There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory. If we read the current context correctly, and if the movement can adjust its strategy to capture the opportunity presented, it could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries and, for the most part, entirely new companies. It would be the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries and countries the world has ever seen.
To understand this incredible potential we first have to step back and understand the unique structure of this social change movement, which may rank among the most influential in history. It is simplistic to characterise it as an alliance of grass roots organisations and activists pitched against a rich and well connected adversary. While that is part of the story, it is more accurately understood as an idea whose tentacles reach into every tier of government, the world’s largest companies and financial institutions, and throughout the academic and science communities.
- To summarise:
- – The science shows how we are not just failing to slow down climate change, but are in fact accelerating towards the cliff.
- – In response, mainstream organisations focused on the global economy are becoming increasingly desperate in their calls for action, fearing the economic consequences if we don’t. They are arguing that the only way the world can avoid the risk of breakdown is to transform the economy urgently and dramatically.
- – Our capacity to do so is now real and practical, with the technologies required already being deployed at very large scale and at competitive cost. The size of the business opportunity now on offer is truly breathtaking.
- – In response, the financial markets are waking up to the transformation logic – if the future is based in renewables and these are price competitive without subsidy, or soon will be, the transformation could sweep the economy relatively suddenly, even without further government leadership.
- – This then puts in place an enormous and systemic financial risk – in particular investments in, or debt exposure to, the multi-trillion $ fossil fuel industry.
- – This risk is steadily being increased by activist campaigns against fossil fuel projects (worsening each projects’ financial risk) and arguing for fossil fuel divestment (putting investors reputation in play as well).
- – In response investors and lenders will reduce their exposure to fossil fuels and hedge their risk by shifting their money to high growth renewables.
- – This will then reinforce and manifest the very trend they are hedging against.
- – Thus it’s game on.
Earth on cliff edge image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.