Most millennials will remember the monumental transition from paper documents to floppy disks, and the nostalgic moment of owning a USB stick. One single 16GB USB stick could hold the equivalent of 272,000 single pieces of paper, which is around 32 trees. This simple piece of innovative technology contributed lengths to protecting the diversities of our water cycle, rainforests and soil.
Sadly, however, many young people have detached themselves from the reality of innovation like this being at the core of tackling climate change.
This aversion has resulted in an all-too-familiar narrative that capitalism, business and human growth are to blame for our current climate woes, and that these must be overturned in order to save the planet.
Numerous policies of degrowth and centralised government control have been advocated by individuals on the “green new deal” side of the spectrum, manifested most poignantly in the recent youth climate change strikes taking place globally this week, which have called in no uncertain terms for a more socialist approach.
Regrettably, some of the rhetoric on display has contributed to a resolute rejection of the idea that markets and free enterprise in the form of business can be a positive force for progress.
Yet the evidence shows that market-based innovation is a tremendous force for good in our environmental crisis. There is a particular quote by Michael Liebrich, a Bloomberg Finance analyst specialising in green technology, that encapsulates this best:
“An open, liberal, trade-friendly economy – though one pricing in externalities – will do a better job of addressing climate change and other environmental problems than stalling or reversing economic growth.”
Indeed, the newest technology emerging from the market, be it in carbon capture and storage technology, nuclear fusion, or increased efficiency in renewable energy sources, shows how an approach that embraces entrepreneurship, rather than demonises it, is the most effective.
Moreover, we live in a market context that is increasingly rewarding green businesses. So-called environmental, social and governance (ESG) business models, which emphasise giving back to society through socially and environmentally oriented projects, have skyrocketed in recent years.
One great example of this is 4ocean, an organisation that cleans up plastic from waterways and seas, recycles that plastic into attractive bracelets, and then sells these on for a healthy profit.
Of course, people buy from 4ocean because of their environmental mission, rather than the appeal of the bracelets (though they are nice). This is a prime example of how consumers can put their money where their mouths are and support businesses that incorporate innovative approaches to our environmental problems.
Interestingly, however, the distaste that many young people express towards corporations and businesses is not often reflected in their life goals. Recent research, commissioned by the Entrepreneurs’ Network, shows that 51 per cent of young people are either thinking about starting or have already started a business, rising to 60 per cent of 22-25-year-olds. Indeed, gen Zers are so positive about entrepreneurship that only 15 per cent are closed off to the idea altogether.
Many of these young people notice a window of opportunity outside of the confines of a standard nine-to-five job. And in the face of climbing childcare costs, starting a business from home can be a liberating way for new families to balance caring for their children from home and maintaining a strong sense of independence and creativity.
Yet of the many young people who want to start and nurture a business, a staggering 70 per cent expressed not knowing where to start.
When we launched the British Conservation Alliance (BCA) this week, a non-partisan organisation of young people representing a more liberal, market-based approach to the environment, we committed ourselves to show young people how embracing entrepreneurship can, in fact, play a significant role in curbing the climate crisis.
By reintroducing young people to some of the key concepts of “ecopreneurship”, and by networking young people with entrepreneurs through our campus networks and future events, we hope to re-engage millennials and set out more clearly the connection between the environment and entrepreneurship.
Understanding and showcasing how businesses have adapted and will continue to adapt to the changes we are experiencing in our climate can help us to develop the positive changes that companies need to adopt.
Most importantly, however, we are showing how business and free enterprise are forces for good in the climate debate, and must be supported by all means necessary.
Consumer choice within this is an important aspect, because empowering the individual to take personal responsibility in supporting green business models is one of the most effective steps we might take as a society.
Ultimately, of the many projects of the BCA, one of the most crucial ones is showing how a business-minded, market-based, free enterprise approach to climate change, that puts innovation and the consumer at its centre, is a much better alternative than the degrowth nonsense we have been sold lately.