Thirty years ago, the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bringing together representatives from all the countries of the world to address issues related to the environment, health, waste, biodiversity, and sustainable development of the planet, as well as climate change.
This global conference brought together representatives from 179 countries (politicians, diplomats, scientists, journalists, and NGO representatives) to reconcile the impact of socio-economic activities on the environment, identified as climate change.
Climate change is the effect of the industrial and economic growth of different countries. the economic, social, and technological transformation began in the second half of the 18th century in Great Britain, known as the Industrial Revolution, which spread a few decades later to a large part of Western Europe and America.
This change brought about the greatest economic, technological, and social transformations in the history of humanity, moving from a rural economy based primarily on agriculture and trade to an urban, industrialized, and mechanized economy. The Industrial Revolution marked a turning point in history, modifying and influencing all aspects of daily life in one way or another.
But it also brought long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns; man's productive activities were the main driver of climate change. Mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket around the Earth, trapping the sun's heat and raising temperatures.
Over the years, greenhouse gas emissions have reached unprecedented levels. The worst thing is that, despite international summits and agreements, emissions continue to increase and are now at their highest levels in hundreds of years. As a result, the planet is today about 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was at the end of the 19th century, with the decade from 2011 to 2020 being the warmest temperature on record.
The Effects of Change
Climate change is causing glaciers to shrink, ice in rivers and lakes to melt prematurely, plant and animal habitats to change, trees flowering earlier, rising sea levels, and heat waves becoming more intense. But that's just the beginning: temperatures will continue to rise, frost-free seasons will lengthen, changes in rainfall patterns, more droughts, more intense hurricanes, and the Arctic may run out of ice. Not to mention that climate change may also affect our health.
For a better understanding of what we are talking about, review the following data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
- Global temperatures increased approximately 1.8°F (1°C) from 1901 to 2020.
- Sea level rise has accelerated from 1.7 mm/yr during most of the 20th century to 3.2 mm/yr since 1993.
- Glaciers are shrinking: the average thickness of 30 well-studied glaciers has decreased by more than 18 meters since 1980.
- The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic at the end of summer has decreased by 40% since 1979.
- The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 25% since 1958 and about 40% since the Industrial Revolution.
- Snow melts earlier compared to long-term averages.
The impacts of climate change on different sectors of society are interrelated: drought can damage food production, affect food availability, and limit worker productivity. In addition, human health problems can increase mortality; flooding can cause the spread of disease and damage ecosystems and infrastructure.
Changes also occur in the oceans, as they absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. This means that the water is becoming more acidic, affecting marine life. As a result, coastal areas are at greater risk of erosion and storm surges.
Ecosystem changes are also occurring. For example, warming waters can cause coral bleaching, stronger hurricanes can destroy reefs, and rising sea levels can cause corals to be smothered by sediment. Coral reef ecosystems are home to thousands of species, which depend on the health of coral reefs to survive.
In a series of UN reports, thousands of scientists and government reviewers agreed that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees C would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a livable climate. However, under current national climate plans, global warming is projected to reach about 3.2 degrees C by the end of the century.
Not Everything Is Wrong
Paper newspapers, radio, television, and websites are all dominated by bad news headlines. We are bombarded with negative news on all devices, which distorts our perspective on the future and inhibits our ability to impact positively. Why? The answer is that bad news attracts more than good news.
Marc Trussler of the University of Pennsylvania and Stuart Soroka of the University of California studied the type of news participants liked to read. Most opted for negative or bad news stories called "negativity bias."
They explain that we pay more attention to bad news because we generally believe the world is more optimistic than it is. "When it comes to our lives, most of us believe that we are better than average, and we hope that things will turn out well in the end. This pleasant view of the world makes a bad news story more surprising and relevant," they explain.
However, in his book "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think," innovation pioneer Peter H. Diamandis asserts that in many ways, the world is improving without ignoring or minimizing the major problems we still face around the world and invites us to see the world as it is, a world that continues to improve.
