The rich are spending billions of dollars preparing for disaster. Why aren’t they using their wealth to make the planet disaster-proof?
Brands should avoid pandering to consumers’ paranoid tendencies that are not only inherently selfish, but obsessed with an end of the world narrative that protects only the super-rich.
We’re only in the second week of February, but 2019 is already predicted to be an unfortunate year. The Doomsday Clock, a symbol created to represent just how close we are to a man-made catastrophe, is set at two minutes to midnight. Films from the past, like Blade Runner, The Running Man and Akira are set in a bleak, war-torn version of today. Tabloid newspapers are full of articles that prophesise the end of the world, shouting at readers in capital letters.
While these forecasts may seem dramatic to most, one consumer group in particular are not taking any chances – ultra-high-net-worth individuals. A small but significant subset of the American elite are disaster-proofing their homes, with many building deep luxury bunkers fitted with swimming pools, cinemas and fibre optic internet to ensure they do not just survive Doomsday but can spend it shooting pool. And forget about the canned beans of Costco’s £4,543 ($6,000, €5,158) emergency food kit – these consumers will be cooking up recipes from gourmet cookbooks like Joe Beef’s Surviving the Apocalypse.
It’s ironic that these preppers are plotting the desertion of a world they helped to shape.
Some of this group are uprooting themselves altogether in the name of safety. In Miami, rising sea levels have created a movement known as ‘climate gentrification’, as the rich abandon their beach homes and move to poorer areas like Little Haiti with lower risks of flooding. New Zealand has also become a favoured refuge for wealthy Silicon Valleyites, who are flocking from the tech world to the furthest country possible. ‘Everyone is always saying these days that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,’ wrote Mark O’Connell in a recent article for The Guardian, reporting on the fetishisation of catastrophe that is gripping the US. ‘The perception, paranoid or otherwise, that billionaires are preparing for a coming civilisational collapse seems a literal manifestation of this axiom.’
It’s ironic that these preppers are plotting the desertion of a world they helped to shape. Rather than providing these Doomsday fanatics with the tools to aid their escape, why aren’t more brands encouraging them to stay put and plough their wealth into initiatives that help prevent these disasters from happening in the first place?
Some luxury businesses are beginning to step up to the challenge, instilling a philanthropic, fight-not-flight attitude in their customers. The Conduit is a new invitation-only members’ club in London’s Mayfair that positions itself as a catalyst for environmental and social change. Its regular talks, which include discussions on climate action, circular supply chains and finding solutions for unjust systems, bring together elite individuals who have the collective wealth to make actual planetary change.
Meanwhile, luxury fashion brands themselves are campaigning for climate action. Stella McCartney, a long-standing environmental activist, is fronting a new UN charter alongside Burberry that hopes to incite action around fashion’s impact on climate change. By proactively challenging their polluting industry, these brands are setting a positive example for their high-spending customers.
After all, the luxury consumers of the near future will subscribe to a form of Uneasy Affluence, a movement whereby wealth is increasingly linked to moral worth. Long judged by others for their privileged status, the rich will invest in purpose-driven products and services that help assuage their concerns for the environment and the fate of the planet.
Brands should avoid pandering to consumers’ paranoid tendencies that are not only inherently selfish, but obsessed with an end of the world narrative that protects only the super-rich. Instead, they must educate customers on how they can plough their wealth into initiatives that prioritise the livelihood of the planet and debunk the fetishistic, apocalyptic myths that plague the year 2019.
To discover more about the next generation of conscious luxurians, attend our Luxury & Hospitality Futures Forum later in 2019.