Real Eco-change Might Happen in Secret

A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded me a blog post about something called the Huron Mountain Club in the upper peninsula of Michigan. This regional secret society is exclusive to the ultra-rich, completely disavows its own existence and made Henry Ford wait in line for ten years until a member died to open a spot for him. The mission of the club, in which they enjoy the full cooperation of local law enforcement, is to protect an old-growth wood by any means necessary.

When making environmental arguments, I’m always careful not to mix up preservation (determining the important parts of the wilderness and never touching them) and conservation (practicing the same rules of responsibility everywhere), and the Huron Mountain Club falls squarely in the former category. However, with resources like theirs, it’s hard to imagine they couldn’t cross the line. So, lately, I’ve been contemplating what might happen if the planet’s wealthiest citizens decided to use their power to positively influence its destiny.

Let’s start with some reasons why this might actually happen. The first is an attack of conscience. I don’t believe that people can be pure evil, but to amass millions or billions in this world requires a certain amount of rationalization. Whether your fortune is based in land and natural resources or not, at some point you had to convince yourself that holding on to the money was preferable to spreading it around. And at some later point, you may realize there are things you could be doing with your clout—things you have a responsibility to do—that you’ve let fall by the wayside.

More practically, although the wealthy like to think of themselves as above the danger that could result from an angry planet, they have the most to lose. Maintaining industrial dominance or an economic empire requires labor from people who may live in at-risk areas. The resources on which you capitalize aren’t unlimited, nor are those that go into your staples and luxuries. Furthermore, when things get bad at the bottom, people tend to turn their ire toward the top. If you aren’t afraid for your safety, hypothetical rich person, be afraid at least of a shift in your government.

Clearly then, it is the duty of the super-rich to effect this shift in consciousness. So what potential futures could we be looking at here? One might be a one-percent civil war: the billionaires in high-tech, media and other industries with a comparatively small impact cut loose from the miners, drillers, refiners and factory-farmers. While resources dwindle, those not tied to them could work with governments and fund new technologies in order to set off a transition in energy.

Ideally, this schism would happen in full view of the public and would see more and more members of the fossil fuel industry defecting as they realized the stakes. The problem is that influence—money judiciously applied—is a more powerful weapon in this fight than money alone. As long as fossil fuels are entrenched and high-emission industries create jobs, politics will be in the pocket of the wrong kind of wealthy, who have yet to open their eyes.

So it’s quite possible that, if the wealthy wish to be a part of global change, it may all happen in secret: a national and global chain of Huron Mountain Clubs. Those aware of the problem will have to change the rules, to convince the ones responsible that their empires aren’t at risk—likely by building a new green wealth system they can step into like a comfortable lifeboat. By the time the president signs a bill cutting fossil subsidies and creating green jobs, it will be a sign rather than a cause of change.




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