In his book, Diamandis lays out some of the good things that make the world better. The annual death rate from natural disasters has been plummeting over the last century, thanks to the impact of exponential technologies (satellites, smart sensors, networks, machine learning), which, by providing early warning systems, allow humans to better visualize, predict and model catastrophes and take action both to shelter and to anticipate the provision of any kind of relief in the event of a natural disaster.
Drones have also contributed to good things that improve the world. In the case of agriculture, for example, in Bangalore, the capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka and a center of high-tech industry, researchers at the Indian Institute of Science are fighting deforestation with drones equipped with cameras that drop seeds in areas they would otherwise be unable to explore. Their goal is to plant 10,000 acres in the region.
Diamandis, like award-winning science writer Steven Kotler, has documented how progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, broadband networking, digital manufacturing, nanomaterials, synthetic biology, and many other exponentially growing technologies will enable mankind to achieve, in the next two decades, advances far beyond those of the last 200 years that will meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet.
Good News in Other Sectors
Electric access is key to economic growth, living standards, and poverty reduction. According to data from the International Energy Agency, more people worldwide have access to electricity than ever before, while the absolute number of people without electricity is declining despite population growth.
India went from 45% access to electricity in 1990 to almost 80% in 2014, and Afghanistan saw an even more dramatic improvement from 0.16% of the population with access to electricity in 2000, to 89.5% in 2014.
And things may get even better: in 2016, solar power grew faster than any other fuel source for the first time in history, causing solar prices to continue to fall worldwide. The latest forecasts from GTM Research (The Generative Topographic Mapping, now known as Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables), report prices from $2.07 per watt in Japan to $0.65 per watt in India, with prices falling across all hard and soft costs.
Looking to the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy announced in September 2017 that utility-scale solar officially met the estimated 2020 generation cost targets at $1 per watt and energy consumption costs of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.
Meanwhile, in 2017 alone, wind power became cheaper than nuclear in the UK, with the cost of subsidies halved since 2015. Incidentally, during the 2015 subsidy auction in the UK, offshore wind farm projects got subsidies of between £114 and £120 per megawatt-hour. Two years later, two companies committed to a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt-hour.
Given that renewable energy sources will continue to become cheaper and more accessible, full electrification will be achieved at some point.
Exponential technologies are also making great strides in the healthcare sector. For example, not long ago, in China, a robot dentist successfully implanted 3D printed teeth in a patient; the only intervention by human medical personnel was to perform a slight configuration and a preliminary test.
Similarly, virtual reality is increasingly entering operating rooms. For example, in July 2017, doctors at the University of Minnesota employed it to prepare for a complicated and far from routine operation: separating a pair of conjoined twins at heart. Preparing with Virtual Reality provided the doctors with unanticipated insights that led them to move the operation forward by several months. Ultimately, the operation was successful, and more and more patients are likely to ask doctors to prepare for their operation in virtual reality with a customized 3D model.
Another surprising breakthrough is the CRISPR-Cas9 tool familiarly called 'genetic scissors' or 'genetic glue cutter,' which won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for its developers Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna. It is a simple and inexpensive tool that allows cutting and pasting DNA, cutting a gene that causes a disease, and replacing it with another that does not cause that problem. The tool is based on bacteria's natural mechanism to defend themselves against viruses. In August 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first-ever treatment that uses gene editing to transform a patient's cells into a "living drug."
Also in the Economy
To all of the above, we should add the positive impact digitalization has in many countries, especially in the economy and finance. Humanity has never been more prosperous and productive; technology drove much of this economic growth, and there are no signs of slowing down.
However, one particularly promising area of economic growth involves empowering the "unbanked" through a digital device, i.e., the nearly 2 billion people worldwide who lack access to a bank account or financial institution. Financial inclusion means enabling individuals and businesses to access useful financial products that meet their needs - transactions, payments, savings, credit, and insurance - delivered responsibly and sustainably. Ensuring that people worldwide can access a transaction account has been the World Bank Group (WBG) focus.
