Million dollar question

If you had $1 million to go towards the environment, how would you spend it?

Pacific coast highway

I asked ~100 students in BIOL111 this question, to cap off the end of our “Ecology and the Environment” summer course. More below…

The most popular answer? Education by far, with roughly 25% of all responses. Then came conservation at close to 20%. Energy and pollution were neck-and-neck after that, along with investing in the future via scientific research, innovation, and existing NGOs.

There were lots of excellent ideas, and I learned a few things (Who is Amory Lovins? And man, do you guys ever love trees. Probably a good thing.) Another emerging theme was that $1 million is a pittance, especially in the grand scheme of the world’s current environmental problems. But as many pointed out, it could be the start to something bigger…

Start local

  1. If I was given 1 million dollars to use towards the environment I would research what area close by to me is in most need of conservation. I would stay close to home because I would want to make sure the money is actually going towards what it is mint for and that way I could oversee the whole process.
  2. I would try and build a more sustainable house and then have it as a model for other people to copy.
  3. Implementing green technology as a pilot process to show it can be done on a city scale

Fix transportation

  1. Increase gas prices and implement amazing public transportation. (Perhaps not enough money…!)
  2. I would use the money to fund research into more sustainable transportation systems.  I feel that our current, car based transportation systems are very inefficient and harmful to the environment, and would thus use the money to help look for a solution to this problem.
  3. I would spend it creating a better solution for easy public transportation in Toronto so that people would be less inclined to using their cars to drive everywhere.

Protect land & species

  1. I would put it towards the preservation of keystone species.
  2. I would put the money towards restoring land that has been degraded by businesses, such as strip mining or forestry.
  3. I would allocate the funds towards various existing successful initiatives whose sole purpose is the protection and monitoring of endangered species, particularly by using a more ‘interventionist’ approach when facing the challenges of dealing with special interests and human causes of species endangerment.
  4. Buy the biggest plot of land I could and set up a national park.
  5. I would make more national parks.
  6. I would use it to buy land and create a provincial park or protected lands that could be used for research purposes.
  7. It would go to conservation efforts for national parks and/or endangered species. The amount of money and cooperation needed by different parties in order to really change the way society views and treats the environment is so great, that I personally think just 1 million is better spent on trying to save a species. Real change can’t be done wit just money if there is no cooperation by the government and large firms.
  8. This is entirely biased as I work within the Ontario Parks system, but I think I’d give it to conservation work.  I love that parks protect valuable habitat and provide green space while also offering educational experiences and a place for humans to go to fall in love with nature.  I really think fostering people’s love of the planet is the only way we’re going to convince them that they need to protect it.
  9. I think I would use the money to fund programs that promote biodiversity. In my opinion, restoring biodiversity is the first step of environmental sustainability.
  10. I would purchase and manage a large track of land so people from a large nearby city could come and experience growing some of their own food.

…especially trees. We love trees.

  1. I would buy a large piece of land that would have been for a factory and plant trees on it instead.
  2. Plant trees where they are lacking.
  3. I would use it to help save the rain forests.
  4. I would put it towards investing in better ways to conserve the Amazonian rainforest.
  5. Will plant more trees build more parks will spend money for ozone monitoring
  6. Reducing deforestation and clear cutting.
  7. I’d probably put it towards planting trees in school areas. Trees because I feel a number of species would benefit, and school areas because I believe it’s important for future generations to value the environment just as much as they value all the technology their surrounded by, balance is key.
  8. Tree planting!

Support NGOs and other existing programs

  1. I would probably distribute among small NGO’s that probably have the hardest time getting funding so they can build up their projects and getting a stronger hand in the bottom up political battle.
  2. I personally wouldn’t spend it, but instead would give it to an organization that would know what to do to help preserve and protect the environment.
  3. I would invest the million dollars in a group or organization that would be able to spend it effectively and efficiently.
  4. Because I don’t consider myself an expert on the environment or how to allocate such amounts of money I think I would first seek help from an environmental organization. Then, I would work with them to develop a plan that is focused on reducing ocean pollution, dealing with climate change and greenhouse gases, and working to protect important animal habitats.
  5. Give it all to an reputable environmental agency, possibly Greenpeace or the WWF.
  6. Take suggestions from outside groups, and do the one that I think is the best. I can’t possible decide by myself.
  7. Not very much money, find someone more educated in this and give it to them.
  8. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin and would probably invest in somebody else who would further know how to properly allocate the money.

Change the system

  1. It might be useful to look at restructuring political processes in dealing with environmental issues (although such an audit may cost more than this but it would definitely be a start).
  2. Pollution control. Environmental regulation.
  3. While $1 million is hardly enough to make a dent in the problems we face, I would put it towards promoting a system that would subsidize companies/practices that are less environmentally harmful in the effort of reducing the costs of buying ‘green’ and to encourage businesses to move towards green practices to lower production costs while gaining public favour.
  4. I would use that money to lobby politicians for increased funding for alternative energy sources (wind, solar), with the idea that a small start could lead to greater funding and awareness.
  5. I would spend it on agriculture reforms and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
  6. I would lobby for a mandatory environmental subject at nation-wide primary and secondary schools.

