As Bugs Bunny once wisely said: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Bugs’ smugness was never defeated and he was able to survive another day. However, unlike the cartoon, we must go one step further and “beat them ‘and’ join them.” The relationship can no longer hold solely between investors and executives. Consumer advocacy is not enough. There is no time. In the words of Bill Nye, “Safety glasses off motherfuckers!” A highly disruptive but highly capable third party must abruptly step into the corporate world, like Emergency Industrial Surgeons, aimed at the largest revenue generating, most environmentally damaging companies.
This new elite will be members of a national and international governmental group called The Department for Sustainable & Social Business (DSSB). Branches will operate at every level, from bottom to top: municipal-regional, state, national, and international. World leaders will come together, give the United Nations some teeth or make it more irrelevant, smoke-out tax havens and draw further funding by taxing stock markets (See: Robin Hood Tax). This partner state, for-benefit approach can happen in seven stages, perhaps all at once to one degree or another, with the urgency of the environmental crisis taking top priority as a compliment to existing Green New Deal proposals:
- Step 0: All operations knowledge, including intellectual property, stored materials, manufacturing methods, logistics channels, architectural blueprints, financial records, ect. will build a detailed map of how the entire operation functions for all to see. Any suppliers or partners that touch the enterprise must also comply and become equally as transparent. The fact trade is global will make this rather complex, which is why it will need to operate on an international level. Small highly skilled teams will work off site battling how to make operations more efficient, using the latest in AI, automation, biology and environmental science, and many other fields. Sketches will be drawn followed by high resolution 3D models. How operations work, including the details of material flows, will be posted on the web in a manner easy for the general public to understand, while also allowing skilled amateurs to look under-the-hood and make contributions in a free and open-source approach until the campaign is ready to launch, perhaps decided by a publicly observable and documented consultancy tribunal. In an emergency situation, this potential bottleneck must happen as smoothly and rapidly as possible. Both parties remaining as transparent as possible, with transitional stages planned and announced well in advance, will hopefully build trust over time.
- Step 1: Determine the most environmentally damaging or polluting aspects of the operation and bring in top engineers to retrofit with clean and renewable alternatives. This begins the relationship between the DSSB and the operation, being minimally intrusive, simply enhancing the health of business by lowering energy expenses by installing renewable energy sources and machines that make efficient use of that energy, like heat pumps, while introducing biodegradable or reusable packaging, and finally making the operation paperless. Just like we cannot expect business to pay tax we cannot expect them to be environmentally beneficial without intervention.
- Step 2: Determine the tricky distinction between essential and luxury goods delivered to the end user. Immediate price controls will be placed on items determined as ‘basic’ with a five year deadline to make them free, which may need to be subsidized in part by the ‘luxury’ items or government subsidy from wealth tax revenue. Once basic items are free, price controls will be put on luxury goods with a fifteen year deadline for free. If luxury items are environmentally damaging — they are scrapped.
- Step 3: Logistical full spectrum dominance. All pathways and commercially oriented vehicles will be under the ownership and control of DSSB in partnership with Departments of Transportation. All commercial parts down to a grain of sand will be tracked.
- Step 4: Complete conglomerate integration. All former multinationals companies will no longer exist in name. The public will know the scarcity of various materials and may learn of materials kept secret for the very first time, while knowing every single manufacturing method, both possible and theoretical. Mass production will be completely automated, yet modular and flexible enough to change rapidly to taste and technological innovations. Facial recognition software will limit anyone trying to abuse the system of free stuff. AI may need to engage whether an individual is acquiring thirty cakes for a large party or just to have a laugh. Retail space may be completely automated with one highly paid government employee to act as security/customer service. Eventually and perhaps very rapidly an employee may manage an entire block of retail outlets, perhaps needing to assist a disabled elderly person if the community has not already stepped in. As crime is greatly reduced, police forces can transition into these more civilian type roles, acting as real life personal assistants or recreational councilors. But much like the gates and tolls of the past, there will eventually be no need for paid employment, and members of the community will simply step in to help out, as the competitive or protective attitudes of “not my job” “not my problem” will be less common. Indeed, problems may well be welcomed, so long as they are not preventable abuses.
- Step 5: Rewilding. The National Park properties will expand. Food will be grown in high rise labs while land is regenerated to contain just as much if not more biodiversity than when first touched.
- Step 6: Localization & Community Development. Hobbyism in this environment will have room to flourish, people no longer doing meaningless work will form collectives to educate the curious and work among themselves. This will continue and expand the tradition of hackerspaces, community ran social and art centers, and startup incubation and acceleration. Ideally the DSSB would not need to manage this at all, just be aware as an agency they have created the fertile soil, both literally and figuratively, for such individual hobbyist and community projects to flourish.
If companies want us to give up our privacy by default, so should they. The privacy debate at present seems to focus on the individual and often whether that individual should be paid for the information they generate without questioning the transparency of the platform that manages the behavior. Much like the talk on individual responsibility to the environment, one needs to expand to the corporate and military spheres of responsibility. Perspective and discussion around transparency and privacy must go beyond the individual level. The privacy of the firm needs to be challenged head-on. And that, of course, is just the beginning.
The points above are a big ask. If we do not aim high, we will likely get less than a compromised deal. And there is hope: rumblings within large companies like Microsoft adopting open source techniques to keep pace with competition and the likes of Google employees refusing to perform contracts that weaponize artificial intelligence; calls to unionize the gig economy, universal health care and free university tuition, and a fight for a higher minimum wage. Climate emergencies are being declared. Taboo policies needed for decades are finally being rallied by elected officials like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These are positive signs and points of entry for addressing the greater problems.
In closing, one crucial but more widely talked about area not addressed here is retrofitting residential space, something Saul Griffith presents adequately in his 2019 talk at the Bay Area Maker Faire.
It is time to make actionable points within your own organization and community. Talk to your colleagues, write to your political officials, and confront your boss. Chuck the human rat wheel into the dustbin of the past.