$100 Trillion Will Change Hands in the Next 20 Years—Here's How It Can Ensure Our Sustainable Future

We need a responsible financial plan for achieving a world that is safe and fair for all.

Photo Credit: pogonici/Shutterstock

The following excerpt is from The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose, and Capitalism, by Joel Solomon with Tyee Bridge (2017, New Society Publishers). Reprinted with permission.

Humanity is on the edge of a precipice.

We know the headlines. Ecological emergencies. Mass refugee flights from failing states. The distortions of late-stage capitalism eroding basic trust, tolerance, and hope. Common decency and respect is starting to seem anachronistic. Worship of money and celebrity rules the media, while our ties to land, loyalties, and love are severed.

Yes, it’s also “the best of times.” Many diseases have been eradicated or are manageable. Modern science and industry have brought sanitation, clean water, and industrial food to billions worldwide. Smart phones and the Internet give us access to unfathomable volumes of information.

There are competing trends. Decay and chaos on one hand, integration and regeneration on the other. As $100 trillion changes hands in the next twenty years, the question is, which future wins? Will this generational wealth transfer help us rebuild, or will it throw gasoline on the fires of rampant greed?

There are so many ways we can turn that money to transforming the world. We can rethink taxation to make it more fair. We can price carbon. We can create schools and hospitals for all. Feed the world sustainably. Make pollution and other externalities illegal and guard smart use of resources. What else could the clean money revolution accomplish with $100 trillion?

Thanks to the passion and wisdom of so many great leaders over the past fifty years, our basic ethical premises about self-interest, ecology, and life itself are starting to shift. We have further to go as a global culture that will only become more intertwined. Despite what some segments of our society would prefer, there’s no going back. What if we agreed that the meaning and purpose of life was not only to enjoy it, but to use our energies to ensure a liveable future for dozens of generations into the future? What if our Golden Rule and central religious belief was that we be responsible for leaving the Earth better than we found it, restoring it rather than degrading it?

$100 Trillion Vision

Here are some foundational elements for a resilient future civilization.

  • Fair taxation
  • Gender, race, class, or sexual preference equality
  • Global carbon pricing
  • Elimination of fossil fuel subsidies
  • Legal ownership of pollution and externalities
  • Life cycle manufacturing responsibility
  • Money out of politics
  • Proportional representation voting
  • Degrowth prosperity
  • Slowing population growth
  • Minimum guaranteed income
  • Just social safety net
  • Housing as a human right
  • Prison and drug law reform
  • Gun control and demilitarization
  • Quality public health care and education
  • Clean Money Transition Costs (2017–2050)
  • Reparations for colonialism and slavery $10T
  • Transition to renewable energy $20T
  • Sustainable transportation $10T
  • Green and living buildings $10T
  • Soil restoration and carbon capture $10T
  • Guaranteed income, health care, education $10T
  • Zero waste $10T
  • War and weapons industry reduction $10T
  • Steady state economy transition $10T
  • Total $100T

These numbers are symbolic. Please tear them apart. Do your PhD on the precise ones. Debate, skewer, and improve them. Map out more accurate visions with research. At this early stage the exact numbers are less important than recognizing the need for a massive shift of capital from destructive uses to regeneration.

That is our chance for a soft landing and a resilient future civilization.

There are precedents and estimates to get us started. The World Bank noted in 2010 that moving global economies to a net-zero emissions trajectory will take $700 billion to $1 trillion per year of investment. The sustainable business advocacy group Ceres has called for $36 trillion to be invested in clean energy between 2014 and 2050 in order to have an 80 percent chance of capping global warming at 2°C.

At Davos in 2014, World Bank president Kim Jim called for removing the $1.9 trillion in global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry — a number that includes externalities the industry itself causes — then turning that money toward clean energy investment.46 Many statistics exist to inform a $100 trillion shift.

The point is, are these numbers wrong? How would we know? We need to study, discuss, map, design, and empower solutions strategies that show the way.

We now see how much money we will lose and how much human suffering we face from global warming and other ecological and social catastrophes. One scenario shows that up to $31.5 trillion of pension assets are overvalued with respect to climate risk.

There are no doubt efforts already underway to determine the costs of achieving needed changes. They are probably rapidly emerging for scientists, academics, economists, insurance companies, governments, and military. We should fund those doing the modeling, and popularize a map for shifting to a positive future history. We may still avert massive disaster, and empower a steady-state society of enlightened self-interest.

We need a financial plan for achieving a safe world in the next thirty years. This period will be crucial as social and ecological externalities come home to roost. We need a rapid reinvention of capitalism, finance, and wealth management. We need to rethink power and purpose. Otherwise this revolutionary moment where “the 20 percent could consciously shift trillions of dollars” will be replaced with “global meltdown, all bets are off, retreat to your bunkers, hope the military can protect you.”

Let’s remember our responsibility for the long game. To a “seventh-generation” vision, quarterly and annual results are only minor blips on a chart. We need MBAs and academics and investors and citizens to consider the world in five hundred years. Then we can map out the first fifty-year stage. Part of that is identifying a viable human population total that Earth can sustain, and planning for that. That’s evidence of a wise society.

I hope smarter people than me will help us clarify this roadmap to the future. Those of us with resources and influence can complement the visioning process by pushing intelligent conversations and policy change, and shifting our own investment decisions.

Find your purpose. Connect your actions to it. Step up and run for office. Lobby for fair taxes. If you own a business, shift toward a generative rather than a zero-sum extractive model.

We all have a role. We are ancestors. We are responsible for future generations.


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Joel Solomon is Chair of Renewal Funds, Canada's largest mission venture capital firm. Joel is a Senior Advisor with RSF Social Finance, Founding Member of Social Venture Network, Business for Social Responsibility, the Tides Canada Foundation and Board Chair of Hollyhock.