How Climate Hope Is Being Driven By People, Policy, Tech And Indigenous Wisdom
My climate action journey started when I took a wrong turn in the streets of Old Delhi, India, seven years ago.
One day, as I got lost walking through the chaos of rickshaws, racing the wrong way on a roundabout with cows weaving in and out of traffic, I ended up in a small alley where an elderly man began blessing me in Hindi from his balcony.
Suddenly, I was stunned by the sight of an ominous landfill surrounded by a pack of stray dogs and two small children. As the dogs and kids scavenged through the pile of waste, plastic and syringes, a piece of my heart started to break. I was able to divert the kids’ attention by smiling and showing them my camera.
The next day I asked my colleagues if the Fortune 500 technology firm I was writing for was doing anything to address the waste problem in India and the toxic methane emissions polluting the air every time a landfill is burned. At the time, climate action wasn’t on their agenda.
When Policy Wins…
Since then, some things have changed. In July 2022, India banned single-use plastics. In fact, at least 80 countries have passed a full or partial ban on plastic bags. In 2021, China, the world’s largest polluter, banned single-use plastic bags and utensils from major cities.
Last year, the U.S. celebrated its biggest climate policy win, the Inflation Reduction Act. With hundreds of billions of dollars prioritized for climate action, tax credits for clean energy and funding for clean tech at the fore, the legislation gives the country a chance to cut emissions by 40% by 2030.
Across the pond, the European Union passed a cross-border tax on carbon, which could help establish a global price on carbon. Carbon pricing is one of the most effective ways to direct investment from dirty and extractive energy into cleaner and greener options. In 2021, the total value of the voluntary market hit $1 billion.
When Creativity And Collaboration Win…
There’s no single panacea for climate change. Governance is fragmented. Accusations of greenwashing abound. And most high-level events bringing together the public and private sectors are flooded with lofty conversations led by corporates and politicians who come across as tragically out of touch with how local communities are being impacted by the crisis.
But for every parochial panel I sit through at these things, I also meet a handful of entrepreneurs and activists who are directly in touch with the problem and the people closest to it. They give us reason to shift from a mindset of crisis to one of hope.
Marcela Fernandez, founder of the nonprofit Cumbres Blancas (white summits), is living proof of this. I met Marcela sailing down the Nile River in Egypt. On our way to COP27, she told me about her mission to bring awareness to the world’s melting tropical glaciers.
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Across Africa, Indonesia and South Africa, these bodies of ice provide water to more than one-sixth of the world’s population. In Marcela’s home country of Colombia, six glaciers will be gone in 30 years. Not only are they melting, but they’re also being polluted. In Ecuador, microplastics are found in tropical glaciers 6,000 meters above sea level.
Marcela and the Cumbres Blancas team are leading expeditions for people to experience the glaciers and indigenous wisdom firsthand. They plan to work with Doña Maria Apaza Machuaca, a 97-year-old Quechua Shaman from Peru, who spoke directly with glaciers for many years and was able to move them through sound vibration.
When Indigenous Wisdom Wins…
While indigenous peoples across the globe have done little to contribute to climate change and are responsible for protecting 80% of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity, they’re disproportionately affected by environmental and economic exploitation in the industrialized world. That’s why the team at Bitgreen, a blockchain that bills itself as “climate-positive” on account of emitting 99.9 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional blockchains like Bitcoin and financing clean infrastructure, is working with the Shipibo indigenous tribe in the Ucayali region of the Amazon River.
Together they’re developing a massive REDD+ project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) that will issue carbon credits as a reward for proven forest conservation. While meeting with local advocacy leaders in Peru, Bitgreen CEO Adam Carver saw the results of clearcutting in the rainforest and visited a number of Shipibo people living in unelectrified homes and wanting the benefits of modernization. He also saw that without protections and established land rights, the default options for development often force indigenous groups to compromise their ancestral land.
When Technology Wins…
Across the globe in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where only 26 percent of the population has access to electricity, Bitgreen is working with Sewa Energy Resources and the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet to finance the Betmai Hydroelectric Facility, which is bringing renewable electricity to an equivalent of 500,000 Sierra Leonean homes through power generated by the Pampana River.
This will have impact from multiple angles. The ripple effect of limited access to electricity leads to a phenomenon known as “energy poverty.” Without power, 83 percent of rural households cook mainly using wood, resulting in deforestation.
We All Win
Both Cumbres Blancas and Bitgreen are doing their part to help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Bitgreen’s mission is to facilitate $1 trillion into carbon and green financing in the next decade. As it stands, we need investments of $5-$7 trillion per year to meet the 2030 deadline.
Policy alone isn’t enough. Neither is activism, indigenous wisdom or financing and technology. But through collaboration, these movements can make a measurable difference.
Later this month, I’m traveling to India for the first time since I met the two children by the landfill—the day I was blessed. This time I’ll prepare as best I can for the sensory overload. And this time, I’m going in with hope.
Disclosure: I am acquainted with the founders of many of these organizations.