Good Ideas and Bad Ones

Well, it’s been over a month, so I suppose an update is in order.

I figured out the algorithm for Parts 1, 2, and 3 of my “Holy Grail” project — now I’m working up the nerve to actually try it. Mostly because the approach to solving this problem is so fundamentally different than anyone else’s. I feel like I’ll be laughed at, even if I can demonstrate it actually works. Also because it involves a shitload of work. Several fail points along the way, but no real indication of success until the thrilling surprise conclusion.

Still. “The journey of 1000 steps…”

Gotta start somewhere.

One thing I like about myself is that when an idea **won’t** work, or isn’t viable at the present time, I don’t hang on to it. This may lead to a bit of an elephant’s graveyard — projects that reach a certain threshold and then appear abandoned. I think of it more like the dehydrate-and-rehydrate life forms in The Three Body Problem.

Most recent example is Smart Climate Savings Bonds. The world would be $20 trillion richer (1) at 1.5 degrees than at 2 degrees Celsius of global warming. By contrast, doing nothing incurs a global price tag of $26 trillion (2) by 2030. There must be a rational way to evaluate this over/under equation… right?

My idea was a way for a municipal governments to price in the future costs and benefits of possible climate change outcomes in a way that they can leverage that knowledge to take action in the present. Given that the Fed is poised to raise interest rates, creating a financial instrument tied to a planetary metric could give green projects an edge in the quest for funding.

So I wrote up a little article on Medium because folks on Twitter were curious. The only problem is, blockchain is still a $2 trillion ghetto. The public sector is scared stiff of cryptocurrency (ransomware, anyone?) and I don’t see that attitude changing any time soon.

It’s too bad, because you could do neat things like:

  • Give away 20,000 electric cars and pickup trucks, targeting the commuters and small businesses who log the most miles.
  • Revitalize national U.S. rail
  • Create a network of fine dining vegan restaurants where the food is free and revenue comes from donations and alcoholic beverages (this would also help U,S. food insecurity in a big way),

None of these are ideas suited for the private sector, and none of them are taxpayer-friendly. Bonds might prove an exciting middle ground, but they probably won’t.

Here are the three factors that prevent me from venturing deeper on this particular tangent:

  1. Assume but am not sure that this financial instrument can be structured in a way that it doesn’t amount to a bet, a wager, or gambling under U.S. law.
  2. Possibility of hackers attacking NOAA or even launching a mostly harmless nuclear bomb in a remote area, to launch additional particulates in the air for rapid, temporary cooling, and thus claim the jackpot.
  3. (This is the big one.) The climate system is huge–planetary in scale and multivariate. I sort of knew this, but my reading over the past two weeks confirmed it. To give just one recent example, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are still rising, despite the dampening effect on global emissions of the Coronavirus pandemic Turns out those wildfires in the fall did a lot of damage. We know that people are far more likely to change their actions when they see a near-term impact. That is what is what is difficult to supply in the instance of climate change.

To what do I compare it?

Steering a very large boat?

Pump it up! Bigger and better uses for water-jet technology | E&T Magazine

Pissing in the ocean, instead of a swimming pool? 

We shouldn't feel guilty about going to the loo in the ocean, say experts from the American Chemical Society. With a similar composition to sea water, urine will not dramatically alter it

The interesting thing is that none of the people I shared my draft with raised any of these objections. These are mine alone, in auto-critique mode.

Mostly they had trouble with the idea that something could be both serving the public good and also in any individual investor’s self interest. I don’t know why that is so difficult for people, because it’s fundamental to the way that I think. Maybe that’s why I’m not rich.

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All citations as referenced in The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, unless otherwise noted.

(1) Marshall Burke, et al., “Large Potential Reduction in Economic Damages Under UN Mitigation Targets,” Nature 557 (May 2018): pp. 549-53.

(2) The New Climate Economy, “Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century: Accelerating Climate Action in Urgent Times” (Washington, D.C.: Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, September 2018), p. 8.

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