Photo of a painted stone at an NJ memorial service for George Floyd,
June 5 2020. Photo by Daniel Aronson
Hi <<First Name>>
Greetings and welcome to issue #26 of Valutus SustainabilityR.O.I., a Recap of things that caught our attention along with some Observations and Intelligence.
Some moments are so terrible and so clear that they spur change and demand action. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of officers of the Minneapolis Police Department is one of those moments.
Millions have already sent a clear message, through their words and by protesting: Black Lives Matter. And they’re absolutely right.
Beyond the protests, many Americans are telling pollsters that they have changed their understanding of who we are as a country. In 2017, 57% of Americans had an unfavorable view of Black Lives Matter. Now, 53% support it. Now, a majority of Americans (57%) say that police officers facing a tough situation are more likely to use excessive force if the culprit is black, while in 2016 only 34% said so.
That’s a good shift, and long overdue. But it’s only the beginning. Now comes taking action, as workers, companies, and citizens, to bring our reality into line with who we want to be. Now comes the hard work of change.
At Valutus, our work has always been deeply personal, rooted in what matters to us. That’s why we focus on values as well as value, and on the connection between them – for example, the connections between structural racism and economic opportunity and the fact that environmental harms hit Black Americans harder here in the US in addition to being harder on the most vulnerable elsewhere.
Because of the importance of living our values, these times have spurred us to do some self-examination and to look harder at our place in addressing racism. We know we don’t have all the answers, so we’re doing more listening, seeking to understand how we can help make America and the world more just. We’re also looking for ways we can help amplify Black voices so they reach more people. And we’re examining what we do to see how we can be more effective catalysts for change, in our work and in our personal lives.
We believe combating inequality is an essential part of creating a sustainable future. There are practical reasons for this – for example, we know that equality makes societies more willing to preserve the natural world, and we understand that we need to inspire everyone to pull together, and only a more just world will do that.
At a deeper level, though, justice and equity are simply fundamental values, part of the definition of the world we want. And we need to bring them to life through action.
We have more to say about this, and we’ve done so in our Recap. Meanwhile, thanks for all you do to make the world a better place.
The Value of Values
There’s a lot to get to in this issue of R.O.I.
Of necessity it is unlike any other, for this time is like no other.
Protesters are in the streets demanding changes in law, demanding human decency, demanding an end to institutionalized racism.
Photo by Tony Zhen / Unsplash
Despite a Constitution touting equality, far too much of the U.S. – and the global economy – have been built upon a substrate of injustice, wealth inequity, and racism. While there have been many cracks over the years, the dam finally burst under the shock of watching a police officer slowly, painfully, and seemingly indifferently, snuff out yet another Black life.
For 8 minutes and 46 horrifying seconds onlookers tried to intervene in the death of George Floyd while three other policemen looked on.
By Florian Olivo / Unsplash
Crack! And a torrent of boiling, raging, furious magma was released onto the streets in the form of grief, rage, peaceful protest, sometimes even violence, as bottled-up emotions exploded into full view at last.
The country saw, in raw, unequivocal terms, that to those policemen the Black life of George Floyd did not matter. But it did matter. It does matter.
We at Valutus must assert, right here and now, that what happened to George Floyd and countless others is intolerable. Their lives mattered. This must not stand.
The lives of those whose names we’ve heard intoned like a litany, a dirge these past weeks, were Black lives casually taken as they jogged, played, slept in their beds, snacked, barbequed in their own backyards, sat in their living rooms and their cars, or did any of the quotidian things people do.
In the weeks since, more have died at the hands of police, and a paroxysm of soul searching, angst, and confusion, have all taken place amidst a pandemic that continues to rage. It’s hard to even catch our collective breath, to see what else may be happening out there but there is, in fact, other news.
Tropical cyclone in the Arabian Sea battering the coast of Yemen. Source: NASA
A major cyclone made landfall where cyclones almost never do. That’s an important and concerning development and we have that story for you.
Hundreds of millions of people will soon need to relocate their communities due to warm, rising oceans through so-called ‘managed retreat’ and we report on that critical issue as well.
