How much do we value human freedom?

For thousands of years people of all variety of experience and influence have debated whether free will exists and which universe would be more full of virtue and good fortune—one that is fated or one that is free. Today, technology is flooding our experience with hard-to-trace information and options, conditioning the choices we make. Powerful interests are pushing us to question whether we are free, or whether we should be.

The idea that we might not be free is as dangerous as the idea that we should not be free. The very idea opens up room for tyrannical interference in the lives of ordinary people who have not sought power and do not deserve to be trampled by it.

2020 will provide us, as a global community, with an unprecedented moment of choice. We must choose whether we will secure a future of human creativity, learning, and free choice, or whether we will constrain our own societies and future generations by undermining the stability of vital natural systems.

We will live the future we choose.

Science to see clearly

Light pollution obscures most of the stars in our galaxy that would otherwise be visible in the night sky. Science can tell us where precisely those stars are, but seeing clearly requires keeping in mind that the world we are experiencing is defined by constraints we have imposed.

We don’t see clearly the harm caused by climate-forcing carbon pollution, because the harm it generates works through planet-wide systems. We need to develop and detail our Earth-systems intelligence, so we can see clearly that polar ice-caps anchor and stabilize our climate system, and complex ecosystems sustain not only wildlife, but the reliable abundance of water and food for human consumption.

Science provides us with a far more granular view of the hidden value-driving dynamics of natural systems. In other words, science allows us to see clearly, to know better where we stand, and to make smarter choices about how we achieve prosperity.

We must build a future of values-driven leadership

The world-building forces bound up in natural systems and human ability have value far beyond what we count in monetary terms, though powerful market forces have long excluded them from consideration. Complex planetary systems that sustain life cannot be created by human industry.

We are not freer when we refuse to be bound by the guidance science gives us. Knowing the terrain with greater detail and precision empowers us to make better choices, so we can live well without degrading what sustains life. Because knowledge empowers and liberates us, every human mind has immeasurable value.

The next Michael Faraday—who was born to crushing poverty, yet transformed the world by harnessing electrons—could live anywhere, in any circumstance of extreme deprivation. We must return to universal values that respect and protect human dignity and human rights, and seek the full education and empowerment of all people.

No matter how pressing the trials of the moment, we must honor the universal ethical obligation of sound stewardship of life-giving systems. Human industry has become so powerful, we cannot afford to leave it unattended by those better angels of our nature.

The right of all people to best-practice opportunity is infringed by granting specific industries the false freedom to pollute without constraint. To be free of preventable injustice, we must recognize that the right to be free in our minds entails a right to know whether any industrial practice is helpful or harmful, and to choose better, and to trust that the right to a redress of grievances shall never be abridged.

The world is ready for life beyond pollution

Accounting for observed accelerated permafrost melt and proliferating long-duration wildfires reveals the remaining carbon budget to be far lower than previously understood, by as much as 30%. If we exceed the level of current and future emissions that will push global heating past 1.5ºC, small island nations will begin to disappear below rising seas, and entire regions will see food and water supplies catastrophically depleted.

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney is warning that without significant action to speed the transition away from climate-forcing fuels, we will lock in “irreversible heating”. If global average surface temperatures rise by 4ºC, we will see at least a 9 meter increase in sea levels, rendering thousands of major coastal cities uninhabitable, destroying much needed farmland, and causing unprecedented economic and political chaos.

This is geophysics: the systems that make life possible will not be available to us in the way we are accustomed, if we allow such unchecked global heating to take place. What this means for policy, technology, investment, and innovation: climate-polluting business models will be non-viable far sooner than anyone is currently planning for.

We need a comprehensive, economy-wide transition to zero-pollution standards and practices.

  • Energy production cannot, and will not, be founded on combustible fuels.
  • For the global economy, and the nation-states we now take for granted, to exist in 2030, the majority of energy production globally will have to be fully emissions-free.
  • The world economy must achieve net-zero carbon emissions, across all sectors, sometime between 2040 and 2050—at the latest.

Finding the finance

The UK is stress-testing banks for climate risk and resilience. 3/4 of UK banks are now measuring climate risk in some way. This process is revealing hidden costs that become catastrophic at scale, as well as clear paths to future efficiency that allow for more effective, resilience-building investment decisions.

More than $6 trillion has been committed to climate-smart finance and investment. There is no reason we cannot, with all that is at stake, reorient the everyday economy to build enhanced value using those funds.

2020 is not only a year for mainstreaming climate finance to build resilience; it is also the year in which we must make the deliberate choice to decentralize financial leverage for creation of new value.

  • We need to establish clear, universal, locally relevant adaptation metrics that convert easily into finance and investment choices.
  • We need to adapt mainstream financial institutions and market transactions to climate-smart sustainable food production and distribution.
  • We need to integrate local economies with science-informed large-scale financial innovation, through knowledge-exchange networks and local investment hubs.

Courage to explore

We are living in a new age of exploration—one in which science and decentralized collaboration will allow us to know Earth systems in enough detail to live well without degrading them. We must have the courage to explore, to co-create a climate-smart future of inclusive sustainable prosperity, for all.

Our freedom to choose better is at stake.

Further information about the work of laying the foundation for a climate-smart future in 2020, can be found at: