On day two at the Clinton Global initiative the big draw for the Eco-minded was Al Gore, presiding over a panel on Innovation (capital i intentional).
The panelists — former Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunis, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the Managing Director of The World Bank Group, and a surprisingly charismatic (if a little over energized for the Al Gore vibe) Jack Ma, Chairman and CEO of the Alibaba Group — introduced a concept that I have heard before, but found interesting when embraced on this scale: that the process of Greening is simply not going to cut it when it comes to battling the environmental crisis. We need to “disruptively innovate”, leapfrogging over the current technology and changing the ways that we do business. Now.
This really isn’t a new concept — Nordhaus and Shellenberger said the same thing in Break Through — but hearing it embraced at the highest level of the movement was eye-opening. If thinkers are really moving past the idea of conservation and regulation as the spearheads of the environmental movement, then I think we are finally moving the public discourse in the right direction.
Lets be clear: no one on the stage was saying don’t worry about recycling, or changing your light bulbs. But innovation at CGI is made of sterner stuff. The scale we are working on here is something Gore called “sustainable capitalism”.
In short, that means that Gore is putting a very shiny happy face on Cap and Trade legislation. Sustainable Capitalism is much like our system now, but with the correct* externalities built into the system. Getting an accurate dollar value on what Carbon should cost us is one part of the equation, but so are positive externalities like the societal benefit derived from education. We need — according to this prestigious panel — to make capitalism responsive to the things that actually matter in life.
A one or two sentence synopsis of how:
- Al Gore: Call Your Senator. The U.S. Senate, and the current Cap and Trade legislation is going to go a long way toward making the market responsible to the right things. Plus, that whole “If you pay someone to maximize their earnings every quarter, that’s what they will do” problem with Capitalism.
- Muhammad Yunis: Teach, and then fund, Social Businesses: businesses that aren’t dedicated to making money for themselves, but rather for supporting a community.
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: We need to look at how we can build private partnerships more. Then, we need to make sure that we don’t just give aid, but that those partnerships are leveraged into real change. (translation: CGI, with it’s huge private organizations and their huge philanthropic promises, is doing alright.)
- Jack Ma: Don't complain about what business doesn’t do, take some sort of real action. If you bury the social responsibility deep in the business model, and just run a good business, everything else falls into place.
I know that I am ignoring Judith Rodin, from the Rockefeller foundation. Her contributions to this panel were fascinating, just not on topic for my own little focus.
The moral of this panel, though, is very much in line with the big picture ideas of CGI in general. At one point, Okonjo-Iweala mentioned the difficulty of Africa supporting a population that would need double the food by 2050… and is currently experiencing soil qualities in different parts of the continent that resemble the American dust bowl.
Within 30 seconds, Gore had made the connection back to getting carbon back into the soil, turning it back into the rich dark fertile soil of yore. 30 seconds later, someone mentioned over Twitter that Zainab Slabi, the CEO of Women for Women International who was in the plenary earlier in the morning made the point that it is impossible to address the food crisis without working with the people doing the farming and that 80% of the world's farmers are women. This sort of lighting connection thing is going on all around me, and it’s really exciting. Now, if only we can keep identifying solutions and not the interconnected web of crisis…
*as seen by folks who worry about pollution