Milton Friedman in 1976. Photo by UPI. Photos source: Wikipedia
And, since the musings of Milton Friedman played an outsized role in creating the world we currently inhabit, we chatted with old Milt – dead though he is – to mark the fast-approaching 50th anniversary of his highly regarded, deeply influential, and simply awful analysis of the role of business in society.
You’ll also read about dairy products made without cows, a breakthrough that – if it proves workable and properly scaled – could change the course of global warming.
These are all important, and action is required. The racial unrest in America is important and action is required there, too. And if the novel coronavirus has taught us anything it’s that we can do much more, much faster than we previously thought. We just proved it. And it is in exactly that spirit that in this issue we’re also presenting the COVID Covenant.
The Covenant is a commitment to do – within a year or two – what many had planned to do by 2030 or 2050: to act on climate change, with the same speed, scope and scale as we’ve done in battling the novel coronavirus.
To act on the old systems that that did not allow us to weather a major disruption, while casting aside the usual hesitancy around personal sacrifices, government budgets, and quarterly profits.
And to implement new systems that create a strong, resilient world, one that is prepared for the next disruption. Things like pay equity, universal health care and, yes, remedies for institutional racism and inequality which have exacerbated much of the suffering over the past few months.
The Covenant was conceived within the walls of Valutus, but it doesn’t belong to us. It’s been formulated and crystallized by some of the brightest thinkers in sustainability and business: Andrew Winston, Hunter Lovins, and Gil Friend, Amy Larkin, Catherine Greener and Daniel Kreeger, P.J. Simmons, Phil Clawson, and others – while Sustainable Brands provided a platform for the launch.
The Covenant is designed to galvanize corporations, municipalities, and individuals to action, by having them commit themselves with unshakable resolve to doing all they can – literally all they can – to ensure we don’t go back, we go BIG!
We can do these things. We must. The climate matters. Social justice matters. Income and health care matter. Democracy matters. And at this moment, and for all time, Black Lives Matter.
We can do these things.
We urge you to join the Covenant, and to bring it to others in your sphere.
MicroMilk: Too Good to be Moo?
Photo by Myriam Zilles / Pixabay
This will be quick, as there’s very little information as yet. But it’s always worth following the trail of innovation and ‘milk’ that is neither animal nor vegetable is something that merits our attention.
After all, people have been milking ruminants for millennia. Just a bit more recently we’ve made ‘milk’ from various nuts, seeds, hemp, grains, and beans. Almond milk goes back at least to the Middle Ages while rice milk has a long tradition as well, and Asians have been making beverages from soy for a very long time. More recent plant-based innovations involve making meat, shoes, ice creams, and… well, pretty much everything, from plants.
Freshly made almond milk. Photo by Couleur / Pixabay
Now, a brand-new chapter is being written in the story of replacing animal products with other materials: microbes.
An Israeli firm called Remilk has been soliciting capital and has, they say, developed the closest thing yet to cow’s milk, with the same textural properties and flexibility, using ingredients new to the faux-dairy scene.
The company claims that the secondary products made from Remilk, such as mozzarella for example, share the stretchy, squeezy, stringy properties of the bovine original due to bio-identical proteins. They are, however, with patent still pending, being quite cagey about the exact ingredients.
The dairy industry has already been disrupted many times in recent decades. Organic milk already owns about 1% of the global cow’s milk market of 513-million metric tonnes and sales are still growing by close to 2% every year. Goat milk has also risen in popularity and production, notably in Asia, Africa and North America, with global output of more than 18 million metric tonnes as of 2017.
Then along came the true game-changer, with the advent of packaged soymilk in Western markets, an alternative for people and infants with allergies to bovine milk, for vegans, and for those who felt processed cow’s milk was not healthy. Other plant-based alternatives followed and together they now account for a significant chunk of the market. In Britain, for example, a fourth of all milk purchases are not from animal sources.
Indeed, sales of plant-based milks are so strong now that an alarmed and anxious dairy industry is attempting to prevent them – so far unsuccessfully – from using the word ‘milk’ in their product titles. Global almond milk sales were valued at $5.2 billion in a 2019 report. Dairy milk sales, meanwhile, dropped by more than $1 billion in 2018.