In September 2017, the government of Finland announced a partnership with MONI, the innovative digital financial services company, to create a digital money system for refugees by removing logistical barriers to financial transactions so they can participate in the economy and rebuild their lives. As a result, refugees can lend money, receive checks, and access funds through prepaid debit cards linked to digital identities on the blockchain without needing a bank.
Over time, governments have begun to invest in digitization, representing another good news story for citizens. For example, Estonia already has an electronic residency (e-Residency) program that allows residents to obtain government services and even set up businesses in the European Union without having to travel or live there. In August 2017, the Chinese government announced its intention to use blockchain technology to collect taxes and issue invoices.
In the food sector, globally, 18.6% of the population was undernourished in 1991; in 2015, it was down to 10.8%, and progress continues to be made as, at all times, technology is making scarce resources abundant. For example, bio-printed meat, genetically engineered crops, vertical farming, agricultural robots, and drones already exist.
One example of how food shortages and malnutrition have been tackled comes from Finland, where researchers create food from electricity. It's a machine that runs on renewable energy to produce nutritious single-cell proteins that will eventually help produce food anywhere, from famine-stricken deserts to space.
The Exponential Future
Because of the above, it is easy to conclude that we live in a bittersweet world; on the one hand, we have fewer global tragedies, but on the other hand, we are destroying the planet with our actions, to the extent that there are already companies that are thinking about how to establish life on another planet.
On the negative side, there is still hope for new ventures with a sustainability profile that will help solve major planetary problems; more innovative technology companies with a progressive stance, some of which are already a reality.
Climate activist Rebecka Carlsson, CEO of Heureka Ventures, a sustainable business studio that supports the establishment of environmentally friendly ventures, explained in an interview that although Industry 4.0, or exponential technology, does not automatically solve the climate challenge, it does have the potential to enable an exponential climate transition, as long as it is used correctly.
Consider the following examples:
Tree Planet, in South Korea, developed a mobile game in which in-game purchases and advertising revenue go toward planting trees in real life; since its launch in 2010, Tree Planet has planted more than 400,000 trees in 10 countries. Solidarity B2B, from Chile, considered a leader in the renewable energy sector in South America, sells and installs small and medium-sized photovoltaic installations on the roofs of companies so that they can work with a renewable energy source.
Relectrify is an Australian venture that develops battery packs that combine used battery cells with its technology to store solar energy, giving each one more life. Similarly, Uganda's Fenix International rents solar panels and batteries off-grid for as little as 35 cents a day, allowing people to work at night and not pay to charge their cell phones.
As you can see, startup culture is flourishing worldwide, with many companies trying to solve more pressing problems than the lack of yet another chat app.
Objectively, there is already a wide range of exponential technologies that can enable a better climate transition: from solar and wind power to energy storage; artificial intelligence to optimize everything; robotics, and several more are coming down the pipeline, all of which moreover, can imply colossal business potential. As a result, the world is witnessing a new market logic in which sustainability is a business disruptor, and innovation is becoming more important than invention.
According to Carlsson, the greatest potential lies in combining various exponential technologies with behavioral change to create better solutions than we could have imagined.
Being an exponential entrepreneur is a path that, in addition to representing a great business opportunity, can bring new solutions to the problems arising from climate change. Not everything we are living is bad and exponential entrepreneurship can bring solutions to climate change, improve our lives and protect the environment.
You can be one of them. Just ask yourself if you already have a good understanding of the fundamentals of sustainability science and the role of exponential technology in incentivizing behavioral changes toward a social movement that generates exponential solutions.
Try to understand better how fast change is happening and think about how to plan for it; not just understand that things are moving fast, but determine how fast they are moving.
Suppose your reflections on this shed enough light on it. In that case, you will most likely have a much better foundation for developing a venture designed to generate changes that, with the right momentum, will contribute to solving climate change issues.
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