Book Reviews: “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” and “A Finer Future”

Summary

  • Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari follows his epic best-sellers “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” with in depth analyses and policy proposals for today’s global problems.
  • Best-selling author L. Hunter Lovins, founder of Natural Capital Solutions and her co-contributors report to the Club of Rome specifics on transforming finance and a blueprint for shifting to regenerative.
  • Referencing the UN climate report of 91 scientists from 44 countries.  These two books call for ways to shift finance and corporate practices toward achieving a sustainable future by 2050.

Author Yuval Noah Harari’s books, with 12 million sold in 45 languages are read by government leaders, Silicon Valley executives at Apple (OTC:APPL), Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOGL) and all the FAANGs. They have given Harari access to top financiers with his lectures at the IMF, the World Economic Forum, endless TV interviews, TED talks and mainstream media audiences. While his “Sapiens” (2015) looked back and “Homo Deus” (2017) peered into the high-tech future, his “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” (2018) is focused on current global crises on which humans must act now …. calling these challenges existential to our survival on our home planet, Earth.

What is refreshing is the depth and clarity that Harari brings to well-worn but misunderstood issues: from growing global inequality and its causes, to immigration, jobless GDP-measured economic growth, education and the failures of consumerism and materialist economies.

Harari’s approach to technological change and globalization offers deep historical grounding. He shows how the world’s aspirations for liberal democracies were over-run by applying 19th century economic models that drove the earlier successes of industrialism. He identifies these models and ideologies still mired in the Cold War rivalries between communism and capitalism, as having led to today’s global resource and ecological depletion, resulting in today’s worldwide climate disruptions costing billions annually. This new focus and slaying of so many sacred cows may explain why Harari’s book has received less-enthusiastic reviews in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and other financial media.

We at Ethical Markets are in broad agreement with Harari’s current view of today’s global challenges, emphasized by the UN’s IPCC Report on climate change and rising sea levels, warning that humanity has a mere 11-12 years to shift course to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. We also agree with asset manager Jeremy Grantham’s similar warnings, both to his clients of GMO and his Grantham Center at London School of Economics, in its 10th anniversary videocast with trustees Lord Adair Turner and Lord Nicholas Stern. Both these former financial leaders were in agreement that this planetary shift away from fossilized sectors toward circular, green, knowledge-richer economies by 2050 is possible. Both cite lack only of political will and the need to re-vamp obsolete economics and financial models buried deep inside mainstream portfolio algorithms, as I also pointed out in “Assessing Risks of Fossil Reserves: Are They Fuel or Feedstocks?”

Harari agrees that there is no more time to debate deniers and special interest lobbyists and instead, we should just proceed to grow 21st century societies beyond the GDP and other narrow metrics. More inclusive models, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (OTC:SDGS) are the new guiding metrics for companies and government agencies. Harari continues his earlier focus on automation, robots, jobs and the explosion of energy-intensive computerization, giant server farms and human-trained machine learning (mis-named AI) and the voracious appetite for electricity and humans’ personal information to feed these algorithms. I agree with Harari that social media giants need to be re-purposed to prevent their exploitation of personal data and network effects provide by taxpayer-funded internet platforms, as in “The Future of Democracy Challenged in the Digital Age” (forthcoming, CADMUS, October, 2018). Thus I recommend this book more highly that the earlier two treatises.

I also recommend that Harari read “A Finer Future” for the detail it provides to underpin his analyses. In this exhaustively-researched and documented book Harari and all readers will absorb a rich array of resources from all over the world that are helping accelerate the current global shift to the next technological level I term the Solar Age. We humans are learning that we don’t need to dig in the earth for our energy and many of our materials, but instead can look up to our sun and learn to harvest the daily free photons which plants use in their photosynthesis to create our human foods. For another example, we no longer need to mine the earth for diamonds and other gems, since these are now created identically in artisan laboratories and sold worldwide, without conflicts, cruelty, pollution and at far less cost than the artificially-priced cartel’s mined diamonds. Similarly, circular economy companies like ECOR, TerraCycle and others upcycle existing used appliances, electronic and other “wastes”, diverting them from landfills. Mining these discarded items and turning them into useful new materials are also facilitated by “take-back” laws in many countries. Other startups capture CO2 from the air and turn it into plastics, cement-making and in greenhouse-grown crops, while forests and plants capture CO2 efficiently in soils.

L. Hunter Lovins is lead author with co-contributors Stewart Wallis of the Wellness Economy Alliance; Club of Rome members, Swedish parliamentarian and author Anders Wijkman and John Fullerton, founder of The Capital Institute (on which I am an advisor) formerly with J.P. Morgan Chase. They flesh out all these new trends for accelerating the global transition …. steered not by GDP but by the United Nations’ SDGs. Lovins, a veteran eco-entrepreneur, energy policy guru and designated by TIME as one of their 100 Heroes of the Planet buttresses her company’s global transition operations with in-depth data on which fossilized companies may fall into the financial abyss as “stranded assets” and which new disruptive startups will become the next unicorns. Most of these companies are under the radar of mainstream asset managers’ algos and traded in private liquidity networks among family offices and high net worth individuals (HNWI) and private equity portfolios.

Most experts agree that the global food system is now unsustainable, teetering on the planet’s 3% fresh water and shrinking agricultural land, based on four monocultured crops, corn, wheat, soybeans and rice, grown with fertilizers, pesticides and traded in global commodity markets by the few giant firms, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Cargill, ConAgra (CAG), Syngenta (SYT), Bayer (OTCPK:BAYRY), BASF (OTCQX:BASFY), and DowDupont (DWDP) and others in our agro-chemical industrial complex. Equally unsustainable are meat-based diets based on livestock raising and killing of millions of animals, requiring massive use of fresh water, antibiotics and taking up 80% of agricultural land while producing only 18% of the world‘s calories as reported in The Economist, “The Retreat from Meat”, (Oct 13, 2018). Shifting investments as the FAIRR consortium is doing into all the startups in plant-based proteins, overlooked indigenous crops, including salt-tolerant rice, the Andean grain, quinoa and thousands of other salt-loving (halophyte) food plants — is now a necessity.

Author Hunter Lovins and her co-contributors discuss other reforms of agriculture in Chapter 12, along with other ways of meeting basic human needs for expected growth of human populations. They discuss experiments with universal basic incomes, also explored by Harari, who prefers non-cash-based universal basic services, as well as cooperatives which employ more people on this planet than all the for-profit companies combined (UN Year of The Cooperatives, 2012). They detail every aspect of the global transition now underway toward implementing the UN’s SDGs by 2050, from energy, food, transport, infrastructure to the policy innovations at cities, states and national levels. Chapters look at changing values, impact investing and marketing to millennials. All the technologies are available and only need scaling and application in new systemic designs and urban reconfigurations.

The breadth of vision and research in a “A Finer Future” make this report essential reading, not only for Yuval Harari, but for asset owners, family offices, HNWIs everywhere, who are bypassing public stock markets and investing directly in all the disruptive companies and sectors described. The Club of Rome (of which I am a member), with this latest report, can now transcend its unfair reputation since Dr. Dana Meadows led its first report “Limits to Growth” in 1974, which sounded the alarm, confirmed in 2018 by the UN‘s IPCC …. and now become a leader in today’s global transition to the next technological era of sustainable human development.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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