about how we can develop the economy while also achieving sustainability and avoiding cataclysmic climate change.
That’s because most people view economic growth and fighting climate change as in direct conflict with one another, when that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Ensuring the future of our planet, and the economic security of everyone in it, is in fact a necessary part of sustained economic growth.
Our current economic model is based on several flawed assumptions. We wrongly assume consumption, transportation and infrastructure will grow forever, unabated. And we wrongly assume that social and environmental initiatives — such as fighting poverty, limiting pollution and enacting more sustainable energy solutions — are too costly and are an impediment to economic growth.
This is, of course, utterly false. The economy can’t continue to grow if the environment and its inhabitants aren’t secure. Protecting the environment isn’t a drag on the economy, it’s a necessary part to its continued prosperity. And the best way to ensure both environmental and economic prosperity is with the financial industry.
The financial sector may be the image of greed and short-sightedness, but what people don’t realize is the financial industry is the most effective means for promoting sustainability and combating climate change. As it currently exists, our financial system promotes short-term gains at the expense of our environment. But fixing this broken system, and the environment, is as simple as placing an emphasis on long-term sustainability.
We can’t rely entirely on national politicians to enact these changes. We can’t rely on media, which is more interested in Vanderpump Rules than climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in all of human history. We can’t twiddle our thumbs and wait for corporations to change their business models and address climate change themselves.
Instead, we should follow the money and steer all of our investment dollars — our pensions, our IRAs, 401ks, our venture capital — to companies at the forefront of sustainable innovation, or actively working to reduce carbon emissions. If a person redirects all their personal savings to sustainable funds, their personal carbon footprint will decrease by as much as seven tons per year.
Now imagine conducting this kind of asset reallocation on a global scale. Only this kind of massive reallocation of funds can create the kind of systemic change our economy and environment so desperately needs — a system that rewards sustainability and considers the environmental costs of policy and business decisions.
That’s a money trail we can follow, and be proud of.
NB: For much more on this, we recommend (of course) that you read our book “Guld och gröna skogar” (2019) — soon available in English under the title “Where the money tree grows”.