Gifford Pinchot III
United States

The Pivot Point

“So, because I want you to be happy, I care deeply about the 22nd century that awaits your granddaughter. For me, 2150 is still personal.”

Dear Granddaughter,

I love you and want you to have a happy life. When you are 73, as I am today, and have a granddaughter of your own, you will care about her. I know that you would be quite unhappy in the late 2080s if her future in the 22nd century looks bleak. So, because I want you to be happy, I care deeply about the 22nd century that awaits your granddaughter. For me, 2150 is still personal.

Others of my time talk about the effects of climate change that will manifest by 2030 or 2050, but mostly seem indifferent to the much greater effects on your grandchildren. To me that is either a failure of imagination or just a lack of care for people they love. Those imaginative and caring enough to take the long view realize that we must act now.

It’s not too late for us in 2015 to make the lives of both you and your grandchildren’s generation far better. Many of us have been working hard to do so. Sometimes it has been frustrating, but now there are strong signs that humanity is turning back from the abyss.

Consider the fact that, according to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), every major publicly traded oil company now bases their planning on an internal carbon price. What does that mean? Well, if an employee at Exxon proposes a new project that will emit more carbon in the future, a cost of $60 per ton will be added to the project before calculating its return. If the project will reduce carbon emissions, it will receive a credit of $60 per ton. Exxon, and all the major oil companies, and many others including Google, Microsoft, Dupont, ConAgra, GE, Walmart, and Disney are all acting as if there were already a government-imposed carbon tax. Why?

It’s not because they hold “the good of society” as a higher priority than profits. It is more likely that they possess insider information that indicates a government-imposed price on carbon emissions is on its way. By preparing for those carbon costs now, they assure bigger profits in the future. Granddaughter, it appears that all our efforts to save your granddaughters are starting to bear heavy fruit.

Many former climate deniers now give a cleverly disguised “no comment” when asked about climate change, or they say “I’m not a climate scientist” while ducking the question. They too know which way the winds are blowing.

The other sign that change is coming arrived with an encyclical written by Pope Francis, urging his followers to take climate change seriously. He told his 1.2 billion followers that it is their moral duty to work to stop climate change and eliminate poverty. Until recently, many of these people believed it was their religious duty to oppose those who believed in climate change. As I write this, those people’s minds are changing.

Finally, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is becoming much easier. Already in many parts of the world, the cheapest source of energy is wind. Solar is not far behind. Biomass, geothermal, and hydro could supply much of the base load to meet our minimum demands on energy. Smart grids can fit instantaneous consumption to supply. And storage is coming.

Civilization has begun a major pivot, Granddaughter. There is a good chance that by the time you grow up, society will be well on the way to re-creating itself into a form that will ensure a good life for you and your grandchildren.

The founder of the first school of sustainable business, an author, a blacksmith, and a former Internet security software CEO, Pinchot is the author of three books, including Intrapreneuring.