USV’s Albert Wenger on Climate and the Post-Capital World

Most of human history has been defined by a lack of capital. We struggled to scratch out a living from the earth and stay alive long enough to enjoy it.

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Today, our world is one of abundance. But what if the ice is melting right underneath our feet?

That’s the view of Albert Wenger, Managing Partner of Union Square Ventures, . In his new book, The World After Capital, Wenger argues that what we really lack today is not capital but a focus on key issues.

Wenger is particularly concerned about the climate crisis. On a recent interview on This Week in Startups, he argues that society has to undergo a transformation on the scale of the shift from hunting and gathering to farming in order to beat climate change.

The threat is real and shows up more prominently every day. One day it’s massive floods in Pakistan, the next a devastating hurricane in Florida.

Wenger and his legendary firm are fighting this battle by doing what they do best: investing. And unlike some VC’s, they’re not afraid to plunge into difficult hardware projects that could make a difference.

Wenger argues that software can’t solve most of the climate problem. I agree — we need solar panels, geothermal, and wind, not just computer systems.

Early VC’s successfully invested in hardware by taking a larger percentage of the company in early funding rounds. This model could work again for climate investments.

However, hardware is tough to scale and often has poor margins. So for now, I’m sticking to SaaS solutions.

While the climate crisis is urgent, I disagree that society must change fundamentally to address it.

The shift from hunting and gathering to static, agricultural societies was massive. But to address climate change, all we really need is some solar panels and wind turbines.

We’ll continue to live much as we do today. Our energy will just be coming from a different place, and we may be only dimly aware of it.

The biggest change may be geopolitical.

Would we care about Saudi Arabia if we didn’t need oil? Would we accommodate Russia in any way if we didn’t need gas?

Freed from resource dependence, countries may turn inward. If this avoids disputes and wars, I’m all for it.

I also disagree with Wenger about capital’s abundance. If you’re a white man on the US coasts (hi!), he’s definitely right.

But if you’re a woman, minority, or live in the developing world, scarcity is still the rule. From financial capital to roads and bridges, most of the world remains poor.

What do you think of climate investing? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

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Photo: “Albert Wenger” by Joi is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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