But microbes, we are forced to ask again? Will this be the disruption that finally tips the cow for good?
Photo by Madalyn Cox / Unsplash
We’ll see, as this type of product may be trickier than it appears. A Berkeley startup called Perfect Day claimed to have broken through with bovine-identical proteins created by micro-floral fermentation back in 2014. They eventually made a single run of microbial whey ice cream in July of 2019 but have not sold any products since. Their process, however, involved culturing “bioengineered microflora to include DNA sequences that instruct the cells to produce proteins that are conventionally found in cow's milk. The microflora are then grown in fermentation tanks where they convert a carbohydrate source such as corn sugar into flora-based dairy protein.”
It is unclear if this is the same process used by Remilk but we can understand why it is scary for the animal-protein industries: for it is the same process used to make heme, the ingredient that gives the most highly disruptive animal alternative to date – the Impossible Burger – its unique character., If Remilk were to have a similar impact, it could be a huge change for the dairy market, both in terms of production (switching from animals to microbes) and environmental impact (microbe-based dairy could have very significant sustainability advantages).
When and if the product finally hits the shelves, we’ll put it – ahem! – under the microscope. Until then, get your salads ready for microbial mozzarella and your smoothies ready for micro-milk.
Cyclones: They'll Be Coming Around Again
The remnants of Cyclone Nisarga as it moved inland over central India, June 4 2020 (EDT).
The storm had fallen to a 'remnant low-pressure area' as it passed over land. Satellite photo by NASA
Perched atop the world’s third-largest ocean, wedged between the Arabian sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal on the East, India has regularly dealt with tropical cyclones, averaging five or six per year, with just under half of them considered ‘severe.’
Yet that number has been trending up and last-year’s Indian Ocean cyclone season was the “most active” ever recorded. This is a bland way of saying the country got slammed with “12 depressions, 11 deep depressions, 8 cyclonic storms, a record 6 severe cyclonic storms, a record 6 very severe cyclonic storms, a record 3 extremely severe cyclonic storms, and 1 super cyclonic storm.” All within one year.
Visakhapatnam, India, an important port on the Bay of Bengal. Photo by Nballa. Source: Wikipedia
Then again, historically, most cyclones near the subcontinent occur on India’s East Coast in the Bay of Bengal – over nearly 130 years there have been 520 on the Bay to the West Coast’s 126 – due to complex geographical and meteorological nuances. However, in 2019 five of the twelve roamed the Arabian Sea, which last happened in 1902. This new penchant for battering the West Coast “indicates a surprise element in the behaviour of the Arabian Sea, which has long been known for being pacific.”
In addition, though some storms do make landfall on the subcontinent in the summer months, they almost never do so in June.
On top of that, even when a rogue cyclical storm has gone roving through the Arabian Sea, it generally drifts west towards North Africa or the Middle East. Such cyclones do not hit India’s largest city, Mumbai. It’s not that they rarely hit Mumbai. They never hit Mumbai.
A tumbled hillside in Mumbai, India, in 2013.
Which is why it’s seriously anomalous that a major cyclone just made landfall on the West Coast, in June, within spitting distance of Mumbai which, once again, miraculously – and just barely – escaped.
So, what’s up with this? Random chance? Did the Hindu God Varuna, astride his crocodile mount, intervene and pull the cyclone towards the coast?
Perhaps, but according to scientists, it’s just due to your friendly neighborhood climate change.
Warming temperatures in the Arabian Sea have been on the radar for some time. Temps in that area have been rising by close to the world-wide average of .1˚C every decade. (That average is about 40% faster than scientists recently thought.)
But it is not warming alone causing these shifts in cyclone behavior. The tropical waters around India, and in the Arabian Sea in particular, are already quite warm – in summer as high as 33˚C (91.4˚F) in some places. Rather it is the combination of warmer waters – the perfect breeding grounds for tropical cyclones – and the gradient between temperatures near the ocean’s surface and air higher up in the atmosphere, that is changing the frequency and patterns.
