In the face of continued grim climate news and disturbing societal trends, it is increasingly clear that governments cannot marshall the resources—or perhaps even the will—necessary to the tasks before us. Increasingly, though, forward-looking investors are stepping in to help lead the way forward. Two recent reports offer some encouraging signs that global finance does indeed include many actors who are committed to the changes that we need.
Domestically, a progress report on an impact investing initiative from the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation shows actual investments to be outpacing and outperforming the initial commitments and expectations. When this private-investment initiative was announced in June 2014, they had $1.5 billion in new commitments to impact investments from private funds, foundation programs and endowments, investment banks, small family foundations, and nonprofit organizations. By the time the dust settled on the first round of planning, that total had grown to $2.5 billion to be invested over the five years from 2014-2019. The recent report followed up and found that in just the first eighteen months, through December 2015, almost half of this total had already been invested, suggesting that in the long run the goal may well be exceeded. This is especially likely when we turn to the returns coming in on the early investments, which universally have exceeded expectations. It turns out—no surprise to the SRI community—that investing in projects with strong social and environmental impact is very good business! So far, about two-thirds has been invested for social impact and one-third for environmental impact, especially climate solutions. 81% has been invested here in the U.S.
Internationally, the news is also encouraging. A recent UN report outlines the challenges before us: to meet both the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development goals and the targets in the Paris climate agreement, $90 trillion of investment is needed over the next 15 years. This amounts to about 8% of global GDP over this timeframe, a daunting but not unrealistic goal. But to get there, it will mean marshaling the same power of private financing. As former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson points out in an op-ed entitled How to Raise Trillions for Green Investments:
“The good news is that there is a global abundance of private capital. To unlock these riches, governments must create conditions that encourage private investment in clean technologies and sustainable development. With smart, well-designed and coordinated policies, financing models and instruments like bonds and incentive programs, countries have the potential to solve some of the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges while still maintaining economic growth.”
Paulson is especially enthused about the explosive growth of green bonds, which nearly quadrupled from 2013 to 2015, up to $42 billion. Of this, 40% is being deployed in China, where the government there has set ambitious green energy and building targets. The Building Energy Efficiency and Green Development Fund is a public-private partnership that will bring leading-edge technologies from U.S. companies to China to increase the energy-efficiency of new buildings there. (One more reason to NOT start a trade war with China!)
All this investment is still just the first few drops in the $90 trillion bucket, but the rapid ramping up of these and other green investment commitments suggests that the financial powers that be are finally waking up to the scope of our challenge and are ready to put their massive wealth to work making the changes that are needed. Time will tell whether it will be enough, but we’re encouraged that it’s happening on a scale we haven’t seen before.
Tags: climate, financial assets, global, impact investing, sustainable global economy strategy
Earlier this year, a new talk by Al Gore was posted on the TED site: The case for optimism on climate change. The 20-minute talk and subsequent short interview with TED-meister Chris Anderson is well worth a look. Much of his optimism centers on the rapid shift in electricity production:
The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt of solar per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we’re on track to beat it 68 times over. We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where (the growth curve for solar) was (see arrow on image at top of post). We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.
Gore quotes economist Rudi Dornbusch, who said, “Things take longer to happen then you think they will, and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.” Importantly, the business community has been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and in fact has been crucial to the rate at which its been gathering steam. “This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector,” notes Gore. “We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since.”
Beyond these trends, Gore stresses the underlying nature of humanity, and of fundamental social changes:
Tags: climate, energy, evolutionary strategy, financial assets, future, renewable energy, solar, sustainable global economy strategy
Ray Kurzweil is an accomplished tech innovator (flatbed scanners, OCR, text-to-speech) and a leading voice/visionary of techno-optimistism, especially the potentials of artificial intelligence, which he likes to term “accelerating intelligence,” to capture the ways these developments will benefit and enhance human thought, decision-making, and insight. His book titles give a clear sense of his vision: The Age of Spiritual Machines, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, and The Singularity is Near.
About Ray Kurzweil (wiki)
Since 2001, KurzweilAI has highlighted the accelerating change that fascinates Kurzweil, with coverage of important breakthroughs in science and technology. See especially the Videos page, which gathers videos of many related thinkers that Kurzweil feels are worth seeing, and the Blog.
Kurzweil’s TED talks
Includes talks on hybrid thinking, the accelerating power of technology, and the Singularity University project
Projects that Kurzweil is a key player in:
An innovative educational initiative that includes programs for young adults, graduate students, and corporate executives and entrepreneurs.
Global Future 2045 Congress
A 2013 gathering of futurists and techno-optimists; site includes introductory videos from several leading lights, including Kurzweil.
Tags: 3-D printing, distributed manufacturing, driver, evolutionary strategy
Amory Lovins is another of our D-type thought leaders that was hard to squeeze into one category. We’ve included him as a Driver because of his lifelong commitment to working with existing corporate and regulatory structures to move toward a more sustainable energy future, but in many ways, he is also a Dreamer, envisioning fundamental changes in social, economic, and energy systems. Still, his sharp focus on how we get there from here is what stands out, and this is the work of those dedicated to pushing our current system into the future. Lovins is the co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which has pioneered innovative new approaches to automobile design, renewable energy, architectural energy efficiency, and many other key topics.