Invest in energy

  1. Invest in solar and geothermal technologies. $1 million isn’t what it used to be though, might not change the world all at once 😉
  2. I would spend it on making my house entirely solar powered.
  3. Honestly, I don’t think that $1 million would be enough to accomplish everything that I would want to go towards the environment. With the money, I would perhaps try to start or fund more research in Ontario for alternative energy (i.e. Fuel Cell technology). Most of the research is done in B.C., as the focus in Ontario is largely on nuclear energy.
  4. I would put the money towards research and development of sustainable energy resources.
  5. I would spend it on hydrogen fuel research.
  6. We have a lot to fix and $1 million is sadly not enough. I think the best we can do is move towards a more sustainable world and so I would invest the $1 million in a prize competition to create the most sustainable and practical alternative-energy solution.
  7. I would investigate on substitution of gasoline, because cars are getting more and more and resource is diminishing at a rapid speed.
  8. That sum of money would not be nearly enough to do something that would significantly change the environment positively, however I would probably try and invest it into practical green energy research that could be easily implemented and transitioned to.
  9. Honestly, I’d probably pay for some solar panels for my neighborhood to make my neighborhood more environmentally friendly.
  10. I would purchase an electric car to lessen my impact on the environment and with the remaining money I would buy my family and friends electric cars as well. YOU GET AN ELECTRIC CAR, YOU GET AN ELECTRIC CAR, EVERYONE GETS AN ELECTRIC CAR!
  11. I would invest in enough solar panels and wind turbines to power a small town, or even a few small towns, and use them as examples of populations living solely on renewable energy.

Clean up pollution

  1. I would dedicate the money to a fund or research project that is going towards abolishing non-reusable plastic water bottles.
  2. If I was given a million dollars to go towards the environment, I would try to use this rather small sum to make the biggest difference possible. In my mind, this would be to set up proper garbage disposal stations all over a city (like Kingston). I don’t just mean garbage and recycle, but rather compost, paper, cans, bottles, etc… A more thorough disposal station so that people aren’t just throwing stuff all into garbage bags. So many recyclable materials end up in landfills only to never decompose and simply cause more harm to the environment. I would like to think that having better disposal stations would promote proper waste management and allow for more recycling to occur.
  3. I would spend it trying to improve upon groundwater and aquifer contamination throughout Canada. Barrie, Ontario holds the world’s purest fresh water and it is now being contaminated due to garbage runoff.
  4. I would spend the money on cleaning up garbage in communities (under a volunteer organization with partnering companies) and advertising critical thinking about how the companies you buy from treat the environment, meanwhile there are people who are volunteering to clean up their mess!
  5. I would use it all to fix the mess that’s happening in the oceans. First, I would hire patrolling officers to prevent overfishing and poaching of endangered species (ex. sharks, whales). I would also spend at least half of the money to fix the garbage/plastic problem in the oceans (like the Great Pacific garbage patch).
  6. I would spend it on R&D towards finding innovative ways to reduce pollution.
  7. Preventing sewage dumping into the ocean.
  8. Better recycling programs.

Tackle economic inequality

  1. I would give it to the poor.
  2. If I was given $1 million dollars to save the environment I would put it towards reducing the poverty that contributes to much of the world’s environmental issues as well as health issues. I would definitely invest in something like microlending in order to get people out of harming themselves and their environment, for example providing them with the money for solar panels in order for them to have electricity in their homes as well as in their communities.
  3. I would donate it towards reducing poverty in order to view the long-term effects such as slowing down population growth.