As the sea continues to warm, scientists predict, that gradient will be reduced, and the number of storms may eventually wane. Those that do occur, however, are likely to be whoppers.
Tropical Storm Cristobal tracking over the Gulf of Mexico en route to the Louisiana coast, June 5 2020. Photo by NASA. It is the third recorded storm of the year, the earliest third tropical Atlantic cyclone in recorded history.
This is no longer theoretical, by the way. Cyclones are well understood and have been for some time. But the forensics involved in climate change’s impact on weather events – known as ‘climate change attribution’ – is still evolving. However, it has already come so far that, as we wrote in April, “experts can now sit in courtrooms just as DNA experts do, and say with “increasing statistical certainty,” that X event was increased in likelihood and severity by anthropogenic climate change.”
A new method using satellite data is adding certainty to the field, as detailed in a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study. “The analysis, of satellite images dating to 1979, shows that warming has increased the likelihood of a hurricane developing into a major one of Category 3 or higher, with sustained winds greater than 110 miles an hour, by about 8 percent a decade.” (Eight percent each decade? That means by mid-century… holy smokes!)
Well, for one thing, Mumbai is home to more than 20 million people – about two-and-a-half times the size of New York City – with millions more in the major cities along 4,600+ miles (7,500+ km) of mainland coastline. Add in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Oman, Yemen, the Maldives and… let’s just say increased incidence and severity of tropical cyclones in some of the poorest and lowest-lying nations on Earth will likely lead to serious humanitarian crises.
Indeed, headlines such as “Cyclone Nisarga is Brought to You by Climate Change,” are becoming more frequent as climate change attribution becomes more robust.
Okay, so the evidence is pretty strong, but so what?
And hurricanes and typhoons going where they have rarely gone before means those areas now need to prepare for major disasters they could safely ignore in the past. New Jersey and New York, particularly Staten Island, were unprepared for the fury of a superstorm like Sandy coming that far up the coast, and the damage was enormous, some $70 billion in addition to the human toll, as a result of a storm that had the largest diameter in history for an Atlantic storm: 900 miles (1448 km).
Storm surge from Hurricane Florence battering the American coast in 2018. Photo by FEMA.
As we’ll note in our next story, The Better Part of Valor, from expected sea-level rise alone, “the number of people who will be forced to move is likely in the hundreds of millions…” Larger, more frequent, more damaging cyclones will likely increase both that number and the distance inland required for safety.
And of course, as we detailed in Blame: The Worm Will Turn in 2020, someone is going to have to pay for all this. Insurance companies are becoming less and less inclined to insure anything at risk from climate change, particularly the huge reinsurers who underwrite the rest.
So, who will be targeted now that we know, and can prove, what is driving this? Many sights will be turned towards already beleaguered oil and coal companies, other major polluters, auto manufacturers and more, and courts have begun weighing the merits of such cases, especially internationally.
By a razor-thin margin, Mumbai’s record of avoiding cyclones stands unblemished. Given the trends however, that city – and many other places previously thought immune – might do well to begin battening down the hatches. It’s not likely that record will stand very long.
 Wikipedia, Hurricane Sandy  John Carey, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Core Concept: Managed Retreat increasingly Seen as Necessary in Response to Climate Change’s Fury, May 27, 2020  Valutus, Blame: The Worm Will Turn in 2020,Feb 2020
Managed Retreat Advances
Mississippi flooding in Davenport, Iowa. Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash
Lately we’ve become fascinated with risk. In particular we’re focused on what we call submerged risk, problematic hazards that lurk beneath the surface, invisible until they’re revealed by a disaster after the fact – or by a tool we’re developing (hey, this is us; of course we’re developing a tool) – is one type of risk.
Photo by Michael Jasmund / Unsplash
But this story is not about submerged risk. Rather, it’s about the very visible risk of being submerged: millions of people and their communities will be under water due to rising sea levels, riparian flooding, and storm surges from more powerful storms – all driven by anthropomorphic climate change – if something isn’t done.
