Invest? Divest? What’s best?

What on Earth

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I know I’m an 18-year-old kid and that I don’t know everything, but I sure like to pretend I do. Asking for advice makes me squirm. Asking for help? Absolutely unthinkable. My mom calls me “stupidly, criminally independent,” but I even seriously get suspicious when people do things for me seemingly out of the kindness of their hearts. You got me a gift? You’re helping me? Giving me aid that I didn’t … ask for? Hm, what’s the ulterior motive?

Perhaps it’s my interest in politics that has ingrained suspicion inside of me. It’s sad, but there is a widespread, public belief that American politicians and governmental institutions do not act out of kindness — but for power. Anthony Downs, an American economist and specialist in public policy, said politicians “seek office solely in order to enjoy the income, prestige, and power that go with running the governing apparatus.” Yikes.

But this is a generalization. My sneaking suspicion that every politician is only in it for themselves is quite obviously false, as they can only stay in office if they take action for their constituents. On an international scale, when the United States government sends aid to other countries, especially developing countries, it is simply to help those that are growing and in need in any way they can. In the same way, when my mom helps me out and buys me deodorant or boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, it’s because I’m a poor and growing college student that honestly just needs help sometimes.

When economically strong countries such as the United States commit aid to developing countries, this money is directed in a way that fosters economic growth and is environmentally sensitive. This sort of financing for the earth is known as climate investment, and is mostly directed by the World Bank through big funds built by economically developed donor countries. This often involves investing in renewable energy sources, offering paths to low-carbon careers and shifting to greener transportation methods. Moreover, large scale environmental education initiatives take place in all 72 beneficiary countries, so the environmental cause can be developed over time as new generations begin to operate in these societies and economies.

Climate investment is also an attractive environmental solution to curb greenhouse gas emissions, especially to those disillusioned by the idea that divesting from fossil fuels is impactful in the long term. Founder of Microsoft Bill Gates in particular has spoken out about the relative ineffectiveness of fossil fuel divestment and said, “It’s not like you’ve capital-starved (the) people making steel and gasoline.” Because of the enormous economic and political pull of the fossil fuel industry, divesting stocks of big climate change contributors has very little impact. Although there is enormous moral reasoning behind this course of action, in the greater environmental scheme, putting money into building an earth-friendly economy from the start is the way to go.

At the same time, some politicians disavow this approach to battling climate change. Leaders in developing countries are especially unhappy with this arrangement. Why, they ask, must they give up fossil fuels when current world superpowers jump-started their economies with coal, oil and gas? They point to the American and British industrial revolutions and shout, hello? Is this not hypocrisy at its finest?

Moreover, some economists have found that reducing access to fossil fuels hurts the poorest members of every society. In India and China over the last four decades, increased usage of fossil fuels at all socioeconomic levels resulted in a massive increase in both life expectancy and economic prosperity. As a result, India and China are two of many fossil fuel-producing and consuming countries — including the U.S., Canada and Saudi Arabia — that are planning not to decrease usage of fossil fuels but to boost it by a global figure of 280%. Many of the countries involved in this skyrocketing statistic are signers of the Paris Agreement. But if they choose pro-fossil fuel plans over environmentally-conscious ones, by 2050 our planet may experience warming past 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or around 4 degrees Celsius.

This is bad news. And these developing countries with growing economies have a fair point. But in order to save our planet, the global community must recognize that there is more than one path to economic prosperity. Although the road most-traveled has been paved by oil and smoke, with the new climate technologies and environmental economic strategies available to us in the 21st century, a new course can be crafted.

Most importantly, developing countries today have the support of the international community. This support is not paternalistic — it’s collaborative. While the economic strength of individual countries is crucial, especially to those living in them, global investments from every single country will be necessary to ensure a green future.

And a future apart from fossil fuels is entirely feasible. Climate investment and financing can boost the development of renewables to the point of becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels, moving countries away from oil and gas in an affordable way. Investing a single dollar often leads to quadruple the economic benefit down the road. Moreover, by 2030, the World Bank estimates that converting an economy to prioritize low-carbon solutions can lead to a net increase of more than 65 million jobs. These are the solutions: they exist, they’re feasible and they’re clearly within reach.

Investing in green technologies and giving up fossil fuels now will have enormous global environmental payback later. This international environmental strategy isn’t based in philanthropy or in Downs’ pessimistic model, or even my mom’s mac ‘n’ cheese — it has nothing to do with kindness or power. We’re all in this together. It’s about our universal endgame: long-term economic and environmental health worldwide.

Katherine Shok writes the Wednesday column on environmental politics and justice. Contact her at [email protected].