In search of Earth Day’s promised land
Emily Diane Collins (L) and Sophie Purdom (R) are fervent believers that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between, well, climate and capital. This Earth Day week of 2023, both are in New York, taking radically different paths in search of the climate promised land. Collins is a revolutionary leader in a social movement attacking economic growth. Purdom embraces climate venture tech capital. Collins is leading a “rave revolution” against climate and economic injustice; Purdom is pitching for a new economic age. Both are part of a generation acutely aware that they have inherited an earth that is “on fire.”
Both were on their respective soapboxes this week in New York City. Purdom was busy wooing investors at the Tribeca “Spring Place,” a workspace and social club, where only a month earlier, top executives of the private equity giant Blackstone had convened to pitch real estate. Collins could be found at the southern end of Union Square, mingling with an extended tribe of Amazon labor organizers, indigenous leaders, and activists from Extinction Rebellion, Code Pink, Fridays for the Future. Speeches mixed with the latest techno rave beats from DJs Eli (Soulclap) and Tommie Sunshine.
Both are part of a generation acutely aware that they have inherited an earth that is “on fire.”
Raving for humanity
Collins is the co-founder of Rave Revolution. She is on a mission to rewrite the economic story of our time through peaceful disruption in the form of art and dance protests. At first, mixing rave and economics seems frivolous. But as she says, “What is wrong with putting a little joy into the revolution.”
What she is doing in her dramatic street theater is highlighting a serious global rethink in measuring economic well-being. She wants to abolish the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is the measure of the total value of all goods and services sold and has, for more than a century, been the primary economic metric for measuring human progress. The problem, Collins says, is that GDP only measures what is created, not lost. “We need to start measuring the things that we value.”
GPI versus GDP
Instead, she wants the world to adopt the “Gross Progress Indicator,” or GPI. GPI is not some pie-in-the-sky idea conceived after a late-night rave on Molly. It is being seriously studied by the European Union, Canada, the Club of Rome, and the OECD. There are more than 30 alternative measures to GDP.
Maryland, for example, uses the GPI methodology to take into account the economic impact of income inequality while at the same time subtracting the cost of environmental degradation, human health effects, and loss of leisure time.
“We need to start measuring the things that we actually value”
Enter the venture capitalist.
Purdom is taking a very different track. Instead of channeling Greta Thunberg, Naomi Wolf, or Bill McKibben, she looks to Michael Bloomberg or Marc Andreessen for inspiration. She thinks she is on to something. VC capital is aligning with key clean energy sectors. And she has the data to prove it.
Purdom, a master DJ of PowerPoint, is busy spinning slide after slide at her Spring Place investor rave to show how fast private capital is aligning to climate solutions. Defying predictions, 2022 Climate Tech VC boomed. There was more investment in climate tech VC in the U.S. alone than in the entire 2006-2011 Clean Tech 1.0 Boom.
Aligning capital to greenhouse gasses
Most importantly, she says, venture capitalists fund companies by sectors mostly aligned to sources of global emissions. She shows a slide of total greenhouse gas emissions by industry compared to venture capital deals by sector since 2020. “It looks pretty good,” she says, “they kind of match up.”
Purdom’s value add, she tells investors, is “putting all this information into practice and going out and generating the most superior returns by investing in the most transformative and the most well-structured deal opportunity areas.”
Purdom used the COVID pandemic wisely, turning a climate tech blog into a popular newsletter, which has now become a market intelligence platform that sells her data to governments and companies. Now her eyes are on using that data to discover promising companies for a venture capital fund she is setting up. “Climate and climate tech is not an industry, is not a single thing, but a theme that cuts across all industries and is at the core of everything.”
“Arguably, the best talent in the world is flowing into this space. A person is coming out of school and she has always known that she was going to inherit this problem and has done everything in her life up to now to mitigate that.”
Different strokes for different folks
It would be so simple to dismiss the uber-focused missions of these two activists as too greedy or too raving gravy. But to do so would be imprudent, unwise, and reckless. Two out of three Americans say they experienced the effects of climate change in 2023. Protests are escalating rapidly, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace created the Climate Protest Tracker.
Real dollars are now replacing greenwash dollars. Government spending like Biden’s $800 billion climate-focused IRA has dramatically disrupted the business status quo. Since Congress passed the IRA, companies have announced over $100 billion in new clean economy projects in the U.S. “Climate change is real. Consumers are feeling it,” says Purdom. “It’s no longer Al Gore standing on a ladder and gesturing.”
And it’s not just about the money, says Purdom. “Arguably, the best talent in the world is flowing into this space. A person is coming out of school, and she has always known that she would inherit this problem and has done everything in her life up to now to mitigate that.”
But how is the question? For the hundreds of millions of emerging citizens of Gen Z, it is no longer a question about the ends but of the means of how to avoid the planetary catastrophe that is at the heart of why Earth Day is acknowledged.