🌎 "Why Do We Exist?"

Quinn Emmett
February 10, 2023
Audio version

🌎 "Why Do We Exist?"

Quinn Emmett
February 10, 2023
Full name
Job title, Company name
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.“
— Arthur Ashe

Welcome back, Shit Givers.

For the next few weeks, I’m rewriting and sharing a selection of essays I wrote in 2020 and 2021, so about two hundred years ago. I think they’re more relevant than ever — I can’t wait to hear what you think.

⚡️ Last week’s most popular Action Step was downloading the Yuka app — decipher product labels to find out what the hell that moisturizer’s got in it, anyways.


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What We Can Do

⚡️ The death toll in Turkey and Syria continues to rise. Relief agencies are having a hell of a time, but you can donate to the Syrian American Medical Society, Doctors Without Borders, and World Central Kitchen.

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Why Do We Exist?

Originally published July 2020, updated February 2023

OK, sure, for many of us, it’s because our parents simply wanted to feel something, and then…wow, you arrived, and ok, I guess we’re adults now.

But instead of going down that very dark path, let’s instead talk about climate change!

I’m kidding. Not really.

After a hundred years of progress, humanity faces stress tests unlike any we’ve faced before, and all at once.

The good news: Your company can help rewrite the future.

Let’s set the table, first:

COVID. A volatile market. War. A changing climate. mRNA. Ravaged ecosystems. Cheap solar. The Colorado River. Civil rights struggles. India. China. Soil. Satellites. Early AI. Offshore wind. H5N1. Immunotherapy. Drought. Batteries. East Africa. West Africa. Antibiotics. CRISPR. Floods.

Underlying each of these examples are massive fissures in our economy and society. Systems thinking, like butter coffee or mashed potatoes, is overhyped, but is also essential to understanding what we’re dealing with, and what we’ve wrought, the good and the bad.

To expand:

We’ve made enormous strides in vaccines, treatments, and environmental engineering, but continue to wrestle with a novel virus — one that was exponentially more likely to jump from animals to humans because of where we live and how we eat — because we haven’t filled the societal cracks in the sidewalk. H5N1 will be an pretty pretty pretty urgent test of what we’ve learned over these past few years.

We can take people’s cells out of their bodies and spin them around in a tube really fast and then put them back in those same bodies to fight disease, which is FUCKING NUTS, but many of our pipes are still filled with lead and one part of our country is nicknamed “Cancer Alley”?

We made e-bikes, which are wonderful, but haven’t updated our roads to accommodate them, much less prioritize them, and our trucks keep getting bigger and killing more adults and kids.

We can predict the weather with accuracy that would make our ancestors burn us at the stake, but endure a climate that is hotter and more combustible than any in humanity’s relatively short tenure as alpha species.

That’s mostly because in America, those rights are forever tenuous, held hostage in systems designed by men and slave owners on a platform of personal freedom and a pursuit of happiness (for the men and slave owners, anyway).

We made solar the cleanest, safest, and cheapest energy of all time, but our power lines can’t handle it and we don’t have anywhere to store it — yet.

We can electrify many of the appliances in our existing homes, but we still need about four million new affordable electrified homes. Our zoning is horseshit.

Meanwhile, the economy has been dominated by a market that is often, shall we say, untethered, from the reality of world events, and even more so, from the day-to-day challenges of most Americans. And because it’s never enough, we keep inventing new markets for “assets” (ok!) like Bitcoin and carbon offsets which are based on…nothing.

Compound interest means two very, very different things to America’s increasingly distinct socioeconomic classes.

Hundreds of thousands of tech workers who were mostly hired in the past few years to grow WFH tech platforms you hate have been laid off recently.

Meanwhile, there’s millions more non-techies who cannot even begin to comprehend the ease with which America’s tiny but massively wealthy and influential upper class makes money (even when they’re laid off).

These are folks with jobs, folks who’ve seen their own wages rise a bit these past couple years, but simply cannot spend $15 on a carton of eggs, sir, and who squint at the historic levels of unemployment and still ask, “Where the hell are all the workers?”

It’s kind of straight-forward! Basically:
A couple million unnecessary COVID deaths 

+ Millions of boomer retirements 

+ Basically no available childcare or home-care

+ A complete lack of immigration 

+ A shit ton of deportations

= Massive worker shortages

…and in the sectors where we need skilled workers the most, like nursing, teachers, electricians, construction, HVAC installers, food service, and more.

Boomers are getting older and retiring but we are short millions of nurses to take care of them and Medicare only pays for 2 hours of end-of-life care a day, which — if you’ve ever needed it — just isn’t going to cut it.

And the jobs that do move the needle offer wages and benefits that don’t really cover the most basic of human requirements: water, food, shelter, power, and health care.

It all adds up! We can do so much better, and that’s where you come in.

Because personal freedom and a pursuit of happiness seem relatively unattainable when you are uniquely subject to pre-existing conditions that make you more susceptible to these viruses, when you are unable to invest in these markets, when the heat affects you first, when your job driving a car doesn’t provide you with health care or childcare, but only rallies the market for the rich while it makes the heat worse, for everybody.

In nearly every case, what we sowed in the 20th century, for better or worse, has been harvested in the 21st. These problems will not go away easily, or with one election.

 Which is why they’re opportunities!

You and your company, no matter its size, industry, or reach, can look at these problems as opportunities. On the international level, national, and local.

In fact, we need you to. We need you to help rebuild capitalism, and society, into something vastly more equitable for everyone, and after that, something incredible.

What do you make? What do you spend your time on?

Do you produce textiles? Offer insurance? Hire electricians? Design organic chemistry experiments? Parse data? Distribute food?

Host a podcast? Teach children? Teach adults? Install HVAC? Advertise new products?

Are you a nurse? Sell advertising? Write code? Write for TV? Drive an ambulance? Conduct M&A? Preach?

Because — and I want to be crystal clear here — thanks to everything we talked about above, you have the opportunity to make your work life and business be more timely and necessary than ever. And potentially, vastly more successful.

We can rag on ESG bullshit all day (and we should), but in a stunning turn of events, less-well-intentioned detractors haven’t exactly offered an alternative mechanism to incentivize companies to, you know, do the right thing.

It’s not about the fucking acronym, friends, it’s about making sure your co-workers, employees, bosses, their families, and supply chain have “insurance”, and then using that foundation to do your part to build a radically better today and tomorrow.

Worried about market size? GTFO, fam! These are the biggest markets of all time.

Look around at the people in the streets, look at all those young voters, all the boomers, and everyone in between. Every one of us simply wants to feel something.

Imagine your perfect customer. Just one customer. Let’s call her Sally.

How can you give a shit about Sally? How can you relieve Sally’s pain points? How can you help Sally better understand what’s happening?

Take it further: How can you help Sally get ahead? Ask what you need to do to become essential to Sally, so they can contribute to the cause. How can you be a better ancestor to Sally’s kids?

Now imagine 400 million of Sally’s friends, in this thing together, who can carry your impact worldwide.

Imagine a business landscape where Sally’s reaction to your company’s product isn’t “huh” or “cool”, but rather “This...this is exactly what I need. Thank you.”


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From My Notebook

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