Losing the Race:

Falling Further Behind

Letter #2 to Jeremy Grantham, October 22, 2018

The first essay in this series built upon Jeremy Grantham’s signal white paper, “The Race of Our Lives Revisited.” Grantham explained there that in order to salvage a livable future for humankind, collective action would be required.  Government regulation, along with governance focused on the crises we have engaged, and delivering plans and policies in accord with relieving these crises, will be necessary.

Our compliment to that essay explained how such a process may well develop and be supported.  To do that – to function cooperatively to stop the toxics, and the fossil fuels, while renewing and restoring living systems, and running economic systems within survivable limits – extraordinary measures would be required.  But not impossible ones.

We found that philanthropy, as a whole, with its massive resources and its credibility could devote those resources to awakening the general American Public and to detailing the actual facts and factors that threaten life on many fronts and civilization similarly.  Simply put, philanthropy would need to devote tens of billions to the process, making it at a scale of all of the political campaigns running in the US today – having a continual national broadcast, always accessible, that would validate the catastrophic trends we are on and portray options that would abate some trends and habilitate others.

That essay can be found here

Further, and more important, we asked that Jeremy Grantham begin the necessary conversations within and among philanthropies that could lead to those actions with sufficient resources.  Now, in this essay the feasibility and plausibility of this approach is developed

Another Season Gone, Things Still Getting Worse

We are a third-of-another year gone since Grantham made his June speech at the Morningstar conference; another national election season is almost over; another severe warning to humanity has been delivered (the October IPCC 1.5°C Report).   Hundreds, even thousands of valid articles have explained the parts of the interconnected crises.  But very few are discussed in the public sphere; seldom by journalists and certainly not by political actors.  Preaching limits and climate breakdown do not sell, nor do they appeal to the buying public.  How does big media make money reporting or discussing climate chaos and ecological ravage?

So, there has been almost no conversation anywhere about the dire consequences fast approaching the US public in any political discourse, even as the US elects 470 of its 535 congressional representatives in two weeks.  Since Jeremy Grantham ended his “Race” paper and speech with the moral exhortation to vote for Green-oriented politicians, it would be a stretch to point to one congressional race where a politician can be labeled Green, much less where being Green would make any substantive difference in voting.

Therefore, have we lost another two years in being able to make progress on Jeremy’s stated crises, and others not mentioned in “Race?”  If so, does that mean that near term societal collapse is more likely and closer to Reality?

These are critical questions and go directly to the heart of our ability even to respond to our developing and collective self-immolation.

First, let’s back up a bit.

While we need “Green Governance” focused on the ecological overshoot, toxics overload, and climate breakdown crises (among others) – can that even begin to be seen, much less realized without a societal conversation about these facts and threats?

The pathway toward focused Green Governance spearheaded by Green Politicians begins with a Green Aware public, following a societal Green Conversation that moves the crises and response possibilities to center stage.  And we know how center stage is taken and how spotlights are caused to shine.

Historical analogies?  Well, consider abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Fredrick Douglas traveled across the US. They provoked a constant conversation about slavery and the public noticed.  Today, we can multiply the “call and response” of similar modern-day reformers by several orders of magnitude and shrink the time-of-influence by an order of magnitude.  If one considers Garrison and Douglas’s work as a campaign, then that can be done with hundreds of Garrison-Douglas shows, even with continual updated broadcasts if the funding can be found. Garrison and Douglas called for an immediate end to slavery.  We need a similar end to fossil fuels; end as soon as possible.   Gradualism, the current trend, means society is cooked.    

We are not suggesting an anti-climate breakdown program, just like the anti-slavery campaign. The word “campaign” is selected carefully.  It’s a good analogy if one is considering influencing opinions and outcomes.  US citizens do not know the facts or the realities related to these interconnected crises.  The valid facts are not examined, discussed, or understood.  In the US, there is no campaign to influence, or to share facts, or to catalyze the climate-ecology cultural conversation. 

