The conversation about climate change is often pessimistic - as if the world is already passing a point of no return where nothing can be done to counteract the worst effects of climate change: rising sea levels, more catastrophic storms, bizarre weather patterns, droughts, and all of the other harm that is apparently inevitably bound to befall humanity.
However, some leading thinkers in the field of energy and green technology believe that it is not too late - there are many promising technologies that are becoming more available and commercially viable than ever before, and these green technologies (along with some changes to public policy) have the potential to save humanity from the worst effects of climate change.
Here are a few of the tech world's biggest causes for optimism in fighting climate change:
Climate Change Technology Won't Happen Overnight – and That's OK!
According to this interview with Edward A. Parson, faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA, many people are wrong to think of climate change solutions in terms of a magic bullet or breakthrough discovery that's going to make the biggest difference. But the truth is more complicated – many of the most powerful technologies to fight climate change are incremental and dispersed throughout the entire global systems of energy production, transportation and more. Parson said, “"It's a huge change that has to happen, and it doesn't have to happen on a dime…A lot of what has to happen to change the energy system isn't discovering the brilliant new breakthrough technology that's going to make it all better. It's rolling new, better technologies out through the whole system and getting them deployed and used."
Parson describes the process of fighting climate change to steering a big tanker ship. Even if cheap solar energy became immediately available, it would still take decades to implement the technology worldwide. However, Parson also said that many of the technologies needed to counteract climate change are “already available or close to development” – such as renewable clean energy and better energy storage.
Big Data to the Rescue?
Another underrated aspect of climate change technology is Big Data analytics and machine learning. According to this article, IBM's Watson supercomputer will soon be able to harness the power of billions of data points to provide more exact weather forecasts – and with better weather forecasts, airlines can design flight routes more efficiently to save significant amounts of jet fuel. Smart thermostat and smart appliances are becoming more affordable and more common, giving people the ability to monitor and reduce energy consumption.
Green Technology Adoption on the Rise
One of the classic laws of economics is that as technology becomes more widely adopted, it also tends to become more affordable – and today, technology is being adopted more quickly than ever before. This is also true for green technology like solar power – and according to stats cited in this article, the cost of installing solar panels has dropped by 70 percent since 1998. If solar panels become cheap enough, more people will be able to afford to install these devices on their homes with as little effort as signing up for satellite TV service.
Climate change is still a pressing concern which is likely to bring massive costs, disruption and human suffering – but perhaps instead of thinking about it in terms of pessimism and hopelessness, keep in mind that there are many promising technologies on the horizon that can help reduce fossil fuel consumption and power a cleaner energy future for the world. It won't happen overnight, but it's already happening.