The Acceleration of Clean Technology

Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News

They say the climate is on the brink of collapse, and the world’s capacity to take much more is nearly at its limit. We hear words of doom all around us, but is it too late, or can humanity solve this existential crisis? Technology and the adoption of clean technology are accelerating by leaps and bounds. We can get ahead of this by using advances in alternatives to fossil fuels, combining them with AI and machine learning, and then applying them to existing systems. 

Will clean technology will ramp up in time to save the day? Image: Unsplash

Who Knew?

In 2015, I was invited to speak at the UN COP21 event in Paris. By December 2015, the company I founded had been building electric ships for six years. Globally, dozens of large commercial maritime vessels were using our technology to reduce or eliminate thousands of tonnes of carbon each year. 

But in 2015, nobody even knew it was a thing. 

When we made our hour-long presentation, rather than a standard slide deck with stats and figures, instead, we had a rolling slide show of images of the ships that had our technology installed. At the end of the presentation, we announced that all these ships, some of them working in the worst, most polluting industries, were clean. Some of them, powered by wind, hydro or solar electricity, have a completely zero emission operation. When we were done, the audience actually cheered, and some even had tears in their eyes – of hope I think.

Why were they so affected? It was because, in 2015, we couldn’t yet see the light. Electric vehicles were a toy, a plaything of the wealthy. Solar was still expensive compared to coal or gas-fired generation and wind? Well, wind was still so expensive the cost was laughable. Yet the early adopters could see the writing on the wall and went all in. They electrified their ships, developed cheaper and better electric vehicles, deployed wind and solar at scale and reduced the cost. All the while, public pressure and boards of directors held sustainability teams accountable. Investors looked for clean options, all trying to find a position in whatever was the next emerging technology to revolutionize the global energy industry. 

But it didn’t happen with one big bang. It was more subtle and gradual. You might not have even known it was happening if you weren’t actively involved. Poet TS Elliot wrote that the world would not end with a bang but a whimper, but I believe the end is not yet here. I believe the next stage of humanity will begin with a whimper. A small collective set of actions by lawmakers, entrepreneurs and individuals will accelerate the green transition – a transition that is already occurring. 

A lot has Changed in Seven Years

Fast forward from Paris COP21 to today; only seven years, and the world is a far different, much more green place. Electric and hybrid vehicles are now standard offerings, public transit has been improved, cars are being replaced with new modes of emission-free personal transportation, and companies like Uber are reducing the need for car ownership even further. Electric small planes are in use, and zero-emission trans-continental jets are almost ready. All new build commercial ships are being designed with energy storage onboard or are making design provision for it in the future. Deploying new solar is cheaper than maintaining an existing coal-fired generating plant, creates better jobs and a more secure grid. Space-Based Solar Power is being tested in orbit around Earth, and artificial intelligence is being deployed to identify the most efficient ways to run our cities. Drones are planting tree seeds at a rate exponentially faster than anything humans could achieve, and nature based solutions like mangroves and oyster beds are being used to prevent storm damage and to clean the water near cities. 

The rate at which all this change is occurring is only accelerating, and new laws and regulations such as those set at climate COP27 and biodiversity COP15 only help this process.

We will see more banks and institutions divesting from fossil assets, and when the tipping point has been reached, even the fossil fuel companies will bail out.

Will it be enough? Will it be too little too late? My instinct says no, it won’t. My instinct and the evidence set out for anyone to see says that we will make the bell. We will pull it off, even if there is some discomfort along the way. 

We can do this. We ARE doing this. At night we can’t see the sunlight, but we know it’s still there somewhere on the other side of the world, shining brightly.

1 COMMENT

  1. 8 billion people. What of wild habitat and biodiversity? Will we save only ourselves? Is technology truly THE answer? Or do we need a rebirth of nature-love and simplicity, and a call for 5 (4,3?) billion as a cap on human population?

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