About Amory Lovins:
Wiki entry on Lovins
RMI bio of Lovins
Book and RMI program: Reinventing Fire
Amory Lovins’ book Reinventing Fire was published in 2012, and makes a case for a future powered with no need for oil, coal or nuclear energy. The book demonstrates a practical path away from our current fossil-fuel based economy, by integrating transportation, buildings, industry and electricity, combined with new business approaches and strategies.
Video: Reinventing Fire
A six-minute introduction from Rocky Mountain Institute
Video lecture: Reinventing Fire, presented at the 2011 Bioneers Conference.
Video: Winning the Oil Endgame. In this TED talk, based on his recent book by the same name, Amory Lovins lays out his plan to wean the US off oil and to revitalize the economy.
Video: Amory Lovins on a 40 year Plan for Energy. In this talk filmed at TED’s offices, Amory Lovins describes his ideas for how to wean the US off of oil and coal by 2050, in a way that is led by business for profit, without requiring congressional acts. Lovins says the key is to integrate all four energy-using sectors, as well as applying four kinds of innovation.
Book: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolutions
authored by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins
The concept of Natural Capitalism integrates the “triple bottom line” of profitability, environmental, and social responsibility into a single bottom line with an outcome of increased operational efficiency within businesses and organizations. The book is accessible via this website in free, downloadable chapters.
Tags: climate, dreamer, driver, future, renewable energy
The Breakthrough Institute is a think tank committed to “modernizing environmentalism for the 21st century” by rethinking old left-right framing and challenging some key liberal dogmas. Despite their name, we see them more as Drivers, in that their analysis and recommendations are rooted in an eco-pragmatism that includes elements of business-as-usual, albeit directed toward clear sustainability goals. They’ve coined the terms “ecomodernist” and “radical pragmatism” to describe their approach, which includes embracing nuclear power as the most viable path to a carbon-free electricity system in the short timeline available, as well as GMOs as useful tool for global nutrition and agricultural resiliency in the face of climate change. They’ll push your buttons if you’re a standard-issue liberal, but we find their reasoned, contrary voices to be well worth hearing, whether you agree with their bottom line or not.
Breakthrough Institute website
Contains a wealth of in-depth articles and essays
This quarterly journal, available online or in print, is the best place to stay current with what the New Republic called
“among the most complete efforts to provide a fresh answer to” the future of liberalism.
Breakthrough Dialogue 2014: High-energy Planet
Here’s an example of the Breakthrough mindset. Each year, they convene a 2-day “anti-Davos” organized around a theme; see this page for links to essays that summarize the discussions on panels exploring energy issues.
Videos: Breakthrough’s YouTube Channel
Videos: Modernizing Liberalism
A large collection of videos from a 2011 conference put together by Breakthrough Institute.
Tags: driver, future, global
Stewart Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog, which included practical tools for back to the landers as well as tracking the leading edges of technology, including personal computing and the emergence of the internet. In recent years, he has brought an earth-loving engineer’s perspective to environmental issues, releasing a challenging book and championing “de-extinction,” which hopes use biotechnology to bring back extinct species. He is in many ways a prototypical driver, ever focused on getting good at it.
Stewart Brand homepage.
Book: Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto is a 2009 book by Stewart Brand. He sees Earth and people propelled by three transformations: climate change, urbanization, and biotechnology. Brand tackles “touchy issues” like nuclear power, genetic engineering and geoengineering, pushing his progressive readers to rethink some of their dogmas and assumptions.
Video: Four environmental heresies
This talk is a whirlwind tour through Brand’s challenging book, Whole Earth Discipline.
Videos: Brand TED talks
Includes talks on de-extinction, nuclear power, a positive view of squatter cities, and the Long Now.
The Long Now Foundation
The Long Now Foundation was established in 1996 with the intention of countering today’s accelerating culture and short-term thinking by supporting projects that cultivate long-term thinking. The website includes Clock and Library projects, as well as thought provoking articles and (for members) videos of seminars by visiting lecturers. About the Long Now, Brand says, “It would be helpful if humanity got into the habit of thinking of the now not just as next week or next quarter, but the next 10,000 years and the last 10,000 years — basically civilization’s story so far.”
eBook: The SALT Summaries
Here is a collection of Stewart’s email summaries of a hundred Seminars About Long Term Thinking, featuring a who’s who of innovative speakers, including Jared Diamond, Craig Venter, Bruce Sterling, Jill Tarter, Martin Rees, Clay Shirky, Niall Ferguson, and many more.
Tags: driver, future, technology
Kevin Kelly was the founding editor of Wired magazine, and before that, editor of the Whole Earth Review. He continues to be a fascinating and provocative writer and speaker on the cultural changes being wrought by rapidly increasing computing power and technological advances. Like his old cohort Stewart Brand, Kelly is a prototypical Driver, championing the breakthroughs that he sees on the near horizon.
Kevin Kelly’s website is an embarrassment of riches, including the Technium, where he delves deep into the technological present and future, the Lifestream, a collection of his writings, and Cool Tools, a small-scale variation on the old Whole Earth Catalog tradition of crowd-sourced recommendations.
Video: How technology evolves.
Tech enthusiast Kevin Kelly asks “What does technology want?” and discovers that its movement toward ubiquity and complexity is much like the evolution of life.
Article: Three Breakthroughs that have Finally Unleashed Artificial Intelligence on the World.
A great recent (late 2014) summation of the dawning of utilitarian machine “smartness”—not necessarily intelligence, certainly not consciousness, but rather many “species” of task-specific AI.
Tags: driver, evolutionary, technology