There is moral exhortation for “political leadership” and “political change,” and the big Philanthropies like Hewlett and Packard are again talking about that kind of change.  Actually, Hewlett had a summer series on Building Political Will for Climate Action. Philanthropies like Hewlett do not see the irony of their efforts, or their strategies for that matter.  They have been exhorting “political will” for climate action for decades, and in another five decades they may achieve some of it at the rate they are going.  Moreover their Strategies do not match the scope, scale, or urgency of the problem.  See the Strategy here, Result of the Strategy here.

The Result is titled “Liberal Philanthropy is Dooming the Planet to Climate Disaster.”  Philanthropy’s current efforts will leave us roasted and the planet cooked.  Thus, while climate stabilization philanthropies call for bold change and transformation, they strategize and fund decadal increments, and strategize building political will over the same decades of increment.  Sadly, we have heard it all before.  The last big push was “Design to Win” which explained Hewlett, et al.’s Strategy over 11 years ago. 

The results are in!  We have lost on that 2007 strategy, and the current incremental, small-bore, push-with-a-feather strategic approach will lose just as wholly.  And it will be the last Strategy for Climate Stability, because the race will be completely lost. 

Changing Course in Time

So, what can those who see the writing on the wall do to change course?  Well, the Association for the Tree of Life has ideas based on its experience.  It managed scale cultural transformation in just three years, starting from a lower zero than the climate issue is today.  Complete with national legislation, accomplished with a non-profit (so don’t mention the lobbying limits)—and with tens of billions in appropriations.  Also, it was the largest ecological restoration on the planet, and continues today.

We were involved in another scale cultural transformation, again national legislation, and involving hundreds of billions in appropriations, each year.  Also, still ongoing.  Certainly campaigns were pivotal, and campaigns financed by millions of dollars.  Just as certainly the scale of the present crises are much, much larger.  Billions per year will be necessary, and the funds are available. 

Moreover, these Strategies worked, and worked in-time for the issues addressed.  Correct strategies, leveraged at the roots of the problem and galvanized by increasing public participation – this is what worked then, and what is necessary now. 

So, ways exist.  The current practices speak of transformation, yet piecemeal the issues into individual moral exhortation, gradual techno-fixing, and continuing status-quo economics.  A valid strategy would understand that nothing short of radical transformations of our economic, social, political, and moral perceptions are required.  Values must transform.  However, the transformation of the economy, society, political operation, and morality must be simultaneous. 

People cannot be expected to make radical changes in their values when they are immersed in social contexts that reinforce the status quo.

Authentic strategies, linked to values and strategies commensurate with a survivable future can be employed.  Successful campaigns toward Green Governance can be engaged and progress can be seen before the 2020 elections.  That is, if philanthropy can answer its own questions and deploy “actually-winning” strategies.  Philanthropy must not only give lip service to transformation, it must lead into it.  In this nation in the 1850s, conversation about slavery was everywhere, inescapable.  The same thing can be catalyzed with the crises of ecology and climate.

It means “walking the talk.”  It means twenty times the current funding.  It means insisting on presenting the facts of our crises as determinative, so they are unavoidable.  It means focus.  It means a campaign, conversation, and conversion.  Like food is converted into bodily tissues, social media thrall can be transformed into discussing the issues of life and death made stark by the growing threat of climate and ecological catastrophe.  Because that is the Truth and the Reality.

If philanthropy cannot speak the valid truth and reality, then can anyone?

Mr. Grantham, you are the one philanthropist correctly gauging the depth and severity of presenting crises.  You understand that the existing economic system is lethal.  You know that collective action, Green Governance, is required.  You call it regulation, but we put it in terms that recognize that governments can work in crises, as World War 2 exhibited.  If a few philanthropists can join you in these insights, then philanthropy can plausibly catalyze the transformations it espouses. 

These are some of the particulars that our group would like to discuss with you, Mr. Grantham.  And we can begin anywhere, anytime.  For us, there is no one else to communicate with.  The other philanthropies and philanthropists do not see scope, scale, or urgency.  Or, if they do, they are afraid to say so.

Can we talk?



get updates