Eco-Entrepreneurs Needed To Save Our Earth
Author: Jason Drew - Author of The Protein Crunch - Civilisation on the brink.
( Article Type: Sustainable Development )
Whilst capitalism is certainly r e s p o n s i b l e for most if not all our current environmental problems – it is also the most effective tool we have to address the environmental crisis we face. Whilst up until now, we have used capitalism and markets to allocate hunger, starvation and death, we now need to employ these same tools in a more ‘enlightened’ way to restore our natural capital, create sustainable jobs, and build communities. In this sustainability revolution as in all revolutions, we as individuals need to take the lead. It will be one of the most exciting rewarding and profitable periods in history – and one of the most dangerous. We have no choice but to get busy repairing our future. Let me explain. As a lifelong capitalist and serial entrepreneur, I have spent the last 25 years of my life fighting and winning in the game of business – from running other people’s multinational companies to creating and then selling my own. Two heart attacks later, I changed the struggles of the boardroom for a passion for life and moved to live full time on my farm in South Africa’s beautiful Tulbagh Valley. This lit in me a passion and a concern for the environment. I have since spent the last four years travelling the world to see for myself the damage that man is wreaking on our vital eco-systems.
I began to understand the extraordinary and unexpected connections between many things I saw: from the teeming masses of China’s cities to the fertile plains of the Indus Valley and the dry rivers of America’s Mid-West – to name but a few. I began to realise the complexity of Nature and how the environment has shaped our past and will determine our future.
The credit crunch has shaken our global economy, but it will recover. ‘The Protein Crunch’ is far more serious and, if we open our eyes, it is unfolding right in front of us. Our food – protein – comes from three sources: our water, land and seas. All of these natural resources are under increasing pressure from our burgeoning population: when more demand meets less supply, we arrive at what I term ‘The Protein Crunch’. The title of my new book – a capitalist’s view on the environment.
Our current understanding and use of the powerful capitalist and free market systems system is flawed. Greed has driven our planet and our species to the edge of self-destruction.
Just 100 years ago it would have been inconceivable to think that the human impact on the environment might become so great as to threaten the Earth and our own survival. We now stand at a turning point in our history and in the history of the Earth. Mankind has acquired the scale and the power to wreck the biosphere on which we depend – yet also the knowledge to fix it. Using the power of the entrepreneur, and our capitalist system eco eco-entrepreneurs and green capitalism can and will fix the planet.
With nearly one billion people hungry and another billion people overweight or obese, something clearly isn’t working. Having watched the recent credit crunch unfold, I saw many similarities in the way our environmental and food production systems were and are being stretched to breaking point. With food demand outstripping supply, food prices will inevitably increase. Food price inflation brings with it civil unrest and political turmoil, as we witnessed in the first months of 2011. Social order has already started to collapse in many failed states like Sudan and Afghanistan. In our interconnected global world, state failure may become contagious as environmental refugees migrate to survive. Every day, newspapers cover some element of this looming issue: mine water pollution in Johannesburg, Chinese land purchases in the Congo, a single tuna sold for $380,000 in Tokyo, floods in Pakistan and the food price riots that ignited North Africa. Few of us understand the causes of these crises and events, nor how they are all connected. Most of these issues are created by environmental degradation and reflected through our capitalist system into our everyday lives through changing prices, patterns of supply, movements of humanity and the financial value of assets.
As some of these ecosystems become less productive or fail altogether, the speed and severity of ‘The Protein Crunch’ will accelerate. The way we respond to these environmental challenges is a matter of life and death, first for the poorest then for the rest of us. Many civilisations have collapsed before ours, but will we be the first to foresee our demise and prevent it? I believe we will. I see the early signs of a grassroots Sustainability Revolution happening every day. We have been living through the Industrial Revolution for the last two hundred years. This commodity exploitation cycle has used in the last fifty years alone more than half our planets natural resources. Within that cycle we have seen mini boom-bust cycles or bubbles come and go. From the South China Sea bubble to the 17th century Tulip and the more recent Dot Com bubbles. When these bubbles are creating themselves – those inside them cannot understand those outside them and dismiss them as lacking the understanding or skills to get with the bubble. The same has happened with environmentalists and those inside the 200 year old environmental exploitation bubble. Whilst business people like myself talked about win-win deals – we failed to understand that the constant loser was the environment - in almost every business deal struck in the last few centuries. The predominantly anti-business environmentalists were ignored by those inside the bubble. This Industrial Revolution bubble is as you read this being replaced by the new Sustainability Revolution. This revolution, unlike the Industrial Revolution bubble is much more inclusive and consensus-driven, yet still capitalist. Broken environments lead to broken societies and civilisations – from Somalia to the Yemen this is playing itself out. At an individual level across the world there are millions of small organizations busy fixing broken parts of our environment. There is a wider consciousness and understanding of the environment and its impact on us every day.
