The world is in crisis. We need leadership, grassroots passion and entire, new industries of technology to keep life on this planet in balance. But what is this technology and how do we think about it?
For the last five years, I’ve been slowly but surely angling my work towards this climate emergency. I’m finally full-time driving for impact through establishing an investment fund that supports technology companies solving these problems.
I’ve decided to commit to doing my part by helping technology play a positive role in this crisis. More on that next post but reach out if this is in your space.
Technology has largely got us into this mess. Everything from the steam engine, looms, cars, planes, the computer I’m writing on, the data centres that provide the internet. All of it. It’s provided prosperity to many but it’s come at a cost which the future is paying for. But technology is most likely the answer. And it’s not a single thing. It’s literally thousands of things. Entire new industries, with new systems, processes, backend software, consumer software, devices, controllers, machines, science and data.
To produce the 1,000 working solutions we need 1 million attempts because innovation is hard and they normally don’t succeed the first time. We can’t wait for the compound interest of innovation to play out. We need to speed it up. We need to over fund too many companies and that’s going to look a bit reckless to start with. But the benefit of this is that with every failure there is a lesson learned. There is a new experience in the team that did it and often the spark of the next idea. And they team up with the winners and scale the working solution.
Why do I care?
We have been damaging the environment for too long and we are starting to pay the price. And it’s going to get worse. The world that I grew up in has been wonderfully lucky and privileged. I’ve had lots of opportunity for good work and the environment has been largely stable with good weather.
The harsh reality is that some of the prosperity that I have enjoyed has come at the cost of the environment. We’ve been polluting and abusing it for so long thinking that there is no consequences or cost to it. But there is. There always is. You can’t dig up the ground, burn energy, pump it into the sky, over and over, year after year, without a negative impact. Multiply that out to 7 billion people, 1 billion of which are affluent like me and consume more than our fair share of resources and it’s a huge impact.
So my kids will not enjoy the world as it was in the year 2000. They will most likely have to live through extremes of heat, flooding, seawater rises, storms and other environmental issues.
Why is 1.5 degrees bad?
It may be scientific to say that 1.5 degrees Celsius increase (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) needs to be avoided but it may be hard to think that is bad when every day the temperature can fluctuate much more than that.
It’s about the average temperature and one way to think about it is a fever. Normal body temperature is 36.8c and a fever can be as little as 37.2c. Of course, you can have a hot day or go for a run and be hot, but when your normal body temperature is even a bit hotter it can mean your internal system is not well.
Like the human body, our planet is quite robust but a delicate system. That strength and resilience can be decimated quickly when the system is out of balance. The strongest person in the world can be unable to move with a bad fever. It’s the same for our planet and can mean things as significant as the inability to grow corn which much of the world depends on.
What do we need to do?
We need to get from 51 Gigatons of greenhouse gases to zero to 2050. 50 by 50 is a good way to remember it. How much is that and why the rush?
How much is 51 Gigatons of carbon?
A gigaton is a billion tons. That’s about 40 billion cars worth. It’s a lot.
At today’s rough price of $50 per ton of carbon, that equates to $2.5 Trillion. A lot, but not much in the global economy but we can’t just pay for it and forget it. We actually have to get it out of the atmosphere.
For comparison, we’d have to plant 500 billion trees each year to offset that much carbon. There is not enough space on the planet for this.
Why do we need to start now if we only need to hit it by 2050?
Because it’s going to be really hard and take a lot of time to do everything needed. And also because people aren’t great at change.
Carbon emissions are everywhere and in everything. You can have an electric car with electricity from solar panels but how was the car made? The solar panels? The clothes you wear? The food you eat? It is so pervasive the solutions need to be all-encompassing. We literally have to change the way the whole world works.
And think about how hard it is to change one habit that you’re motivated to change? Try that on every human, every business, every government, every system, process and supply chain in every part of their lives.
The other reason is that we don’t have all the solutions ready yet. We have some but even those need development and scale. Others are still being researched and tested. Some don’t actually exist yet. All these things take time, some of them, like switching
One silver lining of Covid-19 was the speed and effectiveness by which the scientists and technologists of the world collaborated to generate vaccines and solutions. This was a clear reaction to an emergency. We need the same response to climate and we probably need to sustain it for at least twenty years.
So we need to aggressively, relentlessly, collaboratively work to solve these problems.
To make this happen, we need a few things in my view;
Invent, build and scale successful technology. See above.
From government, corporate, community and each individual, we need people to step up and invest for the long term. This is a big call in a world that rewards quarterly earnings and short term re-election. We need this leadership to act before it’s clear on how to act and whether others will follow. That’s leadership. Going first into the unknown. People will follow if you lead. And leadership means you.
Everything and everyone makes a difference
It’s easy to think that my own actions don’t matter. That I’m just 1 out of 7,800,000,000. Yes, you’re 0.0000000128% of the world. But you do matter. Your decisions matter. Your actions matter. Your influence matters. You can change your own situation. Change your family. Change your work. Change your community. Change your country. Change your industry. Change the world. You matter. You always have but, here more than ever.
This is an emergency. This is a crisis. We must act now.
What I’m reading
https://drawdown.org/ - 100 actions to take and the costs, returns and impacts
https://www.sarahwilson.com/2020/08/welcome-one-wild-precious-life/ - a straight-shooting, personal connection
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review - read the 'headings’ version to understand how natural capital is something we’ve abused.
https://www.unpri.org/sustainability-issues/academic-research - connecting finances to the problem - follow the money - or funnel the money!
https://climate.nasa.gov/ - good education for all levels, including kids (and seniors)