What does it mean to "invest in the planet" during a climate crisis?

Thoughts from Marcene Mitchell, WWF senior vice president, Climate, on Earth Day 2022

Several windmills against a morning sky

As someone who comes from a finance background, I am no stranger to the concept of investing. Doing things and committing resources to a venture, knowing that over time you will get far more out of your investment than what you put in, is something we do every day. We do it when we brush our teeth, when we put money in our 401K, and when we pay attention to our carbon footprint. We know that the choices we make now, as they play out over time, will have benefits for us later.

But here's the thing: we are in the midst of a climate crisis, and we can’t wait for “later” anymore.

The most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change make it clear that if we don’t act right now in a decisive and comprehensive way, we won’t succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have already seen the average temperature rise by 1.1 degrees Celsius. And as a result, we have seen an increase in the number and severity of storms, more wildfires, and deadlier heatwaves. And it’s only getting worse. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions are actually moving in the wrong direction—increasing rather than decreasing. We are running out of time, and if we do not successfully transition away from fossil fuels and start building a clean energy future and do it within the next eight years, the consequences could be catastrophic.

The investments we need to make in the planet, in order to secure our continued future on this planet, are available to us right now. And unlike your 401K, you don’t have to wait to reap the benefits. Building out renewable energy to replace fossil-fired power, and modernizing our electric grid not only means we’re breathing cleaner air, but it creates jobs and enhances our energy security. And when we harness the power of nature to sequester carbon by managing our forests, farms, and grasslands better, we’re not only fighting climate change, we’re also improving habitat for the species we love and enhancing soil quality on our nation’s farms.

But getting the ball rolling on effective climate solutions requires strong policy, particularly at the federal level. We need Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that will help speed up the transformation of our economy and spark the ingenuity and innovation that is going to bring climate solutions to our communities. And we need a strong focus on equity so that as the marketplace shifts, the benefits that we’re creating from our investments are available to everyone. The climate and energy provisions currently being considered as part of the reconciliation bill process are critical if we are going to get to net-zero by 2050 and avert the worst impacts of global warming.

The kind of investments we need to make are not slow drip, long-term commitments where we wait for things to manifest over time. We need to make big bets on our future in every sector of our economy, and we need to mobilize every segment of our society. And we need to commit ourselves, our capital, our resources, and our energy to this effort right now. If we don’t, we stand to lose more than we can afford. Climate change is a “pay me now or pay me later” proposition—we can invest significantly in climate solutions now or pay even more to recover from climate disaster later.

The smart money this Earth Day says we should invest in our planet, and in climate solutions, today.