Greed Gas Addiction

Even though I am now thirty years old, at times I allow myself to read fairy tales instead of sinking my teeth in a tough business book or practical self-learning guide. This summer I treated myself to ‘Het hebzucht-gas’ from the famous Dutch author Jan Terlouw. I used to read his books when I was younger and have been a fan ever since. I was excited to see he wrote a new book, a fairy tale for young and old, perfect.

The book was an easy read and if it wasn’t for the life lessons captured in it, I could have finished it within a day. However, as I was reading it, the story got me thinking about multiple complex themes; politics, inequality, love, economy, sociology, innovation but above all greed and, unexpectedly; the energy transition. After reading the book I’ve come to believe that we should a) invest money in clean energy sources (duh!) and b) build detox clinics on the moon (wait, what?). The next 800 words or so, are my attempt to share with you my entangled thoughts that got me there.  

The greed gas

As if in a fairy tale, the book describes the life of directors of Energy companies who have become so greedy that they are putting their desire for more income over the future of our planet. They continue to invest in oil, gas and coal, while the negative effects of these fossil fuels have become more and more noticeable in day to day life. The reason why; they have become addicted to the greed gas. In Terlouw’s words:

“Greed gas is trapped in bricks. If you inhale it, you want to own more and more. Buildings are made of bricks. The higher these bricks get stacked; the more greed gas is released. Thus, at high altitude, in tall buildings, people breathe in more of it. Boardrooms of large (energy) companies are often located at high altitudes, at the top floors of skyscrapers. So, what do the directors breathe in all day? The people there inhale so much greed gas, they get addicted. And it is almost impossible to get rid of this addiction.”

I wonder whether greed gas exists, not as a literal energy carrier but as something that “fuels” people to seek wealth, power and acknowledgement  at all costs. Does it blind people? For instance, does it blind CEO’s of energy companies to grow at the expense of the climate? Are they perhaps addicted, to this greed gas of money, power and eternal fame?

The big shots are addicted to greed

Addictive substances or activities typically cause changes in brain behaviour, create a sense of euphoria and a biophysical reaction that makes it hard for some to resist them. Addicts find themselves helpless to stop and will sacrifice anything for their addiction.

Looking at this definition, I believe at least some big shots are addicted. When we continue looking at the energy example; even though climate change cannot be denied, energy companies continue business as usual, focusing on growth and generating enormous profits. The quest for oil does not  stop but keeps escalating, as is shown by the role BP played in lobbying the Trump administration to allow oil and gas drilling in two previously protected areas of the Alaskan Arctic.

Harvesting the moon – When high isn’t high enough

This escalation doesn’t only happen here on earth. At the moment we are in a race to the moon to harvest resources there. Trump literally says: “This time we will do more than plant our flag and leave our footprints, we will establish a long-term presence.” Funny, the person who doesn’t seem to care about his footprint on earth, wants to leave more than his footprint on the moon.

Whereas the first space race was political, this time it seems to be about economics. Next to countries, private companies are investing, all hungry for their shot of galactic greed gas. Take Jeff Besos, the richest man on earth, he also has his eyes set on the moon. He says: “I want to make space travel affordable for the average person.” This comes from a man who makes 150 times more per hour than his average (!) Amazon employee does in a year. Does he really want to make space travel affordable, or is he hungry for money, power and fame, in other words: greed gas?

Why are countries and entrepreneurs investing so heavily in fossil fuels and space? What if we would invest these vast amounts of money in clean energy sources here on earth?

It’s not just Bezos. I believe a lot of presidents of countries and CEO’s of large (energy) companies have become addicted to the greed gas. The ‘higher’ they are, the more addicted they are. In the book, Jan Terlouw believes the big shots can only get rid of their addiction by slowly moving down from their skyscrapers to the ground floor. I would suggest the opposite. Let the big shots have their trip. For me, the only good reason to go to the moon, is if we build detox clinics there. That way they have plenty of time to reflect, in an area with no luxury at all. But the real magic happens on the way back. As Wubbo Ockels said after one of his trips: “The earth is passing by and the most fundamental feeling is to know that you belong there and not in space.”

I hope the recovered big shots will experience the same. Perhaps they will invest their money in business models that consider ‘climate’ as a serious stakeholder too. Perhaps they will focus on fixing the real problems we are dealing with today, here on the ground. Because if they do not, there will be no place for them to exert their power, no products to spend their money on and no one to remember them.

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