By Nick Lyth
We’re dying of corona virus, the global economy is in nosedive, climate change is coming to batter us into submission, America is burning, and all we can offer is a new brick? Is it worth it? Who cares?
A small innovation with a domino effect rippling through the entire social, economic and medical fabric of our community.
If this sounds like an object lesson, that’s because it is. The lesson is this. We may agonise over the social, economic, philosophical and ideological aspects of what is going wrong with our world, but there is no substitute for doing something about it. In learning this lesson, the next is that we are not looking for grand scale answers, huge solutions that reverse all the problems at a stroke, or barnstorming breakthroughs. The way we will solve them is through small, incremental changes with systemic integration, that provide simple improvements. We need a lot of these, multiple, incremental changes, which, when we come to add them up, 10 or 20 years hence, we find will have transformed the world we live in and the systems we use to live in it.
Is this so difficult to understand? It is, after all, precisely what the Industrial Revolution did. Or, in the same way, the changes to our systems most recently have been put into effect by a sequence of tiny inventions in IT and telecommunications. You could probably fit all of them into a few small bricks. Alan Turing’s machine in Bletchley Park, which is credited as the original inspiration for the modern computer, was called Colossus. But even that only filled one room. The machinery Turing invented is now replicated in something smaller than a finger nail clipping.
Now, as we are approaching the debate about what to do with the economy after COVID-19 is finished, there appears to be a tension between the needs created by the economic meltdown to re-invigorate the economy; and the needs created by climate change to reverse global warming.
This debate is conducted as if it is a debate about principle. A sort of economic version of Sophie’s Choice. One of them has to go. Either we ditch the climate, and give up on controlling global warming; or we throw the economy to the wolves and let galloping unemployment turn the crisis into a global depression.
But it’s not about principle. It’s about money. What can we actually do with the money available? The use of money to stimulate the economy can apply equally to innovation as it can to tradition. That is not a choice, it is common sense. Equally, it is common sense to spend money on a new brick that can make such big changes, rather than old fashioned air bricks. Why would you do anything else? The issue is, do we have enough money to spend on either?
This is the question our leaders have to answer, and it is not an enviable task. However much some of the leaders of nation states around the world might be criticised, however much they may deserve the criticism, they are facing challenges where all the answers are awful. Nothing they can do will recover the world we left behind when we locked down. We need clarity and leadership from them, and from all other world leaders, to define policy, but above all, to decide what we are going to do. They too need to recognise that we need small steps, small changes, small innovations, on a huge scale, to move our world into this new decade in a way that will help us all to survive with equity and resources adequate for all. Do we have the money to support that?
As I write, Green Angel Syndicate is investing in AirEx, the company that makes the air bricks, and it does have enough money. We saw an inspiring presentation on Thursday night from Agnes Czako, the CEO of AirEx, who is steering her company through the rapids of early stage commercial life with a dexterity that is remarkable. It is a great moment in a week that has been notable for the awful abuse of downtrodden minorities the other side of the Atlantic, when a female immigrant from central Europe speaking heavily accented English, young enough to pass for a University student, stands up, and with a sure-footed confidence to match a 50 year-old corporate CEO, talks through a company inventing a completely new version of the air brick. It uses technology that none of us (except the engineers) could begin to understand, yet she makes it comprehensible. It takes a very clever person to make something complex comprehensible for others. Agnes is formidable. If we had been holding the event in public, I am certain we would have heard the attendees cheering at the end. It is a bravura performance.
So yes, I say we do have the money to support the changes our world needs now. Not only that, we are already engaged in supporting them. There is no need to wait for the pandemic to pass. We can start now. We have already started.
Nick Lyth is Founder and Director of Green Angel Syndicate, the only angel investment syndicate in the UK specialising in the fight against Climate Change and Global Warming. For regular updates follow Green Angel Syndicate on LinkedIn and Twitter.