This is a transcript of ‘Episode 3 – A simple 3-step recipe for success’ by Adam Dorr. The entire series is available on YouTube. The book on which the series is based, “Brighter: Optimism, Progress, and the Future of Environmentalism” is available on Amazon.
Hi everyone, Adam Dorr from RethinkX here. Thanks for joining me. In this video, we’re going to continue exploring how to rethink solving environmental problems through the lens of new technology and disruption. So, let’s dive right in.
Environmental problems are real and they’re serious, but they are solvable with a simple three-step approach.
A Simple Three-Step Approach for Solving Environmental Problems
Number one: Develop better technology and then switch to it when it becomes economically competitive.
Number two: Use that technology to reduce ongoing environmental damage.
Number three: Use that technology to repair past environmental damage.
Now, as simple as this recipe for success may seem, it’s not necessarily obvious. There has been intense disagreement and debate about the role of technology in environmental discourse for decades. So, it does take a non-trivial conceptual leap just to get to step one, and some people have more bias and baggage to overcome than others in getting there.
Step One: Choose to Accelerate Technology Development
For step one, we, as the public, can choose to accelerate technology development. It’s our choice through how we fund our universities and our government labs and other institutions. We don’t need to rely solely on private innovation. And then, once viable commercial products do emerge, we can choose public policies like regulation to incentivize faster adoption and deployment, especially in the early days when the technologies are still expensive.
We can subsidize them and we can penalize older technologies. However, a new technology must have the potential to eventually stand on its own merits and be economically competitive without assistance in order for its market dominance and its disruption to be assured.
Step Two: Adopt New Clean Technologies
For step two, adoption of new clean technologies displaces older, dirtier ones, and that eliminates ongoing environmental damage at its source. So, in environmental jargon, this is known as ‘mitigation’. The most familiar example is the replacement of fossil fuels by clean energy from solar and wind power which mitigates greenhouse gas emissions. To invoke a medical analogy, mitigation means “stop doing harm”.
Step Three: Use New Technology to Repair Environmental Damage
For step three, the new technology also helps us repair the damage that we’ve already done to the environment in the past. In environmental jargon, this is known as ‘ecological restoration’ or just ‘restoration’. Now, we could use clean, cheap energy from solar power, for example, to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and oceans with methods like ocean alkalinity enhancement and reforestation. So, to continue the medical analogy, restoration means “healing past harms”.
Now, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Anyone who’s ever gone to the gym knows that. So, the disruption of old technologies by new ones is often difficult and painful, and that’s especially true when it’s the foundational sectors of energy, transportation, food, and labor that we’re talking about here. The livelihoods of millions of people will be wiped out by the collapse of industries that are based on older, dirtier technologies, just as they have been many times before throughout history.
Prepare in Advance to Protect and Support Those who are Negatively Impacted
Now, the lesson there is that we must be prepared far in advance to protect and to support those who are negatively impacted, and to do that we need to get ready. We need to get ready for the disruptions that we know are coming. Now, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach that works everywhere, so we also need to begin experimenting. We need to learn from one another’s successes and failures as quickly as possible. It also means that denying and resisting these disruptions, or even just procrastinating, will only invite chaos and suffering once the flood of change arrives.
What We Need is More Prosperity
Let me also reiterate a central theme in my book and throughout my work, which is that we fail to solve environmental problems today not for lack of awareness or lack of concern but for lack of prosperity. For example, a substantial fraction of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans originates from just a handful of rivers in poorer countries. Now, those rivers aren’t full of trash because the people who live near them don’t know or don’t care about polluting the environment. They’re no different than you or me, and it would be arrogant and bigoted to believe otherwise. Rather, those rivers are full of trash because the nearby communities can’t afford the expensive waste management systems that we, environmentalists in the wealthiest countries, take for granted.
So, what that means is that the solution to trash in those rivers is not education or advocacy. Those communities don’t need to be lectured. What they need is more prosperity, and the best way to achieve that is by making technological progress.
Our team’s research at RethinkX has shown how new, clean technology will enable us to solve our most daunting environmental problems, including climate change. So, I want to stress that this isn’t about having an optimistic attitude. I titled my book “Brighter” because we have good reasons to be optimistic about the future now.
Eco-Anxiety is Taking a Dreadful Toll
And this comes at a time when despair is rampant. The false belief that climate change is an unsolvable problem, that we’re all just doomed, has eroded an entire generation’s faith in human progress. Eco-anxiety is taking a dreadful toll on the well-being of millions of people worldwide, especially young people. Let me also state clearly and unequivocally that the scientific community has been complicit in cultivating this corrosive mindset, because far too many of us have failed to study and understand technology well enough to see how it offers the only viable path forward for our civilization. This failure is inexcusable and the consequences have been grave. I’ll cover all of that in one of my next videos.
We Already Have All of the Tools that We Need
But for now, what’s important is to recognize that we can, and we must, do better. But thankfully, a new groundswell of optimism is building alongside all of the gloom and doom as the rise of clean technologies is making real progress seem possible once again.
So, the takeaway message from all of this is that we can do it. Yes, we face big environmental challenges, but the situation isn’t hopeless because we are not helpless. In point of fact, we already have all of the tools that we need for the job. We just have to get to work.
Okay, that’s it for this video. There are links to the book and RethinkX’s other publications in the description below, and if you’re new to the channel, please do consider subscribing and giving this video a thumbs up. It really does help increase our visibility and it magnifies the impact of our work.
Thanks, everyone, for watching and remember, the future is brighter than you think. We’ll see you all next time. Take care.