Behavior Change Is How We Save Our Planet.
In the short book In Our Hands, investor Ramanan Raghavendran of Amasia draws upon history, sociology, and economics to explain how we got to the existential threat of the climate crisis -- and how we can save our planet.
Technology can help, but only by changing behavior, especially that of the affluent, can we avoid disaster.
Both clear-eyed and hopeful, In Our Hands offers actionable steps to change the patterns that got us into this crisis.
Truly it is in our hands.
I wrote this book for three reasons. The first is that I wanted to share the basic facts of the climate crisis and how we arrived at the current unsustainable ravaging of our planet. I found that for my work and my own personal knowledge, it was quite difficult to get to the facts that matter. Some facts are not easily accessible; some facts are hard to extract from the mass of information and daily panic bulletins we are exposed to; some facts are simply obscured.
The second reason is specific to the spheres I operate in professionally: technological innovation and the venture capital that backs those innovations. In these twin worlds, there is a tremendous affinity for the new shiny object. But many of the solutions to the climate crisis are far from novel or original. They don’t involve turning the air into diamonds or putting things in space to reflect the sun’s rays. Instead, they involve common sense coupled with technology that is, for the most part, sitting around waiting to be used. The most promising solutions lie, quite literally, in our hands.
And the third reason I wrote this book is to figure out my own personal philosophy about sustainable living, to figure out the changes I need to make in my own life. The book comes out of a personal manifesto I wrote for my blog, which in turn built on an investment strategy essay my business partner and I put together for our venture capital firm, Amasia. I wanted to get from abstract concepts (or ideas linked strictly to investment) to something holistic, sensible, and actionable.
All three reasons circle back to my single overarching desire: I want to bring common sense to the sustainability discussion.
What is "common sense"?
This is, as I said above, a book of common sense. It may be helpful as you begin reading to give you a preview of what I mean.
Humanity likes complex solutions, and our societies and cultures have evolved to favor complexity for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples of ways we tend to overcomplicate things when it comes to sustainable planet-friendly living:
Rather than find ways to eat more vegetables, we create alternative proteins.
Rather than find ways to drink less milk, we find ways to make milk out of things that are decidedly not related to milk.
Rather than find ways to use cars less, we make electric cars.
Note: I am not uniformly against any of these actions—especially not planting trees! What I do question is an automatic preference for the new over the known. Very often, the simpler common-sense solution is more likely to be an unalloyed good for the planet and humankind.
I am not a scientist or an academic, so while the arguments here are supported by scientific and historic evidence, they are nevertheless my own. You can disagree with some or all of it (except Section II, which is all about the facts!). But I believe you will find most of it to be, well, common sense.
Who is this book for?
This book is for anyone interested in significant, potentially radical, changes in their own behavior to help us get to a safer planet. I think three groups will find particular value in it:
The Analyzers: These are people who don't want to be told what the answer is. I am an Analyzer myself. I want the answer explained to me from start to finish with all the most important facts.
The Seekers: This group wants to find solutions, actions, and answers that can be enacted now. They want change now. I am a Seeker too!
The Builders: Faced with a seeming tidal wave of statistics, the extreme polarization of opinion, and the ongoing diminution of common sense, folks in this group want a "framework" to guide them. Surprise: I'm also a Builder.
What will you learn from In Our Hands?
I hope that you will learn many small and large things from this book, but I especially hope these two messages are proven to you:
The planet is in crisis, humanity has created this crisis, and the solution can only be found in humanity.
That solution lies in behavior change—our own as individuals, and then in the collectives we belong to (families, companies, educational institutions, and so on).
I have presented the first set of lessons using facts exclusively. The second set of lessons, also supported by those facts, grows out of my own impassioned, personal argument for change. I hope you find it compelling and inspiring.
How is the book organized?
This is not a long and complicated book. It is designed to be finished in a couple of hours of easy reading. It has five short sections:
Section I is this introduction followed by an overview that summarizes the whole argument. Though I recommend you read the book in sequence, there are links to all the chapters if you want to jump to topics of specific interest.
In Section II, I show how humanity is the source of the changes we all see in planetary climate, and why we should care about that reality. There are a few numbers here, including the three key ones that I think any interested person should know.
In Section III, I explain how our culture of unbridled consumption has played the largest role in the climate crisis, enabled by "technology" (which I define in its true, broad, sense). Technology is also going to be key in getting to safety, but it is no silver bullet.
In Section IV, I demonstrate that the only way out is behavior change, "at scale." The affluent in particular need to change the most, because they do—by far—the most damage to the environment (as you will see, the data is astonishing). But we all need to change to varying degrees.
