Climate change is a colossal problem, culminated from decades of human ignorance negligence and denial. Instead of attacking the root of the problem, by immediately and directly slowing, stopping or reversing the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, a lot of policy makers adopt a wait-and-see and no drastic actions against the economy approach while banking on technology to save us, induced by part delay tactics and part wishful thinking.
Even as we mosey down that path to nowhere, no one considers who the leader should be or who is in the best position to develop the technology to save the world, probably leaving it up to our free market fairy godmother. Why not Apple and Google? Both seem to be ideal candidates, being technological behemoths and currently the top two most valuable companies in the world by their market capitalizations on the stock market. They are rich and powerful with a lot of talents and capabilities. If and when we go to them and ask them to solve the problem of climate change, will they do it?
The truth is no one will ask them to and if someone does, the answer is no. As publicly traded for-profit companies, they owe their fiduciary duty to their stockholders only and their mandate is to increase their stockholder value by making money for them. If they cannot monetize from any specific venture, they will not do it. They will only focus on doing things that can make the most profit or have the most profit potential, and that means selling iPhones or gadgets for Apple and selling online advertising for Google. Every public company listed on the stock market is the same and has the same mandate. Every for-profit company’s hands are tied by their titanium for-profit handcuffs.
People who are actively engaged in or are affiliated with public-listed companies like Apple and Google are in the business of making money, following a profit-driven economic model under capitalism. They do not concern themselves too much with their negative impacts on other economic, political and social aspects of the society as long as they appear to abide by the existing laws. They treat them as separate and disparate entities. Besides, they rationalize that there are other avenues to address those issues individually. For example, the government is expected to fix the flaws, fill in the gaps and mop up the mess; or concerned individuals can start their own philanthropies or non-profit organizations to promote and support their own causes.
At the same time though, these people and their affiliated companies actively hire a battery of lawyers, attorneys, accountants and lobbyists whose sole purpose is to extract the maximum economic, political and social benefits and advantages for their own financial bottom line and most of the times, at the expense of others. Again, it seems like “heads I win, tails you lose” has become capitalism’s universal motto. Money buys voice, representation, influence, visibility, etc., even pursued lawfully and legitimately. As a consequence, money begets more money. Those are the economic facts of our current society.
On the other hand, Mother Nature, with everything in the natural environment, is not traded on the stock market. It cannot be bought and sold, then make profit for itself. It is not represented in the human world by lawyers and lawmakers who will fight for its rights like a public company is. No one powerful speaks for Mother Nature exclusively. The real life Lorax, if he exists, will fail as miserably as the one in the original Dr. Seuss story. Mother Nature owns no money, and therefore has no voice, no representation, no influence and no visibility whatsoever. Nor do the poor, the future generations, the commons, everyone else and everything else without a fat wallet. They are all muted, crowded out, trodden down, or neglected.
While the most powerful, resourceful and influential people focus on making money, we are missing the boat, literally the lifeboat for humanity. Under the current capitalist economic model with the profit overdrive incentive, we will never be able to solve the climate change problems efficiently and effectively even with the most amazing technology. There are just too many structural obstacles. Firstly, there will never be enough human, material and financial resources, especially money, time and talents, with most of them already embedded in and diverted to only profit-making business ventures. Secondly, even if we discover the perfect technological solutions, the capitalist business model will prevent them from being deployed in the best way to reap the most benefits for the most people because someone in charge will probably want to extract the maximum profit and advantages by restricting them from being widely available or with a lot of strings attached. Thirdly, even if we can somehow miraculously fix this one climate change problem, the capitalist profit overdrive incentive will just steer us back to the old ways afterwards and create other existential problems down the road.
As long as we allow ourselves to be led around by the ‘capitalist money leash’ of the unscrupulous ‘profit vultures,’ we will only direct our energy and resources toward selfish goals at the expense of common goals. In order to save us from ourselves, we must break free from the ‘capitalist money leash’ and try to restructure our economy so that there will be ample human, material and financial resources, especially money, time and talents, dedicated to discover and develop the best technology that can solve the climate change problems efficiently, effectively, safely, speedily, fundamentally, ubiquitously and hopefully, permanently.
Let us imagine what if…