Does the technology to stop the worst of climate change already exist – and if doesn’t, can we afford to wait for it?
“It's not very clear to me that with the technology that we have today we can move into a world where nine, 10 billion people are living middle or upper-middle-class lives and we’re still keeping emissions at a level that are sustainable,” says Valerie Shen, Chief Operating officer of the venture capital firm G2VP.
Shen notes that many companies are deploying technologies that already work in ways that are sustainable and profitable, and that contribute to solving the climate crisis. But she believes that new technologies are needed to reduce emissions sufficiently.
“My team doesn't feel that we necessarily have the expertise to be investing in some of these risks,” she adds,”but I don't think that that necessarily means no one should be doing it.”
Inventor and entrepreneur Saul Griffith sees it differently. “The technology is there,” he says enthusiastically, “It’s now down to the politics and the financing that could actually make our future come true where we get to live our lives, have cheaper energy, and do it with zero carbon.”
For Griffith, getting to zero carbon is technologically possibly now, but only if we commit immediately to electrifying everything. “The biggest efficiency measure there is by far is the act of electrification and driving those electrons with renewable generation,” he says, “It needs to be not just true for electric vehicles, it needs to be true for the heating systems in our homes, it needs to be true for our new power plants, so all new power plants need to be solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal, or something that doesn’t emit carbon.”
In an ideal world, existing technologies would be fully deployed alongside continued innovation. “I think the sort of incremental innovation we've seen in established energy technology and things like storage are very important because that’s what driven the cost down,” says Michael Wilshire, Head of Strategy at Bloomberg NEF. “I think [innovation] is actually something that’s speeding up and that’s a very important message I think for the future.”
This program was recorded on August 18, 2020.