Long reads

Using Star Trek to predict sustainable finance moves in 2023

Richard Peers

Richard Peers

Founder, ResponsibleRisk Ltd

William Shatner, Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame, recently went into space aboard the Blue Origin Rocket.

He said: “Last year, I had a life-changing experience at 90 years old. I went to space, after decades of playing an iconic science-fiction character who was exploring the universe. I thought I would experience a deep connection with the immensity around us, a deep call for endless exploration.  But I understood, in the clearest possible way, that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death.”

Spaceship earth is the mother ship and when you apply Maslow’s hierarchy (figure 1) to this perspective, you get a distinct set of priorities to the ones that many of us use to govern our daily lives.

This article will draw on Captain Kirk’s perspective and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to make predictions for 2023 and the way in which Sustainable Finance will need to evolve to ensure our ‘Enterprise’ keeps flying with all the passengers on board.

Figure 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs  

Personal security, food and shelter are most people’s base needs according to Maslow, allowing them to move up the hierarchy when those personal needs are met.  As many now increasingly understand, we will not have that personal comfort unless earth and all its systems are functioning and self-generating to maintain the planetary balance.

The vision of the Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework is a world of living in harmony with nature where: “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”

2030 and 2050 are just around the corner, and we have to act fast if we are to avert the worst Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPC) predicted tipping points cascading through society, creating a new life - but not as we know it.

So, we know that we need to protect and regenerate nature and climate, and that they are two sides of the same coin.

However, this doesn’t solve the question of financing these endeavours. How can we be safe and secure in our future if we do not have money to invest in it now? Is that the voice of the global south at COP27?

Indeed, the recalcitrance of the West to pay reparations makes some sense if we take a personal and short-term view of the electoral cycle. Yet, when we realise our homes, pensions, economies, and aspirations are all built on the same foundations, both planetary and financial, it is only then that we realise the risks will affect us all.

This realisation can lead to denial and a hope that the ‘clever people’ will come up with a technical solution while global polluters continue to carry on the party hoping for a ‘Scotty save the day’ moment.  “Just before they went into warp, I beamed the whole kit and kaboodle into their engine room, where they’ll be no tribble at all,” said Scotty.

My predictions for 2023 are therefore as follows:

1. There will be an acceleration to ‘warp factor 8’ of communities and from indigenous people establishing the knowledge of their ecosystems, funnelled through to scientists, technologists, business people, civil servants and citizens worldwide. This will bring together communities to collaborate on global problems, solved locally, shared, and scaled. This will help many with the psychological layers of Maslow’s hierarchy. However, without investment this collaboration and the solutions that are designed will not be enough to regenerate ‘Spaceship Earth’ fast enough.

2.  Many of the ‘Klingons’ in financial services and government will smell an opportunity to make money, and the ‘Water Melon’ scorecard will be trotted out to explain that we are on course to save the day.  Green on the outside and red on the inside, the watermelon, otherwise known as greenwashing, will continue to be an issue. The ‘Klingons’ will also cite greenwashing to explain why Sustainable Finance is a ruse and should be abandoned.   

3. The communities will fight back and will unite with impact investors. They will show that detailed pictures of our Spaceship can pinpoint the risk and the opportunities that we need to focus on.  Geospatial data from satellites linked with observational data such as eDNA, will zero in on the problem and show us where and investment is leading to a healing of the ecological function.  Like Dr McCoys Tricorder, we will have a diagnostic that can see and target resolutions like never before. 

4. The data will travel the global at the speed of light, secure via the use of cloud, digital certificates, blockchain and other technologies, and fed into the risk management systems of the ‘Starfleet command’.  This system which, until recently, had relied on an ancient technology called a spreadsheet and a wet finger to chart the way through the stars while looking backwards out of the exhaust pipe of the Enterprise, will be revolutionised. The huge volumes of forward-looking dynamic data coming in from satellites, observations, and models will be mapped into scenarios and narratives, and the early adopters will be able to plot courses to new frontiers.

5. Nature based tokens will emerge and could be the beginning of a move to stable coins and central bank digital currencies based on the sovereign value of nature in the country of origin.  Local communities will invest in their environment and society and finally we will have reached self-actualisation. 

While maybe this should all be viewed as a science fiction analogy taken too far...perhaps it shouldn’t be…

“Live long and prosper!” — Spock.

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