A simple statement from Pope Francis's encyclical: climate change and inequality need integrated solutions
It is heartening to hear and read the Pope's views on the moral imperative to address climate change and inequality. There is so much depth and truth in the encyclical and the Pope's message that I hesitate to hone in on just one aspect, but I feel drawn and energized to a simple statement that encompasses a complex set of issues:
"Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."
Exactly. Addressing the interrelated problems of climate change and economic opportunity for all go hand in hand. We can grow our economy, increase shared prosperity and protect our common home through integrated solutions that don't require a trade-off among people, profits or the planet.
Many Americans and people throughout the world share the concern that old-school "business-as-usual" is limiting human progress and taking a dangerous toll on vital ecosystems. The response is not to reject the role of business, capitalism or growth. Rather, we need to replace old tools and frameworks with integrated solutions that create the conditions for people to thrive, for increased shared prosperity, supported by an increasingly stable and healthy base of natural resources.
We need to break out of over-simplistic silos and false choices, like equity vs. environment or shared prosperity vs. economic growth. The solutions that reduce climate and air pollution also can have a tremendous benefit to the economy and to equity.
In a recent survey of Harvard Business School alumni who were asked their views on economic opportunities and shared prosperity, 66% of respondents felt it was more important to address inequality, middle-class stagnation, poverty, or economic mobility than to boost overall economic growth. Why? Because they see income inequality as an issue that affects their business, not just a social issue.
Fortunately, there are solutions that we can deploy now. In the same HBS report, Michael Porter and Jan W. Rivkin state that "the most promising path to restoring shared prosperity...is to repair the commons."
An important component of our "commons" is efficient infrastructure to generate and distribute energy, clean water, and healthy food, but much of it is woefully outdated and inefficient.
For example, in America an estimated 10 trillion gallons of polluted stormwater runs off roads, roofs, and other paved surfaces each year. This runoff, carried by sometimes century-old pipe and cement infrastructure, is typically dumped--untreated--into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. What's worse, in many of our oldest cities stormwater pipes converge with sewage pipes, so during rainstorms raw sewage is dumped into our rivers as well. Polluted stormwater runoff is a primary threat to our public health and economies as well as our ecosystems.
Opportunities exist to capture rainwater before it becomes runoff, turning a liability into an asset in the form of freshwater in parched regions and green space in our communities, delivering a range of economic and lifestyle benefits. In fact, distributed "green" alternatives, such as porous pavement and street trees, are often more cost effective than the purely "gray" pipe and cement stormwater infrastructure of yesterday. They not only improve quality of life, create jobs and help clean up our rivers, they also save Americans' money. By designing programs that create incentives to install green infrastructure across a broad range of public and private properties, including low-income communities, we simultaneously improve these neighborhoods and reduce the cost burden of cleaning up our rivers.
By working together, with NGOs, community groups and private and public sector leaders we can accelerate the adoption of more resilient, inclusive, and efficient investment models. At NRDC's Center for Market Innovation (CMI) we work to demonstrate and implement new approaches to finance and investment using integrated solutions that offer strong profit potential as well as increased opportunity for people of all income levels. We focus on food, water, shelter, and energy because these are the building blocks of life. They also hold great potential for transformative social and environmental market opportunity.
To leave our children with a more just, stable, prosperous and healthy world, we must invest in the commons and deploy innovative solutions that create opportunities for all to rise.