An effective writer understands the need to create empathy between the reader and the story. One must be able to feel themselves in the shoes of another to truly be drawn into the world and the realities outlined therein. And one of the most effective tools a journalist uses to order to foster that empathy is to paint an image of tragedy, or success, or accomplishment, and then explain in greater context why the reader should care. If it’s an issue of corruption in local politics, this tether is easy to hook. But engaging middle-aged Caucasian white collar workers in the depths of tragedy of the current Kenyan and Ethiopian famines is one that requires greater leadership on the part of the writer – one where a reader must be ushered, potentially unsuspectingly, from A (apathetic) to E (engaged).
A common tool is to proclaim that whatever is being discussed is not a local problem, it is a global one – that the issue of the day is one that affects us all. But a single person cannot conceptualize the scope of their small-scale actions having a global compounding impact. Most people feign interest at the concept of compounding interest, therefore it’s not hard to understand why a single grocery trip seems inconsequential in the scheme of things. But groceries, like anything, are an investment with a dollar towards the causes we care about. We make decisions as single-actors every single day about what we like and dislike, and those are reflected in the world. Writers know this – and in order to convince you that what they have to say is worth the limited time and attention we have to care about such things, they have be bundled in a way that makes you care and potentially convinces you of the value of change.
This week, the International Finance Corporation, an investment group within the World Bank that provides capital and financial products to support burgeoning private sectors in the developing world, released a report entitled Climate Investment Opportunities in Emerging Markets. The report, like every other report published by international institutions tasked with promoting international development, takes a favorable view on “climate-smart investments” in developing nations, gauging the investment potential of regions based on abundance of natural resources (ie. how much solar potential does one region have vs. another) and local physical and political infrastructure levels (ie. what are the opportunities that lie in developing the electricity grid? What potential exists for local groups to champion industrial energy efficiency?).
The report goes region by region, framing the opportunities that may fuel growth and greater emergence in the coming years. Here are a few highlights:
- Sustainable transportation solutions make up almost 60% of green investment potential in Latin America, valued at $1.56T USD in investment opportunities;
- Infrastructure solutions, whether investment into refurbishments and efficiency upgrades or a focus on building railways and ports, have a concentrated investment potential in Southeast and South Asia, with the region stretching from Bangladesh to the Philippines seeing the majority of it’s $18.2T USD investment potential concentrated in these areas;
- The greatest opportunity for on-grid and off-grid clean energy growth lies in the African continent, with over $200B in investment potential across sub-Saharan and North Africa;
- Eastern Europe has over half of their $665B USD investment potential concentrated in new green building development and efficiency upgrades.
Figure 1: Investment potential by region and technology/sector (IFC, 2017)
Key themes can be seen therein: the greatest investment potential lies in regions with high levels of industrial activity, developed nations can see the greatest returns from efficiency and infrastructure upgrades, and the majority of the global south would see drastic increases in QOL from greater access to basic resources. The report claims that greater push for climate-smart investments has come following the emissions reduction commitments states made within the Paris Agreement. None of this is groundbreaking or revelatory.
But the IFC’s mandate of private-sector development offers a perspective that shines a light on those who create changes at these levels through a look at where the report’s data was taken: from people and firms. The first step in defining what the investment potential of sustainable infrastructure is in sub-Saharan Africa could be involved drawing a scope – too often, data didn’t exist for the capital cost of investments to be projected at a macro-level. Therefore individual pilot projects or emerging technologies were used to project future impacts. These projects, especially in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, were developed by entrepreneurs and visionaries striving to create change at a local level. They sought not to save the world, only to make life easier for a few people. And from that investment, those impacted by this change were able to realize their own potential, thus spawning a ripple effect throughout a community.
It is in communities that change occurs. Groups of dedicated individuals, firms who care about their employees, others who see chronic problems and wish to remove the barriers to progress that hold back them or their neighbours. The IFC report outlines the large-scale investment potential for the region, and speaks of a need to unify public and private sector efforts to catalyze change and seize opportunities – but those macro figures refer to changes that will be implemented one at a time, with each action contributing towards a target and progressing towards a milestone we have all collectively agreed is in our best interests. We act together not because we must, but because we can – such is the nature of empathy when we feel we are in a position to make better the lives of those we love.
If each person was entirely rational, no writer would ever need to convince us to care. But the work of Keynes and Laffer does not inspire the same emotion as that of Fitzgerald, the same pull as that of Hemingway, the same spiral into imaginative fantasy as that of Tolkien. We are emotional, subjective and often irrational – and therefore have a capacity in us to adapt, to create and to drive change for the good of others that is not always apparent in forecasted trends and modelling. We vote with our wallets, but we engage with our humanity. And even when discussing the investment potential of solar energy in the sprawl surrounding Kampala, a seemingly global problem with impacts with cannot conceptualize, when we can see the faces of the children reading their schoolbooks at night time, it feels an awful lot less like sacrifice and more like we are driving forward the stories of change in a community we care about. And any community, global or local, that you care to participate in is one where you can affect change. And if that’s not engaging, well – I’m not sure what is.