If Rich People Wanted To Save The Planet…

They would be doing it now.

Lynn Johnson
23 August, 2021

Instead of the ultra-rich doing their utmost to secure a viable future for all, we have what some have termed, for obvious reasons, dicks in space.

The problem is that these billionaires are being held up as visionaries, but isn’t this vision simply feeble? Aren’t they saying, I don’t have the skill to fix the complex problems down here on earth, so I am just going to build my own rocket and run away? It comes across as immature and narrow-minded.

This image isn’t enhanced when you consider the scale of tax avoidance by the ultra-rich that has been reported in recent years, or on the back of Richard Branson trying to convince the UK government to give his Virgin Atlantic airline a £500m bailout to help it survive the coronavirus pandemic. There is no visionary leadership being demonstrated here.

This is also the reason why the only home we, humans and non-human, have is crumbling around us. All the money that could have been invested in rehabilitating the environment has been hidden away with the support of tax avoidance legislation and secrecy jurisdictions.

The leaders that we desperately need are the ones who will face up to dealing with a world damaged by growth obsessed capitalism, coupled with rampant corruption and corporate crime.

The leaders we need will have to overturn the kleptocracy and legal framework that enables the current model of unlimited individual enrichment to remain. Faced with man-children, obsessed with personal wealth, needy for attention their pet-projects provide them, and with governments responsive to the interests of the rich, what can be done?

Currently, many people feel powerless, believing all they can do is watch in horror as the world deteriorates, while the rich invest in planning their escape – to New Zealand or into space, aspiring to create their own version of Elysium. For Bezos, this is a vision of really pleasant places to live in space, for a million plus people

Firstly, we need to accept that we can’t rely only on technology to save us, innovation isn’t the same as thinking deeply about the problems of our time. Building a ‘better’ rocket has zero public utility and provides exactly zero help to address our real problems. As a scientist by background, someone who has a PhD in particle physics, I acknowledge that climate change and biodiversity loss are not scientific problems waiting for technical solutions. They are issues of lack of governance enabling overexploitation. They are social, cultural and political problems, and, currently, there is too little political or societal will to change.

To stay the course, many will need to hold the tension between hope and despair. Only then can we sit in the discomfort of processing the thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that need to be changed or adopted if we want to successfully mitigate the problems we collectively face.

To aid us make this step beyond the belief in classical science to behavioural science, it would be helpful to see more ‘citizen scientists’ involved in behavioural science. For instance, it would be great to have a Behavioural Science Week. Maybe then we could start to understand why Jeff Bezos reportedly used his unlimited wealth to put an ice cream machine in his house!

If we want to sleep easy, it is not the time to build pleasant places to live in space, that can hold a million people. The billions of humans and non-human species on earth are not disposable. It is time for us all to change our behaviour and fix house.