When it comes to the topic of a sustainable future for mankind, the problems facing us can indeed seem insurmountable. The sheer magnitude of the energy crisis, the rapid rate of deforestation, the sinister issue of soil degradation, the alarming loss of biodiversity, and a host of other issues combine with the inertia of society to create a picture that can seem almost hopeless at times.
With this in mind, the purpose of this article is to provide a vision of things that very well could happen if the right people put their mind to it and could have a significant or even game changing effect were they to happen. At least, I would like to think that they could.
But the point is that they are possible and plausible, and could be huge. Maybe.
The bigger point is that whenever things seem hopeless, something like one of these ideas, or a hundred others like it, could take root somewhere and end up being a game changer. The moral of the story is: don’t lose hope and keep searching for vision.
Note: These ideas are wild not because they are farfetched (see this article) or even unlikely. In fact, they aren’t even wild or off the shelf at all. They are wild because they are deceptively simple. But how would they come about? That is the question.
1.) A movement that turns being green into a social competition.
People are driven by the prospect of financial reward. People are also driven by a more elusive goal — social credit. On forum communities for instance, people are driven by the hope of gaining forum reputation to make contributing posts. To my understanding, Wikipedia is an example where a large amount of social credit can be gained by making significant improvements to articles or by exemplary editing contributions.
I believe that if “going green” were to become not only cool (as it has started to become), but an avenue of competition for social credit, it would have a potentially powerful catalyzing effect on the sustainability trend. In fact, I believe that it must become so in order for us to have a sustainable future, because we need a sustainably minded society and not merely one solution (ex. solar panels) to one problem(ex. the energy crisis). We need a society where people purchase renewable energy credits not simply out of a desire to do good, but because they can get “green points” on Facebook or whatnot — if such a thing were to exist.
Imagine if people in the social media industry were to find a way to capitalize on the sustainability trend by offering customers a way to advertise how green they were. A continually evolving model that tallied up different accomplishments (like purchasing renewable energy credits or buying an electric car) and assigned them a number of “green points” based on some algorithm might be created. There might be a service oriented around verifying contributions (such as owning an electric car) that offered people a way to garner “verified green points”. Most likely, a giant such as Facebook would find a way to implement this as an optional feature in people’s profiles. There might be networking opportunities and other little privileges afforded by having “green points”.
2.) A sustainability oriented forum community
This is a stupidly simple idea that would indirectly contribute a lot to the sustainability movement. It is also ripe for grabs — for someone to make it happen. A sustainability oriented forum (Vbulliten or PHPBB) that served the sustainability movement in the way that bodybuilding.com serves the fitness community does not currently exist, as far as I have been able to ascertain. I’ve searched in vain for one over the past year or so, having intended to join it. More evidence that the world wide web is just starting to catch on to the idea of a community dedicated to sustainability is the fact that Reddit just recently started a sustainability subreddit that currently has a mere 3,200 followers. A google search for “sustainability forums” turns up little.
If I had the savvy and means to create a successful forum community, I would have done this already. As it turns out, I don’t. I do have a few ideas as to how it could be successful, though. For the person who successfully started this, there could be a good bit of money to be made (much of which could hopefully go towards the cause of sustainability… right?). If it were me, I would make membership free but offer a 99 cent a month “plus” membership that featured goodies like additional signature space, etc.
A thriving forum community would foster the spread and growth of ideas, first and foremost. It would also serve as a valuable educational resource — which is key for cultivating sustainability in ours and future generations. Furthermore, it would serve as a landing pad for anyone first starting to search the internet for sustainability topics.
It just so happens that a thriving sustainability forum would be the perfect platform for the previous idea to take hold.
3.) A social movement to make purchasing renewable energy credits(RECs) the next big thing.
What if there was one thing that, if done by everyone who wanted to contribute to a sustainable future, would have an immediate and drastic impact? What is there was something that made it easy for anyone to put their money where their mouth was? Enter renewable energy credits (RECs).
The purchase of renewable energy credits in large amounts does two things. First, it directly helps to offset carbon emissions by supporting renewable energy production. Second, it helps to signal to the market the renewable energy is demanded by consumers. The market does not respond to desire. It only responds to demand — that is, how dollars are spent or how it perceives dollars will be spent. To see how the market does respond to consumer demand in this regard, check out this article here.