Finally, in section V, I lay out a framework that lays out the broad areas of change and allows the reader to make their own choices on what and how to change. To save our planet, these are changes that we need to make—and now can make in part thanks to certain kinds of technology (not the ones that are the subject of most of the climate press). Yet these changes don't require us to go back to the Stone Ages—far from it. They are truly "in our hands."
In some places, I provide extra detail for those who are interested. Each chapter also has a More Reading section at the end for those who want to learn more. Appendices contain essays that are important to the larger context of climate change and the way forward.
I came to the United States for college in the 1980s as an immigrant from India. I blundered into venture capital early in my career, and that is what I have been doing for thirty years. I subscribed for almost all of this time to the traditional definition of success in our society, engaging in all sorts of behavior that was planet-damaging—always seeking to acquire or enjoy the next big thing that I thought I was supposed to enjoy.
About five years ago I began reading more intentionally about climate and sustainability. In my day job as an investor in early-stage startups, I have a front-row seat to innovations of all kinds, and over these five years, I slowly developed a set of views—grounded in common sense—around what might really get us to a sustainable planet.
While this investigation was prompted by a desire to refine the Amasia investment thesis—which it has done — it inevitably resulted in my holding up a mirror to my own behavior. I realized, slowly, that so much of what we do and how we behave is in reaction to what we think are fixed circumstances and demands, or even laws, but are really just norms—norms that can and often should be changed.
This journey forced me to confront many of my erroneous assumptions about what is desirable (and why it is desirable). I have lived a life of deplorable overconsumption, and this book is a mea culpa—and a call to action for myself. To change my own norms.
I don’t have all the answers; no one does. But my hope is that this book spurs you to take action, also. Perhaps those actions are different from the ones I suggest or allude to. That is just fine. If you finish reading the book and feel called upon to change what you can by making different decisions, to help us get to a sustainable planet—then we all win.
Bounteous thanks to my business partner at Amasia, John Kim, for his patience in allowing me to get off the "find the next hot deal" treadmill and dedicate time to writing this book; and to Mary Marsh, Sam Fox, and Jermayne Ong — the awesome trio of Amasia Fellows who helped research the book's wide-ranging topics guided only by skeletal outlines.
All views in here are mine and mine alone, as are all errors of commission or omission.
If you have questions, spot a mistake, or want to suggest areas for further investigation, please email me at email@example.com.
Section I: In The Beginning
Introduction: In which I tell you the whys and wherefores of this book.
Chapter Summaries: A quick overview of the argument. (You are here!)
Section II: We Are Consuming The World
Are We the Reason?: We have been doing the exact opposite of nurturing our planet. The climate crisis is directly linked to humanity's actions.
It's Getting Worse: The crisis is underway, and the destruction is accelerating. Devastation is imminent.
Section III: How Did This Happen?
How We Did It: Unprecedented population growth and the availability of cheap fossil fuels leading to voracious levels of consumption, are how we got into this metaphorical ditch.
The Role of Technology: Technology has enabled this consumption — on both the supply and demand sides. But it also holds the seeds for recovery.
Jevons' Paradox: Jevons' Paradox, which says we consume more rather than less when an efficiency improvement (such as renewable energy) occurs, means that our recovery will not come from "silver bullet solutions."
Section IV: What Can We Do?
Changing Behavior Works: Behavior got us here and behavior change at scale is going to get us out of this predicament. Yes, it will be hard, but there are plenty of examples of behavior change at scale that have been huge successes.
Hope in Faraway Lands: These prescriptions aren't the same for everyone — billions still need to be lifted out of poverty and their consumption levels will admittedly have to go up before they flatten.
The Rich Must Change: Which leads us to the affluent, whom we need to talk about. This is not about their affluence—it is about their behavior. The behaviors of the rich have the potential to solve the vast majority of the problem—via both their own carbon footprint and subsequently through the example they set for everyone.
Section V: It Is In Our Hands
No Hair Shirts Required: We don't need to go back to the Stone Ages to make this work. Again, common sense needs to come to the fore—for example, through embracing virtual meetings.
The 4 Rs of Behavior Change: We've created a nifty framework for thinking about behavior change, in our lives and in what Amasia does.
In Our Hands: Much of what goes on in the world is simply a "norm." We can reshape norms—the power to do so is in our hands.
These topics don't fit into the main thread of the book but are closely related to its arguments.
The Speed of Light: We are never inhabiting another planet, thanks to the laws of physics. We need to cherish and nurture it.
Religions and Climate: Western and Eastern religious traditions all support the idea that we need to be careful stewards of our planet.
A Shrinking World: There is good reason to believe that the world population is on the verge of shrinking—and far faster than anyone thinks. There is much hand-wringing about this shrinkage. I believe we should embrace it.