Years ago, when I discovered the threat of climate change and the opportunities presented by solar photovoltaic energy, I thought this was pretty straightforward. Humankind just had to stop using coal and natural gas and replace them by solar PV. How foolish and naive one can be at age 20?
Since that fateful English class in April 2004, a lot has changed and I have spent thousands of hours reading and writing about climate change. This blog post is my 1,900th here. That is a huge lot of writing but this is not all. On Twitter, I have tweeted and re-tweeted over 34,000 times. Thank you to all of you who have read or engaged with me on my work online or in real life.
The energy sector is transforming fast
I have known for over ten years that global warming is not a technical problem, but a societal one. Both solar PV and wind are now cost competitive with fossil fuels. Many other renewables will help transform the energy sector. Energy storage is barely getting started and is already having a lot of impact.
I am confident that switching from fossil fuels to renewables (and efficiency, as I learned during my Master’s thesis in 2006) can be done relatively fast in wealthy nations (ten to fifteen years) and by mid-century in developing ones. But even this monumental task is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Transportation has become the largest carbon emitting sector.
There, solutions won’t be straightforward and easy to apply. Solving this wicked problem will require developing all kinds of alternatives (biking, walking, ride-sharing, public transportation, telepresence…) while redesigning our entire cities and societies.
The benefits of doing so will be immense considering that in the US alone, traffic congestion costs $300 billion, obesity $500 billion and car crashes $870 billion, all in annual figures. But even solving both energy and transportation equations would not solve climate change entirely.
Industry, land use and agriculture matter too.
Industry too has to transform itself to shift away from its current take, make, waste model. The way we use land also matters tremendously. Deforestation has to be put to an end and we need to reforest and afforest globally. This in turn brings us all naturally to how we feed ourselves. Which in turns leads us to plastic pollution (a massive problem that is getting bigger by the day) and why we waste a third of the food we produce globally…This is immensely complex.
I love working on all this.
Ultimately, our societies will have to change to be more equitable, resilient, and sustainable. This shift will have to be cultural and global. Everyone will have to see their lifestyles change but everyone will benefit from a system that is not designed around money but around humans.
But, please beware: this is not a call to end capitalism. I have two Master’s degrees in business and management. NO, we need to invent the best version of capitalism we can. Not for the top of the pyramid, but also for the bottom of it and everyone in between.
While this is a bright prospect, it is also a call to arms. The task at hand is gigantic and the clock is ticking. If we succeed, this could be a new Renaissance, if we fail, this could be the end of civilization as we know it. Let’s get to work!
Image credits: Flickr, reurinkjan