The internet has given us an extraordinary tool to have our voice heard – a voice that has been lost in our current broken democracy.
Petition communities like Avaaz now have over ten million members – joining force on many issues – often to force companies or governments to address environmental issues. This is now a revolutionary force – with real power. Their power is derived from the fact that members of organisations like Avaaz are the markets that businesses serve. They are also the shareholders of these businesses. The revolutionaries are people like us – who live in and profit from the capitalist system and want it to continue. We all understand that for it to continue, companies need to look further than this quarter’s profits and our politicians to look further than the next elections.
None of us would want to invest our pension funds in businesses that are unlikely to be around in twenty or thirty years – and most rational people know that only sustainable business will survive. Business leaders like Coca Cola have understood this and their worldwide tie up with WWF to manage with the local communities the watersheds on which they depend. This has stirred a greater understanding of the environment across its business model – a revolution that would have been unthinkable a short while ago. General Electric from the top down has also understood sustainability and is re-defining its future in terms of it. Businesses that do not join the revolution will attract less capital and fewer customers and therefore fail in the long run. Already there are over $40 trillion in funds that only invest in sustainable businesses and this will soon reach a tipping point where funds withdraw from old-economy businesses. At a macro level capitalism is starting to work to drive the sustainability revolution that will become self-fulfilling and far sooner than we think. Revolutions used to take decades – but as we have seen in the Middle East and north Africa – now they sometimes only take months. Also transforming smaller businesses that see the opportunity to grow and deliver into this Sustainability Revolution. As a lifelong capitalist and now eco-entrepreneur, I have seen and become involved with some extraordinary businesses around the world. Three of these provide unusual and interesting examples of how entrepreneurs and academics can join the Sustainability Revolution. AgriProtein in conjunction with Stellenbosch University has developed a business that recycles abattoir waste into useable protein for animal feed at a fraction of the price of existing natural sources. One third of all the fish we take from our seas are ground into fishmeal and used in industrial animal farming of fish and chickens as well as in pet food. This company has developed a large-scale fly farming operation that develops fly eggs into larvae fed on waste nutrients. These larvae are then harvested and dried to make Magmeal - a high protein and natural replacement for fishmeal. Fish in streams and chickens in fields would naturally eat larvae. This business is profitably and naturally saving the seas! Oxitec - a spin off from Oxford University in the UK - breeds genetically modified male mosquitoes of the type that carries Dengue Fever. These GM Mosquitoes carry one gene that makes them glow red under UV light so that they can be identified. The male also carries a second gene that effectively kills all its offspring. Female mosquitoes are the only ones that pass the disease through biting, so releasing males is safe. When released the male mosquitoes breed with wild females and rapidly reduce the disease-carrying mosquito populations. Not only is this approach environmentally benign compared to the use of chemicals but also chemicals themselves have been shown to be ineffective at controlling the very rapid spread of dengue fever around the world in the last few years. The business is carrying field trials on a number of continents and expects to be a profitable and sustainable business.
EWF energy in Europe has borrowed wind-accelerating techniques from aircraft wing construction (wind flows faster over a curved surface) to accelerate wind into its turbines. Using direct drive technology – originally developed for Formulae One race car brakes – it dispenses with the traditional gearboxes. The units are small and light enough to fit on the average commercial building roof top – and each one provides the power used by 200 homes – or the building it sits on! All of these could be billion dollar businesses within the next 10 years. I firmly believe that the next Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg will have made their fortunes in the business of the saving the environment. It seems that our brains are wired to react to emergencies, but if the threat is not immediate we find it hard to galvanise ourselves into action. It is as if we are floating down a river heading towards a waterfall, ignoring the roar of the water and waiting until we see the foaming water, before we react and then look for someone else to blame for our predicament. What the Earth needs is for many more of us to understand our predicament, and drive the Sustainability Revolution we need to survive. There will be no time to waste looking for scapegoats: we need to move and make change happen fast. Capitalism and entrepreneurial drive are what we need to harness to create this change at the pace at which we need it. Until recently, I understood neither the unbelievable risks we are running nor the extraordinary opportunities for entrepreneurs and eco-capitalists like myself. I am now committed full-time to making a difference to the world we live in – through creating more awareness of the environment and excitement about the business opportunities it can bring us all. The clock is ticking. We are in a race between education and catastrophe.
Let’s get busy repairing the future