I have been writing about climate change for about 22 seconds. I spoke to a dozen venture capitalists about how they see the world of climate change. I’ve read all the reports, talked to dozens of founders, and when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their 3,675-page report the other day, I took a couple of deep breaths, took a benzo to (ineffectively) stop an episode of anxiety and I began to read.
The thing to know about the IPCC is that while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly comprehensive. More than 270 authors, more than 34,000 sources, and a comprehensive peer review process that produced more than 62,000 comments and pieces of feedback mean that it is one of the most extensively sourced and researched annual reports we have on climate change and what is happening in this area. blue dot we’re on, spinning around a molten ball of death and fire at 67,000 miles per hour.
The main conclusion of the report is that “it is not too late, but we are beyond prevention”. In other words, even if we somehow magically manage to reduce all new emissions, we’re still pretty upset, as I think kids say these days. It has been beyond frustrating, over the last few years, to hear the regression from “argument” to “is this real?” and “it may be real, but it wasn’t our fault”, and the entire political machine of the world’s largest economy hides its ignorant heads in the sand for four years while the planet hangs its proverbial head in shame and despair over a barbecue in calls. grill.
The report doesn’t mince words: we face disruption to people, ecosystems and food supplies, and we face a deeply unsettling and unknown future. In our lifetimes, in the next 20 years, we will see some very significant changes in the way the planet eats, sleeps, and breathes. She is a planet that has been under observation for as long as I live, and the doctors are scratching their heads about whether it is time to transfer her to the intensive care unit, because things are not looking good.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, chairman of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a serious and growing threat to our well-being and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”
The truth is that the world faces multiple unavoidable climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C. The cruel misfortune here is that even if we manage to stay below 1.4°C, that doesn’t mean we’ll magically be fine. And the second trick is that even if this level of warming of 1.5°C is temporarily exceeded, there will be additional serious impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks to society will increase, including for low-lying coastal settlements and infrastructure.
The tech exodus from California to Miami, famed as one of the world’s lowest-tier cities, which will be nearly habitable if current trends continue, hurts my soul. To me, it’s an indication of the short-term thinking of the tech bros and, by extension, the venture capital industry itself. In a world where venture capital operates on 7- to 10-year timescales, but the event horizon for abject disaster is just beyond that time frame, we simply don’t have the financial incentives for venture capitalists to risk solve the bigger problems. When the event horizon gets close enough for venture capital may have a significant impact on the problem, we are already standing with ankle-deep water and portable and personal air purifiers strapped to our faces.
That’s not to say that the $40 billion invested in climate startups last year is ineffective. Nor that it isn’t useful to address some of the issues that climate startups tackle. But what’s missing, overall, is a bold vision to really want to roll up your sleeves and make a real difference. The number of venture capitalists who, on record, are willing to admit that they’re in it for the money and that it’s a nice bonus to save the planet is staggering. Maybe this bothers me unnecessarily, but oceans are rising and empires are falling, and for every time one famous millionaire slaps another famous millionaire in a globally televised feel-good parade for the Hollywood elite, we get swept up in the tide and forget about the weather. Until the next hurricane puts all the local grocery stores out of cat food, or the next wildfire season burns two-thirds of California and the pendulum swings back to worrying about the environment for one hot minute.
“This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates the natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than previous IPCC assessments,” Lee said. “It emphasizes the urgency for immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.
In a country that gives as little shit as it can get away with under late-stage capitalism, I am growing increasingly uneasy about our chances of ever being able to navigate through the oncoming storm. The COVID-19 pandemic fills me with equal parts fear and hope. Fear, because at the level of individual responsibility, it’s shameful that we can’t find agreement in our hearts that wearing masks to take care of each other, a $0.10 piece of cloth that can save a human’s life, is a good idea. What are we doing with ourselves? Hope, because it showed that when the world’s leading scientists agree to unite around a common goal (well, sure, with a huge financial prize dangling in front of the scientific community), we could go from identifying a new coronavirus to deploying a vaccine in a anus.
The cynic in me thinks “sure, it’s easy to support a vaccine when people are being transported to the hospital on boats,” but it goes to show that with the right incentives, humans really can move mountains, one pebble at a time, if we must. The profound tragedy of climate change is that people are dying, but we are all, collectively, a bunch of dumb, uneducated tadpoles in a giant simmering vat. We’re not going to make it out alive, but the pot is heating up slowly enough that we can enjoy the bath water until we die, one by one. The poor and the poor first, of course.
Sound like a world you want to live in? Yes me neither. So here’s my challenge: Do you have talent? Skills? Means? A brain that works, a pair of hands that can help? So stop making dog-walking apps, forget about web3, and stop making stupid laser pointers destined for landfills that can target mosquitoes. We are, collectively, better than that. If you want to change what you’re doing to address one aspect of the climate crisis, do it. If you’re happy where you are, use your social capital to influence the way your company does business. Are you carbon neutral? Can your business recycle, use cleaner energy, travel less, switch energy providers, etc.? So do that. Set goals beyond the recommended minimums and don’t let your communities, be it your neighborhood, your business, your family or your friends, get away with it without concern and without taking action.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a short and fast closing window to secure a livable future,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. Listen to him and the works of 34,000 groups of scientists.
If it turns out that saving the planet isn’t the right thing to do, we can always choose to burn it to the ground at a later date. For now, let’s keep our options open, eh?