Currently, the major purchasers of RECs are companies looking to “green up” their image, and companies looking to comply with state standards. Read more about RECs here. According to the data presented in this article, eighty percent of RECs purchased/retired are by companies seeking to comply with standards. The other 20 percent is voluntary, and most of that comes from companies looking to “green up” their image.
If you believe that the growth of renewable energy, though significant, still falls woefully short of what is needed, then it is clear from this data that there needs to be a major step up in the voluntary purchase of renewable energy.
Instead of sitting around hoping for the government to do something about mandating more renewables or whatnot, imagine if all such hopefuls stepped up to purchase a few dollars or more worth of RECs each month. I imagine the effect of renewables growth would be more than significant.
However, without some sort of social credit gain and/or tax write off, I don’t think that this will happen to any large degree. This is in concordance with idea #1.
What sort of movement & changes would have to happen to make this the case?
4.) A movement to make sustainability education a mandatory part of the high school curriculum.
Making changes in the public school curriculum is something that parents and teachers everywhere have influence over via their local school system. Unless we wound up with a completely nationalized school system — like some people want — then people would have little influence over their local school system, which would be a very bad thing.
Imagine if some local movement, somewhere, were to influence their local school board and convince them that sustainable living is such a priority for current and future generations, such that a class on said topic was made a part of the mandatory curriculum. This sort of movement would ideally be supported by a robust non government organization (NGO) that assisted people everywhere to influence their local school system. Victories such as the one above would serve as a model for others looking to do the same.
It is not enough that everyone go out and buy an electric car. It is not enough that everyone purchase sustainably raised food. There are plenty more challenges that face mankind today, and there will always be challenges for future generations. A sustainably minded society is the only way to meet these challenges, and education is an essential ingredient to cultivating such a society.
Such a movement could easily start with a non-profit dedicated to making this change in their local community. Once successful, this could be scaled up to a state level — focusing on other counties in the state and the state government. From there, it could become a national organization. In other words, this could happen anywhere. So let’s just hope that some people get on it — and succeed!
5.) A non-profit that focused on getting grant money for sustainability research by universities.
Forget waiting around and hoping that Congress will pass some budget doling out a few more dollars for sustainability oriented research. We would be better off waiting for someone to invent a perpetual motion energy source. We need major research funding for things like agroecology, renewable energy, and more. In fact, what we need is the equivalent of the next Manhattan Project — five of them actually — for the top 5 topics in sustainability.
A better shot at reaching this goal would be for the formation of a non-profit by people who have the savvy and means to woo multi-millionaires and billionaires into contributing some major cash into a fund that would be doled out of the form of awards to universities. Universities would compete in the submission of research ideas in sustainability. The winners would be decided by a panel of experts mostly drawn from university faculties around the world. The winner’s research would be featured in a film series that would probably be published via Youtube and promoted through social media. The millionaire/billionaire’s funds that supported that research would be credited in this film series, such as to give them the social credit that would help serve as motivation to donate.
If successful, such a non-profit would garner far more funding than could be hoped for through government channels.
The primary ingredient of the success of such a non-profit is rather simple, in my opinion. It is being savvy as to what makes wealthy philanthropists or would be philanthropists tick. I personally don’t know. But there are people that do.
Summary and Final Thoughts
If there is cause for hope for the future, it is that one or more of these wild ideas, or any one of the hundred other ideas not mentioned here, could come into being at any point in time. These ideas are wild because neither myself, nor most of my readers probably knows how to go out any make any of these things happen. Yet movements and unlikely organizations happen all the time. Not many people would know how to make a Facebook happen, but it did happen. Not many people would know how to make an Amazon happen, but happen it did.
If there is one thing that us average joes can do, it is to spread ideas like this around in the hope that they take root somewhere — that somebody with the wherewithal and desire to make progress in one of these areas will come across one of these ideas.
I hope that this article will inspire my readers to contribute their own wild ideas. After all, that is what Sustainable Ranger is about — the pursuit of ideas in hopes of a sustainable future for mankind.
Until the next article.