Treehouse Investments is a firm dedicated to reversing climate change by investing in sustainable business models that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and empower women. We sat down recently with Raoul Slavin Juliá, Katharine Poland, and Dominique Bangasser Slavin in their New York City office to talk to them about the work they are doing and their funding of the Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize.
Poets.org: How did Treehouse Investments come to be?
Treehouse Investments: Treehouse Investments is a boutique, socially responsible investment fund with a focus on renewable energy. We are a family business, founded by a family from Puerto Rico. In 2007 we made a commitment to invest in a socially responsible way. Over the years we have become convinced that the only truly socially responsible investments are those that directly try to reverse climate change.
Poets.org: What is the climate crisis?
TI: In 2018 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with a report stating we had roughly twelve years to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. These include mass species extinction, rising sea levels, dangerous heat waves, more erratic weather, stronger storms, and, because of this, disease, forced migration, and resource wars.
At the moment, we are on track for a three- to five-degree rise by 2100—that is, roughly two to three times what is safe.
As a frame of reference—it takes on average seven years to get a wind park permitted and built. We are swiftly running out of time. Thus the crisis.
Poets.org: What drew you to the idea of addressing the climate crisis with poetry?
TI: In 2009 we were building the first industrial-scale wind project in Puerto Rico. At that time we fully expected to provide one hundred megawatts of wind power on the island—theoretically, this would have powered roughly fifty thousand Puerto Rican homes.
Ten years later we had built less than 0.5 percent of what we had planned, and were forced to leave the island because the political establishment was unwilling to let us do that sort of business.
We see this pattern happening to differing degrees everywhere we work—and we work now in much of the world.
The science of climate change is unequivocal. Its negative social and financial consequences are clear, dire, and exponential. The technological solutions to reverse it exist and are now cheaper than fossil fuels, particularly if you include fossil fuels’ negative externalities. The capital is available. We have a clear problem, with clear and actionable solutions. And yet we have been unable to effect change at the necessary scale.
We have failed, somehow, to humanize this issue. We have failed to communicate, or perhaps to understand. We are failing to inspire.
We came to understand that we were dealing not with a climate crisis but with a human one.
A good poem reminds us of our shared humanity. A good poem will string words together like pearls and connect us, shock us out of our usual tropes. A good poem reminds us of everything we share and everything we put at risk.
So why poems? Because they are the backbone of our culture, and that is what must change.
Poets.org: What do you hope to achieve with the climate-change poetry contest?
TI: We hope that poets will lend us their voices, to find allies and inspire change.
We are foot soldiers in the war against climate change, and we are losing. Like most soldiers, we lean on the entire universe of language to buttress us—from songs to smutty limericks. But we long for Siegfried Sassoons and Wilfred Owens, poets who can interpret our experience and explain it to those who will come after.
Finally, there can be a singular bravery to a poem. When a poem works—when a poem brings everything together—it can be thrilling, inspiring, and deeply beautiful. We need that now, that courage, that beauty, that inspiration.
Poets.org: Are there any other projects addressing the climate crisis that you’re particularly excited about or that you think might be especially impactful?
TI: There are many people working on climate change mitigation. Project Drawdown does a remarkable job of detailing the many avenues that exist. We will be posting more links on our web page as well.
But at the end of the day—do something, and do it now. Use the gifts you have. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Vote, because almost all the current incentive paradigms were designed for gradual change and to protect existing special interests. Support scientists, because they are on the front lines of this combat.
And write poems!
We offer an excerpt from Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy, which has given our team both solace and inspiration. We would ask, please, that you bring us more.
Become a member to read the poem.
About the Treehouse Prize
Three poets will be honored, with an award of $1,000, $750, and $500 respectively. All three poems will be published in the Poem-a-Day series, which is distributed to 500,000 readers. Poems may also be featured in the award-winning education series Teach This Poem, which serves 33,000 educators each week.
Judges are environmentalist Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (Random House, 1989), and award-winning poet and author Julia Alvarez.
Submissions are accepted September 1 through November 1, 2019. Winning poets will be announced on Thursday, March 19, 2020, the first day of spring.
Read the full guidelines for the prize.
Additional resources on the Climate Crisis:
SDG 13: Climate Action
The National Resources Defense Council
The Union of Concerned Scientists
The Sierra Club
The Sierra Club, Redwood Chapter
Koshland Science Museum
“How to Understand the UN’s Dire New Climate Report” by Robinson Meyer, October 9, 2018, The Atlantic
“Winning Slowly is the Same as Losing” by Bill McKibben, December 1, 2017, Rolling Stone