A new report on potentially inundated areas (PIA) shows that, “by 2100, areas now home to 200 million people could fall permanently below the high tide line” and “rising sea levels could within three decades push chronic floods higher than land currently home to 300 million people.” This will likely result in massive instability, millions of environmental migrants (EM), battles over land rights and enormous economic strains over how to pay for any actions taken.
Sea levels are expected to rise by anywhere from half a meter to two meters over the next 8 decades – estimating is tricky because of the need to nail the melting rates of the polar and Greenland ice caps. Suffice to say a person 6’ (≈183cm) born today at sea level may be mostly or fully submerged when he turns 80. A six-foot rise will inundate vast stretches of land currently occupied by, well, by you and your family, your house, your business, your baseball diamond or your rice paddy.
Clearly, we must do something.
Well, we could continue business as usual, hope nothing happens, and try to rebuild when it does. That has been the approach up to now. Get crushed and rebuild – in the U.S., often with the help of the taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program – on the same footprint. Wait a bit and – literally – rinse and repeat. But this is tough to manage when the land isn’t just flooded but has actually been reclaimed by the sea.
Besides, as these events transpire, insurers, whose actuaries grasped and embraced the facts of climate change early, will begin raising prices dramatically to offset increased risk, or will refuse to renew policies in inundation-prone zones.
We could rebuild homes differently, on stilts for example, as communities in flood- or tide-prone areas have done throughout history. The problem here is that tide levels at par may stay beneath the floor, but more frequent and more powerful storms means higher storm surges and water moving higher and farther inland than before on top of higher sea levels. It could work in areas not prone to such storms – although as we’ve detailed in our cyclone story above, there will be fewer places like that going forward – and this may have to be considered in targeted communities.
The third option is to simply pick up and move those hundreds of millions of people – along with their shops, pets, schools, churches, and community buildings – to higher ground. Just pick ‘em up, lock, stock and Main Street. This is known as ‘managed retreat.’
This is not a new concept and “prehistoric tribes regularly packed up settlements along riverbanks when periodic floods struck.” Since then it has been done occasionally on a small – usually very small – scale: a house or two. A cluster of families. In a few cases whole midwestern towns or English hamlets prone to flooding have been relocated or rebuilt on higher ground.
The U.S. government has begun, on a piecemeal basis, “offering to buy storm-damaged homes and homes likely to be damaged again due to an extreme weather event—purchasing homes and converting them to natural open space. This program, however, is entirely voluntary for the homeowners,” which is assisting certain foresighted individuals but not solving the problem of probable inundation.
Yet even on this scale, “managed retreat presents numerous complex challenges—legal, logistical, ethical, political, financial, and architectural.” The implications of moving several hundred million peoples’ lives are almost incalculable.
Samarinda, Borneo, Indonesia, near the proposed sites for the new Indonesian capital.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
In some cases, there is no high ground to be moved to. “Indonesia has proposed moving its capital to Borneo Island, because up to one-third of Jakarta could be underwater by 2050. The low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati has bought land in Fiji to allow a future migration,” and many other examples. The average height of the land in the 1200-or so islands of this nation is “around 4 feet above sea level, and the highest point in the entire nation is just under 8 feet (about 2.4 meters).” Where will these people go as the rising tides they did little to produce sweep over them?
For context, consider the case of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, on the banks of the usually placid Kickapoo River. According to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) case study,
“Residents experienced floods in 1907, 1912, 1917, 1935, 1951,
and the “big one” in 1978. From 1969 to 2007, the state had 25 nationally declared flood disasters in 38 years.”
With classic myopic optimism, the town recovered and rebuilt in place every time until “the flood of record in 2007 inflicted the worst damage in the state just 10 miles downstream in Gays Mills.” At that point, they found higher ground and skedaddled.
That’s what it took to get just one town to move.
The Kickapoo River in flood, September 2016. Source: Weather.gov
And consider what’s involved from a purely logistical standpoint. On an already crowded planet, what kind of land will there be, available to move vast numbers of people to? If fishermen now live next to their boats and farmers next to their fields, what will the impact of moving be on their livelihoods? Who will pay for the new land? New schools? New stores?
