• Business Business

We asked 'Free Solo' climber Alex Honnold to pretend to be dictator for a day — here's what he said he'd do

"I could do some great work."

"I could do some great work."

Photo Credit: TCD

There are so many challenges to tackle in our country these days, and sometimes change is slower than many of us would like. That led us at The Cool Down to an interesting thought experiment: If you were in complete and total control, what would you do to make the country a better place for as many people as possible?

We asked famed "Free Solo" climber and innovative philanthropist Alex Honnold, who has previously put his money where his mouth is and committed to donating one-third of his income to climate solutions, to put on his dictator hat and give us his best imaginary mandates. 

"I could do some great work," he responded with a smile.

1️⃣ What's the first thing Dictator Alex would do? 

"One thing I would start with is: I would internalize the cost of pollution," he said. 

What does that mean? Rather than simply setting environmental regulations, governments could reduce the wide-ranging impacts of pollution by getting down to brass tacks: implementing fees based on the amount of pollution that a company creates. 

  • Less pollution = less fees. 
  • This incentives-based model also leads to more green energy solutions, as those would reduce costs too.

"There are so many things in the world where a company or automobile can pollute in different ways, where you're allowed to put things into the water or the air. If you're taking in clean air and letting out less clean air, there should be a cost associated with that," he continued. "When you have some price structure on pollution, it disincentivizes pollution." 

If this sounds similar to the idea of a carbon tax, you're right, but keep in mind that such a tax would only place the penalty for polluting on companies, not people. Under Honnold's way of doing it, that definition of fineable "pollution" would go beyond just carbon emissions. 

"When you think that a farm can pump out groundwater and leave sewage lagoons, that doesn't seem right. There are mis-incentives in the structure there. That's not right," he explained. "If you internalize the cost of all environmental pollutants, that goes a long way to solving a lot of issues." 

2️⃣ Second priority: "doubling down on education" 

Improving education, particularly for women and girls, is a key climate solution.

Honnold is pushing for that through his nonprofit organization, the Honnold Foundation, which invests in organizations focused on local climate solutions — such as empowering women in Madagascar to build their own solar systems and bringing solar boats to the Amazon. 

"Education in the U.S. is wildly underfunded, and higher education should be much cheaper and easier to access," he told The Cool Down. "Public education should be more equitable, more fairly distributed amongst kids. Every kid should have a good shot of leading the best life they want, mostly because I think it's a waste of human potential. 

"Any kid could be the next Einstein, so why not give them all a fair shot?"

🔢 Don't forget the common denominator: "Most humans want roughly the same things"

Honnold also dedicated his life to living more sustainably by…

In our interview, Honnold shared his philosophy on climate issues and his view of the future, which are grounded in the belief that there's more that unites us than divides us.

"Most humans want roughly the same things: what's best for them and their family," he said. "They want to be healthy. They want to have connection with their friends, time with their loved ones — basic things. It's not that hard to connect on that basis."

"I could do some great work."
Photo Credit: TCD

👀 A fresh set of eyes never hurt

"In general, I'm a very optimistic person," Honnold told us. "I think humanity could live in a world of abundance if we chose to; we just haven't yet. And so I see that as a tremendous opportunity."

And maybe, he explained, we're looking at things all wrong. 

"Despite the fact that everyone thinks that times are bad, times are better than ever before. Things are pretty freaking good. Things will continue to improve. … Hundreds of millions of humans have risen out of poverty — actually, billions. That's the greatest success story of this generation. That's a big deal. There's a lot of room for optimism but also a ton of room for improvement."

⭐ "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good"

When it comes to adopting sustainable practices, for Honnold, it's all about progress — not perfection.

"My other environmental soapbox that I want to get on is … the idea that you can't be an environmentalist unless you sew your own clothes out of wool that you hand-harvested from wild donkeys," he said. "You know what I mean?"

"If all Americans just cut 40% of their meat consumption — they still eat burgers twice a week, but just not five days a week — that's still way better for the environment. Let's just start there. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good."

In fact, eating one fewer burger per week can remove as much pollution as taking a car off the road for 320 miles over the course of a year. 

He likened behavior change to teaching a kid to play basketball.

"It's like learning a new sport," he said. "You don't just yell at him: 'You're not LeBron! You suck!' You're like: 'OK, cool, you're learning your practice. … You don't ever have to be LeBron, but you can at least learn how to use the ball.'"

Join our free newsletter for cool news and actionable info that makes it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider