We have enough climate technology. What we need is political will.

ddecades ago, the state of California tried to deal a major blow to climate change, but failed. The state passed an ambitious rule in 1990 requiring auto companies to slowly replace their offerings with electric vehicles (EVs). But in 2002, the state withdrew the policy. Part of the reason was that political car companies, aided by the Bush administration, fought the state every step of the way. But the EVs of the day weren’t very good either — the best deals in the business could barely go 80 miles on a single charge.

Since then we have come a long way. Today’s EVs work great, and so does the rest of the widely available technology — renewables, battery storage, heat pumps, insulation — needed to help us out of our climate mess. The reason for the current absence of climate action — that is, the intoxicating, irritating and utterly pointless suicide pact of our world leaders on fossil fuels — has little to do with the need for further technological innovation. According to the most recent IPCC report on climate change published this week, a consistent lack of political will, the failure of financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels, and the persistence of the entrenched interests at stake is more to blame. to pull out all the stops. barrel of oil and bucket of coal from the earth.


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I write about technology and climate change. For me and others charged with reporting on our current crisis and the systems we have in place to resolve it, getting our framing right is important. While the latest, flashiest technologies still in development are interesting, they aren’t necessarily the most important. The fact is, according to the world’s leading climate scientists, the decarbonisation tools we have today are cheap and work well. The price of solar energy has fallen by 85% since 2010, while wind energy is half as expensive. And right now, we just don’t have the time to wait for technology that isn’t ready right now. “We need to reach a peak in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 at the latest,” said Tom Evans, researcher at climate think tank E3G. “All those technologies that are speculative, that have not been tested and tried, will not be able to deliver in that time frame.”

The most pressing issue is getting politicians and business to quickly scale up the technologies we already have to implement immediate emissions reductions and prevent global warming from spiraling out of control. But you may not necessarily hear that in much of the public conversation about climate change these days. Reporters often write about burgeoning technologies such as machines to suck carbon out of the air as fix-its to climate change. Climate investors such as actor Robert Downey Jr. make ridiculous claims that such technologies are “just as important” such as instantly scaling proven, widely available renewable energy solutions. And politicians like Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia are ending policies that would dramatically expand green energy rollouts while wasting billions of dollars on controversial, unproven technologies like blue hydrogen.

That’s not to say that all of these technologies are useless or unworthy of investment (for example, decarbonization technology will likely be needed to offset hard-to-decarbonize industries, such as aerospace). But we cannot characterize the climate crisis as a technology problem to be solved by sloppy innovators and climate VC funds if their solutions will not be ready until long after our emissions reduction deadlines have come and gone. Frameworks like that make it sound like it’s okay if we blow past the atmosphere’s carbon thresholds, and just hope that technologies like carbon capture or fission energy will later help us curb the problem — an insanely risky gamble about the fate of human civilization. . They also tend to favor industries that want to use technology solutions as a distraction from real climate action; For example, Shell has promoted efforts to develop brand new decarbonisation technologies while funding advertising campaigns to oppose legislation that would lead to short-term emissions reductions.

Instead, says Jamal Raad, director of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, we need to keep our focus on the policy domain, where we in the US are on the cusp of rambling through legislation to support current green technologies and reduce emissions. on the time scale required by science. “As someone who has worked in politics for 15 years, I understand more than anyone that it is messy and filthy,” he says. “People would like to think that you can skip it in a way to solve problems. But unfortunately that is not possible.”

For someone who writes about technology, it’s not necessarily nice to hear that scientific progress isn’t enough – that the fate of the world depends on politicians. But when you consider how far behind we are in the race to decarbonise the world, and how our leaders seem unwilling or unable to act against vested interests in fossil fuels to solve the problem, we must be honest with ourselves. Scientists and engineers have already developed the technologies that can save us. What we need now is the courage to use them.

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write to Alejandro de la Garza at alejandro.delagarza@time.com.

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