Today, I share my most controversial opinion: Humans are too weak to tackle climate change
You’re probably wondering: How can I possibly say that? How can I invest in climate tech and believe humanity will fail? Am I REALLY that cynical?
The answer, as with all things in life, is nuanced, of course.
I didn’t say humanity would fail. I said we as humans (especially as somewhat pampered 21st century citizens of our modern world) are too weak to succeed.
We simply cannot do it on our own. We don’t have the willpower.
And here is where the climate activists jump in. “Of course we do,” they say. “We just have to give up meat, give up flying, give up this/that etc…”
“We cannot afford to fail!”
This at least, is something we can agree on.
But for most people, it is simply too hard. There are too many evolutionary instincts and desires we’d individually need to overcome to reduce our consumption and hit our climate goals.
If you don’t believe me, why are 36% of the US obese and another 33% overweight (ie. 2/3 American adults)?
Is it really an issue of info and access to healthy food? Or is it something more basic?
Because weight loss comes 100% down to willpower. It is: how bad do you want it…?
And the same is true with cigarettes.
How many folks do you know who’ve wanted to quit for years and still smoke a pack a day?
It is NOT their fault.
We are ONLY human.
I was a vegetarian for 12 years – 12 long years. I’m not anymore – because I love meat (and also because I believe vegan/vegetarian diets are ultimately less healthy).
And I’m somewhat addicted to exercise.
I don’t want to eat meat. But I am too weak to quit on my own.
Because I too am ONLY HUMAN.
Just like the other 7.89B+ people on this planet.
And it is downright stupid to assume that 7B+ individuals (regardless of age, race, gender, upbring etc…) will EVER be strong enough and motivated enough to take the INCREDIBLY challenging steps needed to curb consumption and combat climate change.
It simply ISN’T fair to put the onus and decision/responsibility on the individual consumers.
Just like it isn’t fair to put it solely on corporations.
How can we expect others (individuals or companies) to be better than ourselves? How can we expect them to overcome their base human instincts and desires when with certain things?
And until we come to grips with this inherent weakness of our species, we won’t be able to stop climate change.
It’s like starting a diet while filling your home with brownies, ice cream and soda… you’re destined to fail.
But there is hope. We WILL succeed. We will beat climate change.
I TRULY believe that.
But to do that, sustainability NEEDS to become the default – the norm. Because as humans, we are lazy and weak – we are literally evolved to be that way…
Look at intelligence, it’s just a better way of making things easier – less work, less effort, less energy. That is the history of technology and intellectual progress. How can we spend time and energy now so we can be lazy and reap the rewards later?
And if laziness is core to who we are, why not factor that into our climate actions?
For example: My family JUST started composting (yeah… I know, I’m a “horrible” person… I should have been doing this for years). The thing is, our building just now offered composting as a service. Before, it was incredibly challenging and time consuming… ie. It was A LOT of extra effort and I/we were too lazy.
But now, it’s easy: a separate bin, drop it downstairs and it’s taken care of… It is easy
And when it becomes easy, it comes the default.
And defaults define us.
You brush your teeth every day because that’s just what you do.
You use Safari on your iPhone or Chrome on your Android because it’s the built-in default.
You exercise at 5am because that’s when your alarm goes off.
Defaults define the majority and define our actions.
And for humanity to effectively combat and beat climate change, we need to change our defaults. Which isn’t possible from an individual-only perspective (for all the reasons above – we can’t expect people to be perfect if we’re only human).
And if we are only human, maybe it’s time we started changing the rules of the game…
Because if all carbon emissions were taxed, if all excessive consumption had additional penalties, if all waste was recycled and reused… imagine the impacts we’d have on our planet and climate struggle.
What if electronics were legally required to have a 5-10 year lifecycle?
What if ALL products had to be > 50% recyclable?
What if food packaging was banned?
What if we decided that society had evolved beyond pure shareholder capitalism?
What if we rethought our laws and expectations around everything (as a species, as a collective)…?
Can we take the hard collective decisions that aren’t in our immediate interests to do something that benefits/saves all of us? Can we put guiderails onto capitalism to fix the problems that successful capitalism created?
Because it is MUCH MUCH easier to follow a standard/law than it is to have to decide EVERY SINGLE TIME to do the right thing…
Maybe the game needs new rules (and not just better players…)
Cause I have an addictive personality – hence why I NEVER drink or do drugs.
I’d be too weak to stop, but I’m also strong enough and aware enough to know not to start.
Can humanity do the same?
Can we make the hard choices once as a collective or will we die in a failing pursuit of individual perfection?
What do you think? Are you a PERFECT person? Do you have NO flaws or weaknesses?
Or would it be easier for you if we laid a few new ground rules?
NOTE: That isn’t to say that capitalism isn’t a MASSIVE part of the solution to climate change. Of course it is, and mission-driven founders and incredible technological breakthroughs are exactly what we need to buy humanity more time – hence why we run 4WARD.VC’s Partner in Clime Climate Accelerator and invest in the crazy ass founders building a better world.
But not everyone can be a climate crusader 100% of the time.
So maybe it is high time we made it easier for everyone to do the right thing by rewriting our societal defaults.
What do you think?