This is my response to a Twitter prompt from Chamath Palihapitaya for designing a framework for allocating a few billion dollars via a holding company to advance the fight against climate change. Below is the original prompt:
Build the future! A vision more exciting than colonizing Mars -- a post Industrial world that’s 100% electrified, with air/sea ships for long-distance travel, high-quality VR/telepresence, rent-over-own society, high mobility, hyperloops, rewilded/reforested countrysides, fake meat without factory farmed farting cows and 10x abundance using bits to create a lot more bang per joule of earth resources.
Traditional climate action portfolios focus on three major vectors:
In short, we already know what we must do to avoid climate disaster. We just haven’t done it.
We’ve left climate action to the bureaucrats and hippies.
Leadership action (or inaction, rather) has been hampered by gridlocked committees inching towards ineffective and expensive compromises that do much too little, and too late. While these committees labor over consensus and optics, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis and Sub-Saharan Africans will lose their lives or livelihoods.
Meanwhile, our climate tech community is dominated by earnest, ideology-driven Lisa Simpson types. I love them, but guilt ridden “sustainability” frames are simply not compelling enough to mobilize the world.
Once again, the problem is not figuring out what to do. The problem is designing institutions and mechanisms that will, in fact, create meaningful and lasting impact.
We need new players in the game.
As we approach dangerous inflection points, it’s time to attract the builder / adventurer types. As opposed to most climate frameworks which focus on mitigation, this document puts forth an opportunity framing. Another cut here, cut there, can’t-do-this-anymore framework will not attract 10x builders. If you put aside for a minute that it could very well end civilization, climate change is easily the most exciting techno-socio-political problem I can think of.
We’ve played through the Industrial Age game and it’s boring now. Social Capital is the perfect brand to break with sustainability frames and advance a climate future that is different and fun. Attracting new players can take us beyond the Industrial Age.
It’s important to stay aware that the problem of Climate Change represents a complexity, scale and urgency beyond anything humanity has ever seen. Only mobilizing for World War II comes close. To cope with this the framework proposes a company with a dual-pronged attack of (1) decentralized Active Businesses and (2) centralized Infrastructure & Tech alongside (3) binding principles to navigate tradeoffs.
TERRA is an acronym which represents companies actively building our post industrial future. The expectation is that these companies operating in a decentralized fashion will be profitable and able to finance the next generation of companies, technologies and mitigation strategies.
Transportation, Travel & Telepresence
Rewilding & Reforesting
Agriculture and Food
A dynamic society is a high mobility society. A post Industrial Age where we’re trapped in pods 23.5 hours a day waiting for civilization to collapse is not a future I want to be a part of.
With the near shutdown in global travel post COVID-19 we find ourselves at a critical juncture. The time is now to reimagine personal and business travel. There are huge optics and social engineering benefits here. Modernizing travel (particularly business and influencer travel) pushes society’s most privileged members to visibly become part of the solution. Nailing these optics will open the door to action on bigger pieces of the pie.
A transportation upgrade:
We’re overdue for a major tech upgrade to our energy systems. And much ink has been spilled on this topic. Put simply, the movement to “electrify everything” has two primary goals:
(1) Clean up electricity (zero carbon)
(2). Electrify everything (from individual vehicles to public transport to home heating systems)
Rent-over-own will be a multi-faceted endeavor intended to cut down on the production and transportation of meaningless goods. For example, consider the humble beach toy:
Three times per year, every parent of young children has the uncanny experience of lugging fifteen distinct plastic sand toys to the beach only to get there and find every other family has an identical set. They’re all manufactured in China. They’re all stored in plastic packaging. They’re all shipped to the US, where they make the same gas-guzzling trips to the beach.
Naturally, every kid on the beach fights over the same four toys. 72 go unused. This fleet of cloned commodity toys then falls into a predictable cycle of being lost, repurchased, and eventually discarded.
Imagine not having to store a bag of plastic toys at your home 365 days a year. Instead, you visit the beach and let your kids play with high-quality on-site tools which don’t harm the environment.
We can do better for the planet, for workers and for consumers! When viewed through a sustainability lens and with the goal of building closed loop supply chains this category can significantly reduce waste and emissions. Right now, the ownership of low quality goods involves an unacceptable level of waste and inefficiency. Already, consumers would prefer not to own and store these things - they just don’t have any alternative to going without. When viewed through a profitability lens these goods are unattractive to go after with a “rent-over-own” model. A sustainability lens combined with a rent-over-own business model provides incentives to generate far fewer of these items while creating an improved user experience.
Note: This category may evolve into higher order goods (e.g. housing) over time. However, because higher order goods are fraught with regulation, emotion and credible allegations of inequality creation, sticking to the realm of “meaningless” goods is a fast path to impact.
Rewilding is a form of environmental conservation and ecological restoration which reintroduces lost animal species to natural environments. It is an exciting and promising conservation strategy aimed at restoring natural processes and wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas (corridors), and reintroducing large herbivores, predators and/or keystone species. Rewilding has significant potential to increase biodiversity, create self-sustainable environments and mitigate climate change.
Reforesting means replanting historically wooded settings that no longer have forests. This is the natural solution with the most potential to capture additional carbon. Additional actions like improving tree plantations, managing cropland nutrients, and restoring tidal wetlands also offer promising mitigation opportunities, but on a much smaller scale. Using a combination of drones, high quality imaging and machine learning we can accomplish reforesting at scale for the first time in history.
High-end eco tourism presents plausible monetization scenarios.
Factory farming is a major contributor to climate change through the release of vast volumes of greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss, increasing pollution and the waste of land and energy resources. And what do we get in return? Food that makes us sick, obese and addicted.
Our food supply chain must be reimagined. Our planet and our health depend on it. We need:
At the outset each TERRA letter will be appointed a CEO. Over time, it is the expectation that these letters will spawn additional companies and leaders. Though we generally believe in empowering companies to solve problems on their own there are elements worth centralizing.
The Holding Company will be primarily judged by its ability to impact the three main action vectors listed in the beginning: (1) Generation (2) Consumption (3) Substitution. The company’s North Star will likely look something like this:
As such, the company will need to take on centralized functions of measurement and analysis. This will mean portfolio companies have access and input to:
Climate change is not a game for amateurs. The recent vaccine debates show that any attempt at action in a politically charged domain will be opposed by uninformed, but ideologically strident and media-savvy interest groups being misled by charismatic figures. Established experts from other domains have the potential to quietly re-imagine and implement TERRA programs quickly and effectively when given new incentives. The “climate work” is managed within the holding company.
Despite this, we cannot entrust the implementation of our future to a slow moving bureaucracy. The evolving nature of the science, and the possibility that some of today’s beliefs might be overturned by new evidence and models requires a dynamic organization resilient to change. Though we have a centralized mission, the company will adopt some of the operating mechanisms that have earned the widespread trust of contemporary technologists and have been proven out at scale by internet era companies. Most notably:
This structure does not mean there are no risks. The document closes by acknowledging that we cannot act beyond a certain scale and speed without risk. ¡Pa'lante!