Like the controversial colonizer, billionaires are trying to lead the discovery of a new world—and they're approaching it with a similarly destructive mindset.
We can all wax on for hours about our favorite celebrity energy colonizers that we love to hate. I have found it more productive to spend my time working locally to strengthen the connections of the local indigenous community to the local school district by being involved in developing an Indigenous Curriculum that is taught as part of the Kansas History component, currently bereft of any mention of the many tribes in the area.
Additionally while thinking and discussing about the concentration of wealth afforded by the structures of modern economic systems, don't forget that at the same time you can also plug into the ever unfolding seasons and cycles of the more than human world found around you, whether you are a landowner or a renter, live in the country or city. Providing waystations for migratory animals, planting natives--even in a pot--creating habitat and green corridors and many other measures big and small will help re-connect where you live back into the planet. Time will tell whether your education and understanding or your efforts to reconnect to the planet will turn out to be more important to your community and the planet as a whole.
Gates, Bezos, and Musk are opportunists who were clever enough to recognize that certain types of innovation could make them a lot of money. That doesn't make geniuses or the kind of individuals who can lead us out of our present ecological crisis. The current human predicament will not be solved by starting colonies on Mars! We need to focus our resources and attention on a deeper understanding of how we can live on planet Earth without destroying its ecology. We need to listen to people like Prof. William E. Rees, the co-inventor of the concept of an ecological footprint.
We also let people with zero political experience run for the highest offices in the land. Vivek Ramaswamy is running for President of the US! I heard a woman who questioned him about this and told him he wasn't even qualified to be her kids teacher. Trump was a complete disaster and shame on us if he gets a second shot at destroying our country. Look at the people in Congress who are not even close to being qualified for the position. The danger comes from within and we can watch the planet burn if we don't remove theses people like the cancer they are. Good article as usual!
Curious as to your thoughts on the WRI. We are currently researching school busses electrification for local applications here and they pop up prominently in searches of the subject. Their literature appears a bit overly complicated but from what I read they also support propane and cng as alternative fuels in the same articles.
Very, very cool readership has doubled since that essay, so congratulations on that! I had forgotten about my comment on it, and with re-reading it, I would say I still agree with what I wrote because of my experiences in the interval between then and now.
I do think your opening question gets to the heart of it, and my answer would be not so much that people think they are geniuses, although some may think that, but more that billionaires represent the "system" working. In that we can solve huge problems with ingenuity that is rewarded, while also keeping the current level of consumption or car usage, or whatever else. If someone like Musk can become a multibillionaire from electric cars, especially compared to how other car companies are trying to now catch up to in EV market share after being dismissive of them and actively working against them with lobbying, I do understand the instinct here from people.
Now obviously, a lot of that success is due to others, and luck like you linked, or the government giving things like grants and loans, and I would certainly not take Elon Musk's advice on literally anything, but I think what people inherently take away from all this as things largely "working".
And going back to my experiences, I do believe it is better to in a sense "error" on the side of people's assumptions about human ingenuity to get climate progress, than go in the other direction, which might fuel doomerism. Take the IRA as an example. That is, in a sense, a gamble that the climate provisions will outweigh, in orders of magnitude, Manchin's fossil fuel provisions. And it will make people like Musk even richer, even if he doesn't want to admit it, instead of a more equitable distribution of resources. But I do think that was the right decision, even though it caused conflict in the climate movement as I saw it.
There is that struggle though, between fueling complacency and fueling doomerism, and I admit I don't always know where the right line is.
Which is why what also happened in the time between that essay and now, is me more fully appreciating your writing. Not just because it makes me think about these things, or pushes me to challenge my assumptions, but also because it does give me a sense of hope. Reading about you thinking about a better world is what I need sometimes, really sorry if that comes across as presumptuous, but I'm really immensely grateful for that.
Hope you are feeling better from covid, and Happy Early Birthday!
I have been very interested in Jennifer Hinton's ideas about not-for-profit companies. She says the problem isn't so much profit, but what happens to the profit. Currently it goes to investors so it is siphoned out of the company. A not-for-profit company instead is not allowed to distribute money to investors. The money is invested back into the workers, the community, the environment. They are often foundation-owned and there are many of these companies around the globe... think credit unions, Bosch appliances, BRAC. It is an intriguing way to think about how to change capitalism. Here is a link to a book by her: https://www.howonearth.us/
It's very difficult to shake society's core beliefs, and this business of elevating the very rich to a near-godlike status is one such belief. It is anchored in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and like several other such beliefs, currently forms a central supporting foundation in our culture.
Beginning with the Jews and their tradition of believing themselves to be God's chosen people, and then extending to the Calvinist notion of predestination - that is, the rich are rich because God ordained it - we wind up associating great wealth with godliness, or at least with "God-chosen-ness." In its current form, this belief associates great wealth with industry, virtue and intelligence while it associates poverty with laziness, vice and stupidity. Even as I type this I am reminded of my own leanings toward this fundamental view of people.
So it is not unusual at all to see society turning to people of great wealth (or those claiming great wealth) as uniquely qualified to solve our greatest problems. They are our gladiators, our virtuous knights in shining armor, slaying the dragons that would do us harm. Asking us to step outside of one of our core beliefs is like asking us to stop "recycling" our plastic bottles or - oh, I don't know - asking us to wear a mask or get a vaccination during a global pandemic?