Capitalism can deliver the transformation the climate school strike demands

Comment: A letter to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg: ‘I’m a good-old institutionalised man… my generation can’t speak to power the way yours can’

Greta Thunberg outside Swedish Parliament in 2018 (Pic: Anders Hellberg/Wikimedia)

By

Dear Greta Thunberg,

I have been trying (and failing) to write this letter to you for the last three months. But I keep getting stuck after the first two to three sentences. Then I sit for hours staring at the skyline outside my office window, trying to figure out how I could ever articulate the praise you deserve.

I have been following your environmental activism and how you’ve inspired millions of young people around the world to raise their voices and demand for action on the most immediate threat to our future: global warming.

There are days when I walk down the streets of Stockholm and feel ashamed — of myself, of my generation, and of the work I do. My guilt is not an attempt to excuse or rationalise my generation’s inaction on the global warming issue. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the poor decisions we continue to make and the complex narratives we’ve developed to justify our lack of courage.

We have cowered away from addressing global warming, and our lack of courage is pathetic. We know we can’t continue treating the planet as we currently do. We all agree we should change, and yet we don’t.

Like you, we know we are acting much too late and doing much too little to adequately address global warming. We know there is no time. We know action needs to take place now, and that action must be tectonic — a radical, systemic change for life and for the planet.

We know all of this. But…

(Yes, I’m sorry to say there is a “but.” And it’s a good-old institutionalised “but” from a good-old institutionalised man who works for a huge, good-old institutionalised bank.)

But… we live in a system  –  a deeply-ingrained system that affects every facet of our day-to-day lives. We know we have to change, but also have to start from where we are.

People are stubborn, and we can’t reasonably expect every human being on the planet to fundamentally change overnight how they live their lives. Instead, we have to learn how to combat climate change while working within our system and giving it a new sense of purpose.

You and your fellow climate strikers are exactly what the world needs right now: A group of young people relentlessly demanding we make drastic, sweeping reforms to meet the problem of global warming. My generation can’t speak to power the way yours can.

But if we’re ever going to truly defeat global warming, then our generations need to work together. And that means building common cause across the generations.

Unless we’re willing to leave our houses, quit our jobs, grow our own food, stop traveling to see friends and family and just not even use the internet (let alone electronic devices), then there’s no way we can completely extract ourselves from our current system in the name of fighting global warming.

We need to find ways to curb global warming that also allow people to continue living their lives. I still believe that we can do this. And if we don’t try, we’ll make no changes at all.

One of the most effective ways is with capitalism.

We know capitalism is a gigantic force. Imagine if we changed it from a destructive force, as it is now, into a force for good. It could become the single largest weapon in the fight against climate change.

One hundred corporations in the world stand for 71% of all industrial carbon emissions on this planet. We know their names, we know where they operate, and we know how dependent we are on them in our daily lives. We also know who owns these corporations  –  it’s your parents and grandparents, the savers of the world.

If we can redirect just a small percentage of the trillions of dollars invested in these companies to companies that prioritise and promote sustainability, the effect could be profound.

People underestimate the financial market’s ability to tackle climate change and transition us to a more sustainable future. We could reach the benchmarks set in the Paris Agreement within the couple of decades. It’s a way to change the capitalist system from within.

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Your generation keeps telling us we need a systemic change, that we need to completely alter our lifestyles to make them more sustainable. I agree, and the lifestyle we need to change most is our financial lifestyle. Our research shows that sustainable savings is one of the most efficient ways one can improve his or her personal carbon footprint.

I understand your generation is deeply sceptical of the financial industry. We are, after all, responsible for e.g. the late 2000s global financial crisis that the world is still recovering from.

But that event proves just how important and powerful the financial system is. If we could change the financial system such that it prioritises sustainability ahead of short-term profit, we could be the exact kind of widespread, systemic change you and your fellow activists have been calling for.

That’s why I find it very important and constructive that you meet world leaders and have that dialogue. We need you to convince our generation to rebel against itself and change the capitalist institutions we operate in.

I can’t thank you enough for re-invigorating me in the fight against global warming. I’ve been advocating for sustainable reforms for 20 years. But the last few years, my hope was starting to dwindle.

But now, because of you and your peers, my resolve has been re-ignited and is burning brighter than ever. And who knows? Maybe in 20 to 30 years time, I think you will need the same kind of help from the next generation.

I sure hope so.

Yours sincerely,

Sasja

Sasja Beslik is head of group sustainable finance at Nordea. This piece was first published on Medium.

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