Human capital is the value-generating capability embedded in the education, empowerment, liberation, and organizing genius of human beings in a given context. A nation with more human capital empowers its people with education, personal liberty, a structural commitment to fair treatment, and the opportunity to benefit from a widening pool of knowledge about best practices.

Best-practice opportunity can be loosely defined as the opportunity to access, leverage, and capitalize on the generalized benefits of an ecosystem of human interaction built around:

  • the best known information,
  • the most advanced technology,
  • the most inclusive, effective cooperative strategies, and
  • the general scaling up of human talent that happens when empowered individuals are free to pursue best-case outcomes.

Unjust constraints that discriminate against people due to their gender, race, ethnicity, faith background, first language, place of origin — or other such considerations apart from skill, character, work ethic, and applicable intelligence — limit the degree to which both individuals and the wider society can access best-practice opportunity. Everyone is less free, because some are unfairly constrained.

As we wrote in “The Value of Daring”:

The greatest scientific mind of this century may belong to a 3-year-old girl, living in a village with zero access to clean water, surrounded by armed militants, in a remote area of Yemen. If she is forced to remain in obscurity by circumstance or by cruelty, we will all have less ready access to truth and discovery. Everyone will be poorer for that loss, and we don’t know by how much.

Whenever we engage a service of any kind, especially those that directly impact our physical safety — such as air travel, use of automobiles, highways and bridges, or consumption of food or water — we expect routine use of best practices to provide for our safety. We also expect that where safety is at stake, best practices be widely shared, and related standards be supported by legal protections and incentives.

What does it say about the integrity of the wider socio-economic system that we inhabit, that we have not actually guaranteed such safe, fair treatment to everyone?

“The Fearless Girl” — placed in front of Wall Street’s charging bull for International Women’s Day 2017 — is an eloquent reminder that bold leadership cannot go far without considering everyone’s interests and serving well and honorably.

In 2015, there were four major global agreements among nation states that add up to a commitment to “get everything right”:

In Marrakech, the day before the COP22 climate negotiations opened, we discussed the new standard of Climate Solvency. This new standard for legitimacy in governance and enterprise emerges from the fact that worsening nonlinear impacts highlight structural injustices built into old socio-economic dynamics. Some vital perspective:

There is an uneven landscape of impact and empowerment, and the old economy rewards those that ignore such imbalance, or take advantage of it, to commit more resources to their own purposes … We are entering a world in which investors, entrepreneurs and decision-makers, at all levels, everywhere, will need to have solid information about how to compete in a new economy that values climate solvency as a human right, the ability to perform while generating zero external harm, and to cooperate sustainably with partners at all levels.

It is no longer feasible to allow such injustices to flow to most people through a system that allows some to benefit from best practices while others know they will likely never have access to such opportunity. The crushing limitation of compounding natural disaster impacts made worse by structural deprivation condemns far too many good people to situations where they cannot build up and share the full store of their human capital.

The rapidly accelerating unaffordability of converging climate impacts now touches every country. Global peace and security depend on addressing the root cause of this crisis at all levels. Inequality and injustice are drivers of this crisis. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, with its 195 national climate action commitments, are deep strategies for addressing the unsustainability crisis rapidly and effectively, on all fronts.

Success will mean human beings, wherever they are born, will be better off — more secure, better nourished, in all senses of the word, and better able to be of value to one another. The building of human capital, in every place where people live and struggle, is every human being’s affair.

Climate solvency is a human right. Nation states that cannot achieve it will fail. Some already have. All people need for all other people — all women and girls, all who have indigenous knowledge, all who would have been deprived in other historical moments — to have access to routine, ongoing empowerment.

Investment in the Sustainable Development Goals, in the building of pervasive natural and human capital, is not an inconvenient added cost; it is the most efficient way to allocate resources to ensure a future of reliable prosperity.

It is operationally feasible to eliminate poverty, hunger, under-education, and environmental destruction. Ensuring every person has real opportunity to leverage best practices — in at least the 17 major areas of human concern outlined in the SDGs — is necessary for securing an economic future where we have succeeded.

The right to best-practice opportunity is either every person’s right, or it does not exist. The mission of our moment is to make sure it does.

[ The Note for March 2018 ]


The featured image at the top of the page shows pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson. Her story was the focus of the movie Hidden Figures. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for her three decades of service.

Photo credit: NASA Langley Research Center.

Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.

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