And, while areas like Florida and Louisiana in the United States are vulnerable, “the threat is concentrated in coastal Asia and could have profound economic and political consequences within the lifetimes of people alive today.” Many of these nations have neither the resources nor the infrastructure to cope well with such large-scale migration.
At the end of the day, however the logistics are managed, there may be little choice. The seas are rising. The storms are intensifying multiplying. Insurance companies – where they exist – won’t cover perpetual disaster and even the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program has bankrupted itself – it is nearly $25 billion in debt – paying claims for properties it undervalued and therefore emboldening property owners to build where they should not, passing the risk to the U.S. treasury.
So the question is not if, but when and how. When, of course, should be now. But a quick Google search indicates clearly that managed retreat has not yet advanced in the public mind or in government planning.
This will change soon, as the inevitable begins and the sea begins claiming land from us wholesale, rather than retail as in the past.
In any case, it might be wise to keep some galoshes handy and to head for the hills soon. Those hills may be islands before long.
OBSERVATIONS: Friedmanomics Turns 50
A Chat with Milton Friedman
Um… Milton? ‘Scuse me, can I have a word? Thanks. Listen, about your notion that business has only one responsibility – to make a profit – can we talk? Great.
So, just 50 years ago you snarked in print that business leaders who care about anything other than shareholder value were “incredibly short-sighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses…” do I have that right?
Don’t bother to answer. After all, you’re dead and the words were printed in the New York Times Magazine five decades ago this September. I wanted to check in though, because there’s a new pandemic, a probable major recession, and massive social upheaval that may interest you. After all, you helped create all of it.
Oh, yes you did. When you said business must be free to pursue nothing but profits “so long as it... engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud,” I’m wondering if, under the heading of ‘fraud’ you would include accounting that fails to report the real costs of the business?
No, no, don’t interrupt. I want to know if you agree that a business’s profits should come after all other expenses, such as payroll, COGS, groundskeeping, capex, investments, depreciation, mortgages, legal indemnity, insurance, and cleanup around the office?
Milton Friedman with Richard Nixon, creator of the EPA, Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Photo by Volteurismo. Source: Wikimedia Commons
You do? But, what if under ‘groundskeeping’ and ‘office cleanup’ we included the real environmental costs? I mean, you don’t just take the trash from your cubicle out into the street, shake it over the curb and wait for the public to pay for cleanup, do you? Of course you don’t. You do what responsible business owners do: you hire a company to come get your trash and you list that expense on your income statement as a balance against your profits.
So why, when it comes to environmental costs – air, water, soil, oceans, forests, coastlines, warming, and increased frequency, range and power of extreme weather events, are you content to pass those cleanup and remediation costs – health, land-use, disposal, remediation, planetary regeneration – along to the general public?
Doesn’t that fall under your definition of ‘fraud?’
Open-pit coal mine. Photo by EwaStudio.
You believed that the environment was a slave to business, to the great economic engine that could continue to grow and grow, unchecked. If someone wanted to clean it up, well, that was their affair, but not the business of business, if you take my meaning.
But this pandemic, among other things, is a clear sign that the economy must still align itself with the environment: that, in fact, wholesale destruction of habitat wasn’t such a great idea in spite of the profits it generated, nor was the rape of West Virginia and the pouring of toxic detritus into local wetlands.
Here’s the thing, Milt – may I call you Milt? Five decades after your highly influential screed in the Times Magazine, it is clear that your policies not only contributed greatly to the current degradation of the planet: they’re also a fraud. A fake.
In 2016 the U.N. commissioned a survey of top global industries’ profitability.
Incredibly, noted Resilience, “the report found that when you took the externalized costs into effect, essentially NONE of the industries was actually making a profit. The huge profit margins being made by the world’s most profitable industries (oil, meat, tobacco, mining, electronics) is being paid for against the future: we are trading long term sustainability for the benefit of shareholders.”
Nice! ‘The benefit of shareholders’ must have a congenial ring to you, Milt. But it’s not so congenial when those ‘benefits’ are exposed as, essentially, a sham, a chimera. A tax on the public.
