It’s not often that you hear of a musician leaving a successful band to pursue an economics degree with the aim of joining the technical effort to tackle climate change.
That’s especially true when that band has topped charts in the UK and received three Mercury Prize nominations and a Brit Award.
But, that’s exactly what former Foals keyboardist Edwin Congreave decided to do in September of last year.
Speaking over Zoom, he explained his decision to take this path & and why he believes he’ll be most effective fighting climate change through the lens of economic transformation.
“[Capitalism’s] got us in this terrible mess but it also has the solutions to clean it up and it’s the only force that really does. Economics just touches all the fundamental aspects of our lives.”
After spending time in his twenties exploring general-interest economics books, Congreave found himself increasingly interested in the connection between pressing natural and social issues and in the insight that climate change, biodiversity loss, politics, development and economics are all fundamentally interconnected.
“Inequality is a political and economic question. I find that intersection the most interesting. The fact is that all the powerful institutions in the world run on economic models. And a lot of them have been very destructive for the environment. That’s partly why we’re in the situation we are now…But there isn’t going to be mitigation to climate change without all the people who are vastly wealthy and powerful coming around. If you’re going to try and fix [capitalism], then you need to get in there and work with them as well as the people who are trying to adapt those economic models to a new way of thinking.”
As if on cue, the immensely powerful Blackrock CEO Larry Fink released his annual letter to CEOs that afternoon. These letters provide a crucial insight into the ways that traditional investors are increasingly recognising the importance of addressing issues such as climate change, inequality, and biodiversity loss in their decision-making. “We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients…Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda…” Fink wrote.
While he recognises that for some working in the climate or environment spaces, business leaders like Larry Fink can be perceived simply as “greedy people in suits [that] make loads of money”, Congreave also clear that in order to transform the global economy, we have to work with people and organizations from across the spectrum, engaging both with those working within the current economic system, as well as those working to disrupt it.
“[Fink’s] about as powerful as anyone could get in the financial world. But if you can get organisation like Blackrock to change, that’s a serious path to wide-scale economic transformation.”
While Congreave’s move from musician to economist is one that he’s still settling into, he’s been an active campaigner for years. While with Foals he was a supporter of the No Music on a Dead Planet campaign. The organisation “calls on governments to act now to reverse biodiversity loss and reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2030” and recognises “that the emergency has arisen from global injustices and will work towards systemic change to protect life on Earth.”
Foals famously brought a No Music on a Dead Planet flag to the 2019 Mercury Prize ceremony’s red carpet, where they were nominated for Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, a critically acclaimed album with a thematic focus on societal and environmental challenges in modern society.
That same year, in Foals’ documentary, Rip Up The Road, Congreave discussed the significant negative impact on climate from touring and large in-person events. But, with some distance, he now recognises that the impact of a small band touring is ‘absolutely, infinitesimally small and the benefit that music brings to people, not just the music, but the live shows, certainly out outweighs that.’
Despite being described by the New York Times as ‘the band’s in-house cynic’, Congreave is positive about the future, if change is realised on a massive scale.
“The more you can feel motivated to connect with other people making bigger scale changes, which is what I want to do, the more we’ll all benefit.”
Edwin Congreave was interviewed by David Thomas in January 2022