Let the tech sector move fast and break things in the fight against climate change
Joe Biden’s election victory is seen by many as a turning point not just for America but for the whole planet. During Donald Trump’s four years in charge, one of the world’s largest polluters has taken a back seat in the fight against climate change. Fortunately, the President-elect has already said he will reverse his predecessor’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement and put climate change at the heart of his policy agenda.
But despite this optimism, we must realise that the climate crisis is a truly global challenge that requires all nations and sections of society to come together to find solutions. And I believe that the technology community has a huge role to play.
From the first telephone to the Internet, new technologies have often helped to improve our daily lives and bring about positive changes to society. And the entrepreneurs and inventors behind these innovations are heralded as some of the world’s smartest minds and best problem solvers.
This is why, if we want to continue to thrive as a species we will need the technology community to step up to the plate to help us overcome the biggest problem we have ever faced — the climate crisis.
The facts are undeniable. The last four years were the hottest on record. Glaciers and ice sheets in polar and mountain regions are already melting faster than ever, causing sea levels to rise. If no action is taken, entire districts of New York, Amsterdam, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, and many other cities could find themselves underwater within our lifetimes, displacing millions of people.
While the science tells us that climate change is unquestionable, it’s not too late to stem the tide. And new and efficient technologies can help us to reduce net emissions and create a cleaner world.
To date, the tech sector has played a critical role in developing renewable energy solutions. Smart technologies such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are helping us to better manage our energy consumption and reduce wastage. As a result, renewable energies are now the cheapest source of energy in many countries across the world.
As a trustee of a charity supporting a primary school project in India, I have seen first-hand how its possible to install solar power in a remote village in the foothills of the Darjeeling region. The project was kindly gifted to the school by Signify (formerly known as Phillips Lighting) and is a great example of how technology companies can make a real difference by promoting the use of renewable technologies in the developing world.
Technology entrepreneurs are also helping to advance the development of electric vehicles — in some cases at a faster pace than many automotive companies. Run by serial technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, Tesla has been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of electric vehicle design.
As these technologies become more mainstream, we are also seeing a welcome boost in investment for tech firms developing sustainable solutions. According to a recent report by Tech Nation, investment in UK technology start-ups addressing one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals has increased nearly ten-fold in six years. Venture capitalists have often been a bellwether for the fastest growing technologies. Therefore, it is good to see an increasing number of VCs backing companies in these areas.
While advancements in technologies such as renewables and electric vehicles represent a step in the right direction, if we want to tackle the climate crisis head-on, we require a more fundamental transformational shift in all aspects of society. We will need to change the way grow food, use land, transport goods, and power our economies.
Tech firms have a good track record for disrupting traditional industries. From financial services and fashion to retail and healthcare, we have already seen how technology can drive innovation and new practices.
The phrase “move fast and break things” has been used to describe the tech industry as a force for both positive and negative change. In the case of the climate emergency — this mantra couldn’t be more relevant. We need to break the status quo. And we must act fast before it’s too late.
Policy makers and tech companies should work together on the solutions and infrastructure to support a green revolution driven by technology. As world leaders gather for the COP26 United Nations Climate Summit in the UK next year, I hope that technology entrepreneurs will be part of the conversation.
Finally, with all the disruption brought about by the global pandemic, there has perhaps never been a greater opportunity to rethink how we can better protect the earth we live on. We are at a critical moment in the history of the human race and our planet. And while entrepreneurs and technologists alone will not solve the climate crisis, as some of the world’s best problem solvers, it’s important they have a seat at the top table.