Spaghetti and climate change
Tackling climate change through entrepreneurship
In Sustainable Nation we are tasked with tackling climate change through entrepreneurship. Making sure Ireland Inc. gets a disproportionate size of the biggest business opportunity since the internet.
The perfect business storm in capital expenditure (1 trillion in the next 20 years), financial metrics (non-sustainable is deemed risky ), government regulations and consumerism.
Climate of Hope
So when I picked up Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope, I was hoping for something interesting.
Not going dark
The book does not focus on the dark scenarios, which is that if the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat
Lets make money
Instead of arguing about making sacrifices, let’s talk about how we can make money. Instead of pitting the environment versus the economy, let’s consider market principles and economic growth. Our kind of language. However, the book does not deliver on its promise. It is dark, and it is very vague about how to make money.
Climate change is like cooking spaghetti sauce
The book is very good at explaining climate change. It is really quite simple. We have overloaded the atmosphere with heat-trapping gas, and the rest are just details. Look what happens when you heat up a pan of spaghetti sauce. Bubbling and splattering away. That is the weather effect.
The recipe of carbon dioxide, black carbon, methane, nitrous oxide (fertiliser), chlorine, fluorine and bromine will make the weather more volatile. The cost and impacts are enormous:
- coastal storm damage could grow to $35 billion annually.
- agriculture could face yield losses of more than 10 percent.
- increasing power demand caused by rising temperatures could cost ratepayers an additional $12 billion annually.
- according to the World Health Organization, seven million people die from air pollution each year.
- if all the glaciers in the world were to melt, sea levels could rise as much as 230 feet, putting most of the world’s population centres underwater.
- high-tide flooding in Miami Beach has increased by 400 percent.
- by 2100, as a result of rising sea levels, Boston could flood twice daily.
- around three billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein, or as a source of income.
- more than 90 percent of the increased heat we’ve created over the last century has ended up being stored in the oceans.
- hotter temperatures will expand the areas in which mosquito-transmitted diseases like Zika, West Nile virus, and dengue can thrive
- the cost of Coal exceeded $100 billion.
- in Europe, coal power production causes over 22,000 premature deaths a year.
- in India, it causes 100,000 premature deaths a year.
- every new coal-fired power plant in Indonesia is projected to kill more than 24,000 over its forty-year lifetime.
- American’s throw away $218 billion of food each year (that is 1% of their GDP).
- agriculture generates 30 percent of total methane, mainly from livestock and rice paddies.
- oil now accounts for 34–36 percent of fossil fuel emissions.
- about 25 percent of global black carbon comes from either stationary or mobile diesel engines.
- “imported emissions” are now 55 percent of Great Britain’s total climate impact.
- a gallon of tar sands oil from Alberta uses only 10 percent of its energy content to power a car on the streets of Chicago. The rest is wasted in mining, shipping and refining the oil, internal heat losses in the engines, and idling.
- since the 1980s the number of registered weather-related loss events has tripled, and inflation-adjusted insurance losses from these events have increased from an annual average of around $10 billion in the 1980s to around $50 billion over the past decade.
- the number of Chinese cities experiencing flooding has doubled since 2008.
- one-quarter of the world’s population already faces water scarcity.
It is easily solvable
For example, solar panels, small batteries, and LED lighting make it possible to do away with the whole grid and instead light households, minimally, for a one-time cost that seems to average about $200 a family. It the ability to bear the full upfront cost that is killing it. Climate-friendly infrastructure is typically cheaper to operate than the traditional models but more expensive to build, because the technology has to be paid for up front.
Buildings are another example. Buildings are responsible for consuming more than half the world’s electricity, along with plenty of gas, oil, and HFCs to power boilers, air conditioners, and refrigerators. Also, construction materials — cement, steel, plastic, glass, aluminum — are another major driver of emissions. At one point during China’s construction boom, one-third of its carbon emissions were associated with making cement. However, It is very easy to make better buildings down to net zero.
You have to wonder why it is not happening yet
The question to ask is where are governments, development agencies and banks investing? Believe it or not, governments are still tilting in favour of fossil fuels. Globally, governments provided $493 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels in 2014. Because lobbying is a $3 billion industry in Washington alone — and that is not counting the lobbying that goes on in state capitals and city halls. That money (the lobbying and the subsidies) should be spent on climate impact measures.
Power to the cities and nature
The authors think that cities are the solution. Power to mayors to implement local solutions. They believe nature itself can solve. Trees, forests, environmentally friendly agriculture, flood plains, wetlands. Mangroves, oysters and spending money on restoring what we have destroyed. Biomimicry at massive scale. Why reinvent what nature does best?
Open source innovation
They belief in open source innovation. For example, Embrapa. Embrace is the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. It tests and disseminated a broad system of agricultural interventions suited for tropical conditions. In the ten years after its launch, agricultural production rose by 365 percent, without genetically engineered private patents and without destroying rain forest for new cropland.
We can stop global warming. Not by slowing down economies but by speeding them up. Not by depending on national governments but by empowering cities, businesses, and citizens. Not by scaring people about the future but by showing them the immediate benefits of taking action. If we accomplish this, we will be healthier and wealthier. We will live longer and better lives. We will have less poverty and political instability.
Here is where the book really falls down. All we need to do is (in no particular order, but maybe start with 7).
- reform the subsidies
- increase transparency
- invest in natural resources
- force monopolies to compete
- realign incentives
- improve liquidity
- fix the political failure
The success stories
Finally, the ask for more people to tell climate success stories.That we can do. Look at the over 900 entries for Climatelaunchpad, the biggest green business idea accelerator in the world. In Ireland look at Mimergy, Hexafly, Oxymem, MagGrow, NanoPower and I can go on for a while (and happy to do so on request). If you know of Irish examples, let us know.
The future is bright. Green entrepreneurship is the future.