Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Climate Change & Poverty

As hard as I work every day to come up with new and creative approaches to tackling poverty in America, I can't help but keep a wary eye on climate change.  It isn't just that recent storms have been unusually strong and destructive, or that 2012 was the hottest year on record.  No, what bothers me most is that climate change will only serve to strengthen the divide between rich and poor while threatening the natural resources upon which we depend for biological and emotional sustenance. As I talked about in my masters thesis, the poor pay more of their income, as a percentage, for energy than the non-poor; they are more likely to live in houses and neighborhoods with high levels of indoor and outdoor air pollution; they are less likely to be able to evacuate and/or relocate during and after a storm; and, in short, they are far more vulnerable to environmental damage than others.

Now a new report put out by the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee once again highlights the severity of the crisis.  For instance, the report (which is still a draft, awaiting public comment) notes that "Many impacts associated with [the effects of climate change] are important to Americans’ health and livelihoods and the ecosystems that sustain us...The impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures."

In other words, if we are to take up Muhammad Yunus' challenge of putting poverty into museums in our lifetimes, or simply meeting the Millenium Development Goals put forth by the United States, we cannot ignore greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental issues.  And even if we were to end poverty in spite of unabated environmental devastation, what kind of world would be leaving to the next generation?  Could we call that a victory?

I have no doubt that we can end poverty AND mitigate and equitably adapt to climate change.  Indeed, many of the solutions to one problem also tackle the other.  For instance, there are amazing business models emerging: Solar Sister, begun by Katherine Lucy, a Rhode Islander, empowers women to increase their income by selling solar-powered light to those in poverty; Solar Mosaic uses crowdfunding to raise money to solar-power projects; Solar Electric Light Fund installs solar energy systems in rural areas to help with economic development, health, education, and more; Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Finance is a phenomenal financing mechanism for renewable energy and energy effiiciency that has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs; and on and on and on.

As with anything else, it's a matter of where we focus our efforts.  If our smartest youth go to work for Wall St., they will invent collateralized debt obligations.  If they go to work for the military, they will invent drones.  And if they go to work battling poverty, corruption and environmental issues, they will invent business models that bring light and hope to others, develop new technologies that lower the cost of clean energy, etc.

I don't have all the answers.  There are only so many hours a day I can work, only so much impact I can have.  But I refuse to accept as an answer to our problems that the challenge is too hard, that our political system is too gridlocked, or that we cannot afford to do anything.  Our blue planet is a miracle of evolution, homeostasis, biology, physics, cybernetics, psychology, religion, mythology....

So let me end by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. from one of his most famous sermons, titled 'The Drum Major Instinct," because sometimes the most important thing we can do is be ferocious in our refusal to give up on our ideals and in our adherence to beauty, truth and justice:

"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice!  Say that I was a drum major for peace, say I was a drum major for righteousness!"

Stand up, dear friends.  Don't accept the way things they are, for they need not be so.  Join us as we struggle to make the world a better place!

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