It looks like we need a miracle to avoid climate disaster. Yet, I believe we can do it. With the combination of ten powers. Here is how.
The tremendous economic growth we’ve experienced over the last 200 years has come at the cost of the environment. We’ve produced power and polluted the skies, rivers, and oceans. We’ve grown our populations and destroyed forests, soil, and sea life. We’ve built cities and heated the ground, filled the sky with greenhouse gases, and filled the ocean with plastic.
All of this is hard to see from my very privileged position as an affluent person, in a wealthy city, in a developed country. But take just a peek under the facade of fossil fuels, factory farming, overfishing and waste, and it’s impossible to ever go back.
It’s scary, overwhelming, complicated and heavily defended by those who benefit from maintaining its status quo. The best way to see it is to look at this chart on planetary boundaries, watch David Attenborough's documentary, and read his book.
Despite all of that, I’m hopeful we can avoid most of the disaster and maintain human life on this planet sustainably for thousands of years. It’s going to take a number of different parts to come together to give us a chance. We need to call upon what Einstein called the most powerful force in the universe: compound interest.
What gives me hope is the cumulative potential of humanity having an exponential impact over the next years towards 2030. If all of these areas increase significantly and cumulatively over that time, then we have a chance.
The Ten Powers for Climate Action
These are the ten powers I believe we need:
The first thing we need is belief. In two ways. Firstly, belief that there is a problem. In my echo chamber of climate tech, it is unquestioned: There is a big problem and we need significant action now. That belief is spreading fast but my rough guess is that it’s deeply held by 1% of the world and broadly believed by 10% of the world. Recognising that much of the world is still in poverty, developing or facing multiple endemic challenges, we can’t wait for 100% but 20% would have a big impact. That being said, we can’t wait for people to get there. We need to solve it for them and in some cases in spite of them.
The second kind of belief is that we can fix it. We can. We can’t avoid all consequences. We would have had to start working 40 years ago when the scientists and oil and gas companies first identified the problem to do that. But we can avoid many of the worse ones and we can reverse some components. We can. To quote the great philosopher Ted Lasso “Believe”.
We can’t do this alone. No one person, organisation or country can solve any of these problems. The world is now a tightly woven, global system and all solutions require multiple groups, skills, connections and players cooperating. We need teamwork in each company, sector, supply chain and country.
Competitiveness and self-interest will drive some of the motivation in parts and that will probably be healthy and produce, faster, better results. But the overall mission must be one of collective benefit and an attitude of collaboration is critical. We must share, open-source and work together to have the best chance of averting crisis.
We need to build on and extend the millions of humans years of work in science and research to find all the solutions to survive. Like with Covid 19, we are standing on the shoulders of people who dedicated their lives to deep, complex and challenging work and we look down and ask them to go further, faster. This is across every area of science, particularly biology, physics, chemistry and engineering, and both theoretical and practical research.
We may be the smartest species on the planet and perhaps the universe. That intelligence has created the circumstances which can be our demise or can be our adaptation to go on living. The choice is ours of how we embrace it.
The science and research is critical and must be funded and expanded, but it will only take us so far. We need innovation to turn that potential into products that actually create the value and the environmental impact we so desperately need.
Tesla took available technology and combined them into a car that created the electric vehicle market. V2 Foods took core research and made a Rebel Plant Based Whopper burger. Great Wrap took compostable plastic and made sustainable wrapping plastic. There are hundreds of examples and we need millions more.
We don’t need one Tesla, Rebel Whopper or roll of Great Wrap. We need millions and billions. For that, we need entrepreneurs, business and industry to scale these products and take them to every potential customer in the world. Innovation alone is not enough. We need the people who understand manufacturing, supply chain, logistics, finances, capital, and most importantly leadership to apply science, research and innovation at scale.
They say to find the source of a problem you need to follow the money. It is clear that our ‘growth at all costs’ model is a key cause of this climate problem, pushing over consumption at the cost of the environment, inequality and society. It must be addressed at it’s root, but I don’t believe we have time to completely address it while we address climate change. We have to do them both together, but until we have a new model of humanity, we have to funnel the money to solve the climate problems.
$9 Trillion dollars was spent in 2020/21 to address the global pandemic and a further $16 Trillion has been spent since 2008, much of it in response to the global financial crisis. The money is there to be spent if we need it and we do need it. This may not look like an emergency yet, but it is. The evidence is there. We need to spend the money now as if we just ran out of water, food and air. We need to spend on all of these ten areas, particularly on belief, collaboration and science.
There is no doubt that one person’s actions don’t add up enough to change the numbers significantly. Should you walk back home to get your reusable coffee cup or just make it one billion and one takeaway cups in landfill? Statistically, it doesn’t matter an iota.
But it does. It matters. Your individual choices matter a great deal and you should feel powerful in this moment. Your choices of products influence new product development, and this is already seen in so many industries. We don’t need every single consumer to adopt these, we just need enough to drive consumer research and marketing in the right direction.
Beyond voting with your wallet, you can also vote politically, at the polls but also in community organisation and communication. Peaceful protests and letters to your local representatives add up. Until they realise this is a problem most people care about they will be highly unlikely to prioritise it.
Please also don’t underestimate the power of your influence. Your choices and views, shared through your actions but also in your views shared over coffee, dinner and fences helps to tell this story. You won’t always succeed in making change, believe me, but don’t stop telling it. We will get there, eventually, and you are not alone.
The power of business and especially multi-national corporations cannot be overstated. As mentioned, they are driven by the dollar and when you buy EV’s, plant-based burgers and recycled plastic clothing, you are driving them forward. My gut says that we are not at the mass market stage for most climate positive products just yet, but we must be there by 2025, so the customers are coming.
Business is also driven by managing risk and capturing value. Most businesses can clearly see that climate poses both a huge and complex risk and also provides an even larger opportunity. Add to this that failure to address climate issues will also lead to personal impacts and the motivation of businesses to act is growing stronger.
Businesses are also filled with employees who have power and influence. You can push for sustainable change in your own role, but also in how your company operates overall by questioning practices and holding management to account. Not everyone is in a position to do it, but if you can vote with your feet and move to a company with a strong climate mission then the drive for talent will also have a positive effect.
An even bolder step is to start your own business solving climate problems. It’s no easy thing to do but there has never been a more important reason to do it and never been a bigger pooling of funding to support it. You have a chance to create mission and purpose for you and your employees, whether that’s a team of five or five thousand, and a successful business in a period where every industry will change and millions of new opportunities are emerging. You can do it. Just start. Now. Please.
Policy can and will play an important role in solving climate challenges. Bold leadership in government seems very challenging these days so it’s most likely that government will help create the environment once the momentum from voters, business and other stakeholders is firmly going in that direction. That being said there are thousands of mission driven, high value people at various levels, in various parts of government which are strong allies and have a huge role to play.
The final power at play is urgency. Humans have become largely short term focused and reactive rather than long term and prevention-focused. This is a problem for climate as many of the symptoms are things we’ve always had - bushfires, floods, droughts - and many of the big issues are removed from the daily lives of 99% of people - thawing tundra, melting Arctic, reduced bio-diversity, methane levels, deforestation, ocean acidification, over fishing (the list goes on).
There may never be a clear and conclusive event which 99% of the world says ‘wow, that was climate change, this is a disaster, we need to act now’. This reality is too hard to change. We have to succeed without it. The good news is that there is now a big enough group of people who understand, believe and have the capacity to drive change. That group is active, learning, connecting and growing.
We can avert climate disaster and create a world where we live sustainably with our environment. These are the ten powers we need to combine. Let’s start today.