Solving the Piggybank Calculus of Climate Change: Optimization vs Innovation 101

As humans, we’d rather earn more than spend less. For whatever reason, abundance (at least in our heads/society) feels like earning more as opposed to spending less. Which is stupid and probably a result of excessive capitalistic marketing.

Because when you earn more, you spend more. And when you spend more, the economy (falsely tracked as purely GDP) goes up.

And that is good, right?

More, more, MORE.

Always more.

That’s the key to capitalism… more spending, more stuff, more people/population… it’s a never ending flywheel forward.

Except other than our universe itself, only one thing grows continuously… CANCER – and then it ultimately kills the victim.

Global GDP vs Cancer
Source: Statista & Research Gate

Is that really the economic or environmental solution we want and/or need?

Should we focus on building more climate-friendly systems/infrastructure/energy etc… or on first optimizing what we’ve got?

Do we fix the gushing leaks in our ship before pouring tons of money into upgrading the engines?

Because retrofits are faster, easier and low CAPEX – ie. “low-hanging fruit.” 

And as someone who believes vehemently in the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule – 20% of our efforts/investments/time etc… yield 80% of the results), I believe we HAVE TO focus on inexpensive improvements.

Like Optimizing Industry

Would you rather build a new green manufacturing center or high-rise commercial building (which cost tens or hundreds of millions and whose materials have a MAJOR carbon footprint) or improve/optimize the one you have?

Fractalytic, for instance, helps cut natural gas emissions and map the transition to sustainable heat pumps for a fraction of the cost of replacing factories or building new energy efficient buildings.

And Coke or Pepsi could spend tens of millions developing better 100% bioplastics for their bottles, or use transition tech like Applied Bioplastics’ 40% plant-based plastics paired with MaasLoop’s mini RVMs to boost reuse & recycling rates to achieve the same net zero goals – all without having to rely on breakthroughs that may never come or MASSIVE upfront investments in R&D and new manufacturer facilities.

The Same is True for Replacing Stuff / Cars / Energy Infrastructure etc…

Are we really better off scrapping a brand new 25 mpg gas-powered Honda for an energy and resource intensive new Tesla that charges (partially) from renewables? What about scrapping nuclear to build new solar/wind facilities (how’s that working for Germany)?

The math (while seeming righteous and politically correct) just doesn’t add up. Just because the Tesla might be more efficient on a per year/use basis, doesn’t mean the “sunk energy cost” of the Honda is worth wasting. In fact, the best approach in MANY situations is actually to use the car/product as long as possible – because then we don’t need to produce more pollutive STUFF.

On top of that, you could use the $40k you saved by not paying Mr. Ego Musk to instead install rooftop solar, one of Innovia’s low-cost geothermal heat pumps or invest into an ETF of sustainable projects.

Because there’s an opportunity cost to everything.

And Then There’s Eliminating Waste

Which is notorious in our food systems…

We don’t need more plant-based burgers, we need less food waste. We literally throw out ⅓ of everything we produce. That’s like earning $100k/yr and setting fire to $33k.

Should we really be focus on producing more sustainable food when a third goes to waste anyway?

The same is true of fabric for the fashion industry, raw materials for construction (especially post demolition – Mycocycle’s mushrooms help – turning that trash into new construction materials), batteries and chips in modern electronics and the incredibly wasteful packaging on all retail and ecommerce purchases…

These are the ENORMOUS challenges (ie. opportunities) of our day – cutting out the waste and getting into “fighting shape,” so to speak – because net zero necessitates a very circular economy and we’re f*cked if we try to solve the problems of “excess capitalism” with more and more consumption.

Because resources have limits and, as we said earlier, only cancer grows indefinitely…

So, bringing it all back to our little piggybank of climate capitalism…? Where do we get the biggest bang for our buck to combat climate change?

Are we better off “saving” on inefficiencies or creating new climate-friendly options…

What do you think? Would love to hear your comments and a spirited debate in the comments below.

And if you’re a climate startup decarbonizing our world (either by created new eco friendly solutions or improving existing industry/infrastructure) be sure to add yourself to our Climate Solutions Database and apply for 4WARD.VC’s Partner in Clime Program if you’re seriously about accelerating your impact on the world.

The same is true for Corporates. Want to decarbonize and transition to a cleaner, greener and more profitable future – check out our FREE Corporate Sustainable Innovation Program – we’ll help you optimize, retrofit and rethink your business to hit your net zero/ESG goals… and it’s free. Apply here.

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