You’ve got the right stuff – money. Worldwide, your total (declared) wealth hit $11.95 trillion in December 2020 – equivalent to the pandemic recovery spending of all the G20 governments put together. In the US alone, your collective wealth has grown by $1.1 trillion, or about 30%.
The age of billionaires seems to have coincided with the age of climate change. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence but you need to decide what to do about it.
For the rest of us, the increasingly visceral experience of the climate emergency is finally inspiring unexpected levels of action and even political movement. Young people stood up before the pandemic and they are still overwhelmingly committed to action.
However, there has been another, unintended, consequence of this rising awareness: the climate crisis is convincing some folks to get a gun, hunker down and protect what’s theirs. Nationalism, protectionism and anti-globalisation are increasingly visible.
You face the same choice – do something about climate change, or hide.
As billionaires, the latter choice is arguably open to you. The hyper-wealthy could attempt to create protected spaces – self-sufficient ‘bolt-holes’ of solar-powered comfort to ride out the coming storm. This has some historical precedents, during epidemics, revolutions and tax hikes. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for out there?
But the threatened climate upheaval isn’t a periodic social crisis or localised war, but rather a tipping-point of planetary chemistry. Unfortunately, even an intergalactic bunker will crumble if the mothership planet suffers full biosphere collapse.
Ben Elton’s satire Stark novel explores the idea of earth being “killed in the pursuit of money” with a group of billionaires fleeing the scene to a new life in space. This premise is starting to feel a little less outlandish in the face of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk’s recent endeavours.
“For the men gathered round the table it was utterly frustrating to have inherited the earth and then have the damn thing die on you” – Ben Elton, Stark
Alternatively, you could utilise the not inconsiderable influence of capital to attempt a reversal of the threat and ‘fix’ climate change.
1) End the oil, gas and coal industries; swiftly and decisively. Most simply by moving capital away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, initiating a cascade effect within markets. There are other mechanisms available to fulfil the goal (political influence, technological innovation), but without the capital shift they will prolong the transition beyond the window available for preventing the worst climate impacts.
2) Rebuild stable photosynthesis. This isn’t a call for protecting biodiversity, as noble a cause as that is, but safeguarding the carbon-to-oxygen cycle and weather regulation services of photosynthesising plants. Invest in extensive reforestation, restoration of mangroves, wetlands and other large carbon sinks and prevent (by any means necessary) the loss of existing large climate regulators such as the Amazon and Arctic tundra.
These first two action points are straightforward: stop new carbon entering the atmosphere and pull old carbon out of it. Even more simply – make the carbon cycle work again.
But my third ask of billionaires is a little harder – because it’s about culture rather than chemistry.
3) Exclude the laggards and deniers. Wealth has been as much of a sustainable a system as our biosphere, until now. Within certain ‘circles’, near-complete freedom is granted to pursue personal interests, projects and stances. Autonomy is collectively respected and protected among billionaires. Money means freedom, and only an emergency of the scale currently faced could bring the autonomy of wealth into question. Only this emergency challenges the sustainability of wealth itself. Respecting ‘differences of opinion’ or avoiding difficult topics in social situations is no longer tenable. Each of you must exclude, cut-out, ghost, criticise and ostracise the other super-wealthy if they refuse to do everything possible to solve climate change. Money may not motivate many of you anymore, but prestige does. Those who feed rather than fight climate change don’t deserve the privilege of your rank.
There are many other morally necessary and desirable solutions: climate justice, agricultural innovations, investment in research and intersectional sustainability. All are viable, urgent and useful.
But in simple terms, the answer is this: cut off carbon entering the atmosphere and transform existing carbon into oxygen. And punish any billionaires who won’t take part in doing that.
That’s the formula for a minimum viable planet. You know, the one where all your money is.