Energy

The missing monster message at COP26

Adapted from “A New Way To Wealth: The Power Of Doing More With Less,” by Bruce Piasecki, published this month.

High on the COP26 agenda is the future of our planet and the billions of people who live here. But there is a central critical issue that will be ignored.

First some praise. With President Joe Biden hitting the G20 and COP26 with a draft $555 billion blockbuster climate response set of actions, America has gone far from when I sat on Al Gore’s White House councils trying to get lift on climate change. This is larger by six times any other American climate program to date, and its reliance on technical solutions will yield jobs. Now to the problem.

The new legislative framework, to be voted on by the end of COP26 I bet, brings in renewables, EV charging stations and hydrogen hubs. America brings all this momentum into Scotland this month and is hitting the convention site Hope Street strong.

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But this still does not address the biggest issue of climate change: personal and family consumption habits. Whatever the many nations decide, and whatever the world’s companies do next, it is the rate of consumption where we must do more with less.

Let’s flip this claim for our people of plenty on its head, in memory of the greats like E.F. “Fritz” Schumacher, author of the 1973 book “Small Is Beautiful.”

Fritz would say: “The folly of seeking more science, more medicines and more purely technical fixes is that you never get there.” I remember him saying exactly that as I hosted his days at Cornell University on the Provost’s dime in 1974 — and Schumacher, like Ben Franklin before him, is still right. To ignore this is to become economic fools. You cannot be a competitor of consequence without these new arts of responding to carbon and capital constraints.

Extend this insight to what’s now a popular concern, climate change, where over 13 percent of Americans and many more Europeans and Asians claim “the climate and carbon excess” the top existential issue of our times. Despite the steps forward in legislative and corporate actions, you never realize you’ve been lucky until you know how to declare, “Enough!” Or “No thanks.” Or simply, “Enough is enough.”

The mantra of “More is More” is a damaging path of excess. It consumes the lives lamented when William Wordsworth wrote, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

The good news: Many in youth, in firms, and in maturity, are beginning to note this item not to be mentioned during COP26: What ails the modern corporation is its robust ability to do too much. While the news will be full of partnerships, gestures at change and profound public relations, this central issue is the one of discomfort and avoidance.

This emphasis on consumption will not sit well, at first, by those in the leisure class, select technical elites fostering idle hopes, such as Bill Gates and company, the undertaxed and the many who would rather imagine a different, more self-justifying story. As the world’s population grows from 7 billion to 10 billion people this century, however, intelligent tradeoffs on food and energy will become second nature in a populist way.

Why not start now? In your own firm? In your own family? With your own friends? This makes ESG real, not only an investment strategy.

Consider the bleakness of not responding to the carbon and capital constraints in this personal way?

If we don’t reduce the habits of our “people of plenty,” we share more harm in our combined near future. Avoidance of this climate and capital challenge is not sensible. You can watch the new generations excel in this climate anxiety. Denial is proving no longer tolerable. The scientific community now meeting, and the nations watching, need collectively to be more artful, more competitive, more frugal on these central issues of simple consumption rates per family and region in our century.

Doing more with less allows greater inclusiveness and civic diplomacy than a politics of hate. It would be unfortunate if the commentators do not challenge the experts on consumption rates.

We are facing many opponents who should not be thought of as simply stupid in a superficial way. More science, more medicines, more money, more investments can only go so far into our near future.

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