Friday, October 23, 2009

Everybody wants to (save) the world.

Some philanthropy magazine based in the UK recently introduced an essay contest. Winners get published in the magazine and get 1,000 British pounds. Being published sounds fun (although, not gonna lie, yours truly IS a published author. I got some poem published in a book in the 4th grade. Yep. Didn't know I was famous, did you?). And getting 1,000 British pounds, which is probably like a million American dollars, would be enough for me to run away to some beautiful island with swim up bars and cabana boys and hammocks. At least for a few days.

So I happily entered.

I highly doubt I will win, as they probably wanted real answers. I mean, I gave them a real answer that I'm serious about, but I'm not sure my writing style will be appreciated. So I'm gonna post it here. I hope you enjoy.

Without further ado:

The Question:
As a philanthropist, how would you spend $10 million to combat global warming?

The Rules:
Would you seek to put pressure on governments? Or to drive changes in public behaviour directly? Or to incentivize markets? Would you focus on challenging unsustainable consumption trends? Or on addressing questions of equity between richer and poorer countries? Would you target your efforts towards particular countries or regions? Or particular industry sectors? Or particular technologies or institutions?

Whatever your plan, your essay must give some indication of how you would judge if you had been successful and in what timeframe you would do this. Bear in mind that the $10 million could be used over any period of time that you see fit. You should also indicate what you see as the main obstacles to the success of your plan.

My Answer:
The only way to combat global warming and reverse our environment’s pendulum swing away from destruction is to change the entire population’s habits and the way we think about our relationship to the planet. This is no small task. People are notoriously difficult to change and a lot of people don’t think about the environment (or much of anything) at all.
But I don’t think it’s hopeless.
There are three ways that we can change things.
1.      Wait until we’re faced with an irreversible environmental catastrophe. As cities are destroyed and our skin burns in acidic rain, we’ll run in the streets, weeping and gnashing our teeth, yelling, “Why? Why did I leave the water running when I brushed my teeth? Why did I buy that ridiculous Hummer? Why didn’t I listen to Al Gore?” And as we’re all shuttled off to Iceland (which would then feel a few degrees hotter than Hades), we’ll sniff back tears and promise to change our wicked ways.
2.      Realize through our current trials and tribulations that the power to make big changes comes from within, and that collectively, we humans -  a mighty and extraordinary species - have the courage, compassion, and intellect to look our bad environmental habits in the eye, overcome our fears and sloth, and get back to the way things used to be.
3.      Make being green lucrative for business owners and cheap for consumers.
Seeing as how the first way is a bit “too little, too late,” and the second is just the plot of the Wizard of Oz, I would direct my efforts toward method number three. Assuming a 2% APY, compounding once annually, I'd tuck the $10 million safely into a savings account and let it grow for 2 years. Sadly, this will only bump me up to roughly $10.4 million, but every little bit helps and I have some important work to do during that time. While my money is growing, I'd need to make some key contacts. See, this particular philanthropic endeavor has to be for-profit in order to work, but it involves some of the same principles used in nonprofit organizations. Namely donor cultivation; convincing potential funders that their investment will benefit a particular constituency – in this case, the global community. I’d befriend young, rich entrepreneurs. I’d sip bourbon with 10-gallon-hat wearing, oil-owning Texans. I’d have hushed conversations with Senators in dimly-lit D.C. bars. (Maybe I'm jaded after 8 years of the Bush administration, or maybe it's because I have no idea how the legal system works, but it seems to me if you want to make any real change, you need to have a politician in your back pocket.) 
Next – putting my plan into action! I’d buy a huge lot of desert land in Nevada and set up a solar power company. My deep-pocketed friends would be share-holders in this company of course, as I would need much more than my $10.4 million dollars to get it going. The selling point would be that the customers would get their energy at a much, much cheaper price, as I’d keep the profit margin very low, but because I’d be the most earth-friendly yet cheap energy company ever, every one would use our power, making the profit loss up in quantity of customers. My customers are happy, my cowboy oil stock holders are happy, the earth is happy.
This is when things would get really expensive though, as power, oil, and coal companies would start working to bury me in lawsuits, trying desperately to keep the market in their favour. Lucky for me I spent all that time in D.C. buying whores for politicians! And extra lucky for me my big shot friends, grateful for including them in my lucrative plan, were willing to contribute to key re-election campaigns…I slide right through this part.
I tell you, once this green ball is rolling, it’s impossible to stop! Now that the solar company is raking in the dough, I’d buy up the buried patents on the cars that run on garbage (Come on – we put a man on the moon, but we haven’t already invented a car that runs well on something other than oil and gas?) from the now-broke oil and gas company owners. Then, once my green companies have control of the power and auto markets, I’ll have enough pull to make stricter laws on pollution, making sure that if companies are going to do the bare minimum in order to keep their bottom line fat, that the bare minimum is set pretty darn high! Meanwhile, other businesses will have to take up greener practices to compete.
I realize that completely toppling decades-old businesses and therefore leaving thousands (maybe millions!) of citizens without jobs would cause public dissent and would be bad for business. Making sure this didn’t become a PR nightmare requires a two-pronged approach. First, I would now hire the coal companies to re-green the mountain tops they have destroyed, the auto companies to help make and distribute my new green cars, and the oil companies to rebuild much of the Middle East. (Did I mention that because our oil consumption has decreased so significantly, we no longer have to continue fighting in Iraq and surrounding countries? How’s that for supporting the troops!). This would give people jobs, and more importantly, green jobs! Second, I’d get liberal, do-gooder celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck to make my company the new black, assuring that Hollywood was on board. In a short amount of time, TV and film propaganda would make sure the American people knew what to think.
Once I had my business model down, I’d take this baby global. It will take a while to turn this polluted ship around and reverse some of the damage we have already done, but I figure I can set up a company, prove its sustainability, and have completely greened the business market in four, five years tops.
The end.

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