Awareness and education

  1. Support environmental education in emerging superpowers.
  2. I would probably spend it on promoting awareness, since $1 million isn’t all that much.  If I was given more, I would probably use it to clean out some damage we did in our oceans.
  3. If I were given a million dollars to go towards the environment I would spend a large amount of it for education, to both older and very young generations, on pressing environmental issues and global awareness. I would spend the remainder on research and potentially a small amount of implementation of solutions.
  4. I would put the funds towards environmental education in public schools.
  5. I would spend it educating large amounts of people about environmental issues. I’d create a program that would be open all year, it would be accessible to all age groups and we would work on local and global issues. We’d travel to preform a variety of activities such as landfill clean ups, habitat rehab, clean water projects, etc.
  6. If I was given $1 million to go towards the environment I would use it to educate as many people as I could about the harmful effects of global warming and motivate this group of educated people to demand action from the government to make our country more eco-friendly and to change laws so that Canadians would live more sustainably.
  7. I would choose to promote educational programs with the funds. I would love to give others the opportunity to participate in a general course such as this one to help them gain a greater understanding of the complexities of environmental issues, in hopes that they might take further action. I would also love to give others the opportunity to experience nature and the environment first-hand, so that they can further their appreciation for it and become more personally connected with the issues.
  8. Education – the changes that could be made with this amount are insignificant compared to the changes an entire population could make after an educating campaign. The greater the numbers involved the greater the impact.
  9. Informing the public.
  10. I would spend a considerable amount on education people about issues and another considerable amount making change easier for people to do.
  11. Although $1 million may seem like a lot of money, when facing global environmental issues it may not be very helpful.  I believe it would be better to place that money towards a program that helps to educate people about these environmental issues, in order to increase awareness and support for solutions to these problems.
  12. Realistically $1 million is not a lot of money. I think the money should go toward educating people. If people had the correct knowledge, hopefully they would not make decisions that impact the environment negatively.
  13. $1 million is actually not as much as it sounds, and I don’t think it would be enough to do very much in terms of restoration.  Instead, I would use it for education and awareness for the prevention of things that would be environmentally harmful.
  14. If I was given $1 million to go towards the environment I would spend it on public education. I would use it to spread awareness about climate change so that individuals will become aware of the consequences of our actions and join the fight to help save our environment.
  15. I would spend it on educating women and other individuals in third world countries. This way they can learn about the problems facing the environment and also have more understanding of family planning (therefore decreasing the population).
  16. Raise awareness of environmental issues.
  17. I will spend it on creating an educational based organization to help younger generations to improve their knowledge on global environmental issue. So when they grow up, they probably won’t act as greedy as our fathers who cared about money making.
  18. I would spend it on community activities that help educate individuals on the environment in their community, their country and the world. It may help to make individuals aware of their actions and how they can help the environment. Also I would spend the money on outdoor classrooms and solar panels in schools because it allows students to reconnect with nature and make them active investors in the environment.
  19. I would educate the public on Nuclear power. Nuclear power is significantly more friendly and safe for the environment than other power sources, and it can meet our needs. However there is a huge stigma around it because the word “Nuclear” causes irrational fears.
  20. If I had one million dollars to go towards the environment I would spend it on exposing large corporations and education. It is important for the public to be aware of what is going on in the world and so many people turn a blind eye. I would love to inspire people to demand change. If the public demands change than it will be forced to happen.
  21. Today 1 million dollars would not make a huge difference, I think I would spend it on education probably donating a million dollars to environmental department at a university would help a lot, if it was one studying advanced ways to improve environment.
  22. I would use it to collaborate with Indigenous communities or organizations to spread the word of their simple teachings to be able to decrease colonization against them as well as learn how to have a fulfilling relationship with the land.
  23. I spend my million dollars on educational initiatives designed to change behaviours. I think that in order to make progress we need to make considerable changes to the way we live our lives and how we value the environment.
  24. I would spend it on educating our children. It doesn’t matter how much you try and fix the environment today, if we don’t educate our children they will make the same mistakes we made in the past. We will then be right back to square one. If we teach them how to keep our environment safe today, they can maintain it. A 1 million dollar band-aid fix today would not solve the problem tomorrow.

More research needed

  1. I would spend the money by putting up rewards for inventing green products that change the world. Such as more efficient batteries, solar panels etc.
  2. I would donate it to university’s that are working on preventing the pollution in our environment. There are many projects going on to help the environment but need funding and rather than starting one up I would use it to help other projects.
  3. I would need to do more research to determine how to spend the money. I’m sure that there is still a lot that we don’t know about several environmental challenges and so I would use it to help research and plan for long-term ways to manage the environment.
  4. $1 million can only go so far. I would likely donate the money to the R&D department of a company seeking environmentally friendly alternatives to contemporary problems.
  5. With $1 million for the environment I would start a research center similar to the Rocky Mountain Institute. I would like to fund research with Amory Lovins and look into sustainable living communities. I would also like to devise a contest to donate a large sum of money to a company that could produce a safe and efficient steam powered vehicle.
  6. This is one of the most difficult questions in this course. There are urgent needs everywhere in the environment. My first step would be researching the environmental researchers or institutions receiving the money to make sure they are committed and that there is little waste going into administrative spending.
  7. I would spend a great deal of it towards the science of renewable energy, so new technologies could help us have more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives. I could also invest in businesses/non profit organizations that sell eco-friendly products and provide services that will not harm the environment.

Hybrid strategies

  1. If I were given $1 million to use towards the environment, I would definitely spend half of it towards investment into new gadgets and ways of reducing carbon dioxide emissions without having to raise taxes for people. Also, I would use about 100,000 to travel around the world and educate dedicated environmental youth the ways they can help their neighborhood and implement strategies to improve it. As with the rest of the money, I would use it towards restoring forests that were damaged due to clear cutting or natural disasters. This can also increase animals’ likelihood of survival.
  2. I would spend it on planting trees and implementing solar systems.
  3. I would divide the money in thirds, giving the first portion to ecological restoration to rehabilitate damaged lands, the second to renewable energy research in order to perfect new technology to implement and replace fossil fuels, and the third to conservation efforts to maintain and keep biologically diverse hotspots as safe from human activities as possible.

It takes money to make money…

  1. I would give it to companies to invest towards becoming more environmentally friendly.
  2. Invest in a cause in order to raise more money, since 1 million isn’t close enough for real change.

* Thanks BiOL111ers for your thoughtful (and fascinating) responses! *