These industries also helped create the social mess going on during the current pandemic, by lobbying lavishly to dramatically undermine social structures, unions, state-and-national laws and environmental regulations, and by relying on corporations to provide health care and benefits that they’ve now – thanks, in part, to you – found ways around providing. Thanks to you again, they are rewarding themselves just as lavishly because they’ve done such a bang-up job providing shareholder value. They’ve done their job according to your definitions and, with few exceptions, they weren’t willing to do anything beyond – why should they? It’s not their job. Once again, those costs – social and financial – must be borne by the public.
Satellite photo of land cleared for palm oil plantations in Malaysia. Photo by NASA (2002)
And, because industry took on this notion, it did little or nothing to find less environmentally expensive ways to do business. It did little to innovate so that burning down forests for a single crop, or glancing aside while enslaved children picked cacao, or carbonating the atmosphere, wasn’t necessary.
Indeed, they went over even your line in the sand, and did much to lie, obfuscate and cloud the issue of global warming, putting us all on the brink of catastrophe while we scramble to get business to back away from your ideas.
Now, you didn’t force these companies to do the wrong thing. You simply gave them the ‘out’ they were looking for, the philosophical context within which to plow forward at the expense of their own planet and its populace. Yet that is always how it happens. An idea, for good or ill, can poison a world, and your idea gave license to those who gleefully adhered to your rationale.
The notion of the triple or quadruple bottom lines, a notion you disdained, is now rising to the public consciousness as a necessity. While your legacy has not (yet) been consigned to the publicly funded dustbin of history, some of us are doing yeoman's work to make sure it gets there, and soon.
Milton Friedman receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan in the East Room
of the White House in 1988 while Nancy Reagan looks on. Image source: White House via Wikipedia
It’s sad to say, Milt, but despite your Nobel prize, and broad acclamation for some of your very real accomplishments, what you will actually be remembered for is having written, championed, and presided over, the most disastrous economic idea in modern history.
When all is said and done, Milt, you will still have your laurels while, in keeping with your notion of business, the rest of us pay for the cleanup. Rest in peace.
The COVID Covenant:
No #$%&*@! Way We're Going Back... We're Going BIG!
Some of us have been terribly affected by COVID-19, losing lives or livelihoods, while some have been luckier. But we’re all ready to get back to normal, right? Wrong. Even in the midst of the pandemic, only 9% of people surveyed wanted to get back to normal. Nine percent.
The pandemic has laid bare just how deeply, deeply flawed “normal” was. Therefore, it’s only natural that people are saying:
We’re not going back. No way we’re going back.
If there’s one thing this pandemic has done, it is to show all of us the fallacy of economy over ecology. The natural world still owns us, as a tiny microbe has made clear.
There are numerous initiatives addressing this, with detailed rationales for abandoning the past, and thorough roadmaps for what a sustainable and equitable future should be. Things like Build Back Better, which originated as a U.N. post-disaster roadmap, has now been adapted to dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic.
The Club of Rome has also been hammering away at this (for years), and Emerge from Emergency is gaining traction, outlining “a green, circular economy that is anchored in nature-based solutions and geared toward the public good.”
And yet, for all this good work, without some sort of dramatic shift to get these changes adopted, the forces that got us here are likely to drag us back.
I was pondering this when someone on our team sent me this note,
________________ Hey Daniel,
What about getting a bunch of global companies and global local governments together to actually commit to immediate massive changes? To sign a document binding them to something big, bigger than they ever thought possible, honking enormous, tremendous, and hairy, something that screams, No &^%$#@! waywe're coming out of COVID-19 and going back to Business-as-Usual!We’re going BIG!
Call it the “COVID Covenant.”
So, I brought it up over virtual drinks next day, with friends who are steeped in sustainability.
Kenny Timmer / Unsplash
Some of those folks are themselves involved in other current initiatives. All of them liked the idea of something concrete. A promise, a set-in-stone agreement, a covenant if you will, and that is what we’ve been developing.
We chewed over the idea and began to hammer out a document outlining this new commitment. While it started with us, we knew it couldn’t be a Valutus thing, or even an Andrew-Hunter-Gil-Amy-Catherine-Daniel-John-etc. thing. It had to be bigger than all of us. And it is, welcoming involvement and support from all who want to go BIG.
Photo by Michelle Patrick
The COVID Covenant is designed for nothing less than real, massive, put-up-or-shut-up action that starts before the ink is dry at signing.
But even within that, this cannot be about incrementalism. We’ve collectively been given ten years to remake our world so it remains not only habitable, but verdant and abundant. That’s too long: let’s get this stuff done this year, next year, the year after at the latest. Let’s approach it as we’ve collectively approached COVID-19: with more speed, scope, and coordination than we would have dreamed was possible.
Those who make the covenant are ready to be part of a radical change, refuse to return to how the world did carbon. Keep the air COVID-levels of clean. Create or demand pay and safety equity for workers, and commit to ensuring health care for everyone. Treat essential workers as they deserve to be treated.
We’re still looking for more input, with the understanding that radical ideas are the currency of this project. Previous strategies are moving us forward, but with nowhere near the speed that is needed. Therefore, everything is on the table.
Everything, that is, except inaction, ‘predatory delay,’ and failure.
Suffice to say, the goal is to follow the novel coronavirus with utterly novel approaches to motivation, accountability and cheerleading. Can we have real-time billboards ticking off progress? Could employees be the ones to hold their companies accountable? Can we pool resources and offer grants to companies legitimately needing support to transition? Can cities, provinces, counties, and states embrace the Covenant? Could your idea put the Covenant over the top?
All of us are in. Sustainable Brands is in. The Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) is in. Some very large companies are moving it up the chain and may soon be in.
Here is the COVID Covenant for individuals, with additional detail to come for entities such as corporations and cities.
The COVID Covenant
“I Solemnly Commit to do what is necessary, at the speed, scale, and scope necessary, to disrupt climate degradation, inequitable economic systems, and the inadequate social infrastructure which crumbled so quickly under a global pandemic; and to build resilient, equitable, healthy systems in their place, systems strong enough and resilient enough to withstand, even thrive during, future disruptions.”
“Before the Ink is Dry on this Covenant, I will begin creating economic, social and governmental change at speed, scale, and scope. I will practice – and advocate for – unprecedented levels of collaboration, and I will mobilize my organization(s), city, company, and others in my circle of influence, to do the same.”
The goal of the Covenant is to change the world, and quickly. Nothing less will do. We’re not going back to what was. We can’t. That’s over. We’re going BIG!
References: Managed Retreat  Climate Central, Report: Flooded Future: Global Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise Worse Than Previously Understood, Oct 2019
 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, John Carey, Core Concept: Managed Retreat Increasingly Seen as Necessary in Response to Climate Change’s Fury, May 27, 2020
 Forbes / Earl J. Ritchie, University of Houston Energy Fellow, Contributor, Is the IPCC Wrong About Sea Level Rise?June 2018  The Outline, Your Insurance Premium is About to Rise Like the Sea Levels, March 2019
 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, John Carey, Core Concept: Managed Retreat Increasingly Seen as Necessary in Response to Climate Change’s Fury, May 27, 2020
 Planetizen, Managed Retreat from Sea Level Rise, April 2017  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, John Carey, Core Concept: Managed Retreat Increasingly Seen as Necessary in Response to Climate Change’s Fury, May 27, 2020  National Geographic, Climbing the Highest Point in the Maldives  FEMA, Village Locals Reflect Moving Was Best Flood Protection
 U.S. General Accountability Office, Flood Insurance: Comprehensive Reform Could Improve Solvency and Enhance Resilience, April 2017
 Union of Concerned Scientists, Overwhelming Risk: Rethinking Flood Insurance in a World of Rising Seas, Aug 2013
References: Friedman  The New York Times Magazine, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits,Sept 13, 1970  Resilience, Roundup, New UN report finds almost no industry profitable if environmental costs were included, April 2016
 Sky News, Coronavirus: Only 9% of Britons want Life to Return to ‘Normal’ Once Lockdown is Over,April 17, 2020
 Project Syndicate, A Green Reboot After the Pandemic, Dixon-Declève, S., Lovins, H., Schellnhuber, H.J., Răorth, K. Mar 24, 2020