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Solutions for uncertain times
My opening remarks this morning for Solutions Summit 2023
These were my opening remarks this morning for Solutions Summit 2023, a gathering of elected officials and others at the US House of Representatives and online. The focus today was Climate, with me, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Rebecca Solnit, Mark Z. Jacboson, Xinge Wang, and Daniel Stephen. (The Summit continues, this week and next, with days focusing on Economy, Health and Democracy.)
Thank you, Eleanor LeCain, for the kind introduction, and for the honor of being here today. And thank you ladies and gentlemen, for your interest and for joining us. To complement what Eleanor said, let me add this perspective on the perspectives I'll share: Companies retain me to help them design strategies that make money _and_ make sense, that mobilize employees and customers, and that position themselves for a future that's coming at us fast. Governments engage me to help develop climate strategies and economic development strategies that build community and win bipartisan support. Leaders and emerging leaders hire me to help significantly up their game in tumultuous times.
In this work, I stand on shoulders of too many others to name, but I thank them here for their contributions to what I'm about to say.
I don't have to tell you that we face a world in crisis. But we're also in the midst of a once-in-several-lifetimes transformation—in how we make things and how we move people and things; how we build and update/modernize and live in buildings and communities; how we grow food and fiber and timber…and care for the soil that grows them; and how we relate to the living world—the thin film of life on this 8,000 mile diameter ball of rock hurtling through space—on which everything we value depends.
What's the roadmap?
Transition to 100% renewable energy, as Mark Jacobson will discuss later today.
Grow food/fiber/timber in ways that nourish the living soils on which not just productivity but the global water cycles and climate depend.
End the perverse incentives that stand in the way of the world we want—and that send us the wrong direction.
I'm here to tell you that this transformation is in motion, moving faster than I ever would have expected, but not fast enough. It's being led by business, but government has crucial roles to play.
I'm here to tell you that we know how to do this. While new technologies are coming and welcome, we have in hand all the technology and know-how we need to build comfortable buildings that produce rather than consume energy, communities that don't depend on gridlock, factories that produce the things we need without the toxic wastes we don't need. That we're already doing this, but need to do faster and smarter.
How do I know this? Because it's already happening all around us, in cities, regions, states, countries around the world, and in businesses the world generating more profits and more jobs. Businesses not driven only by regulation, but by a clear-eyed recognition of where markets are moving and of what the laws of physics require.
The returns—tangible and intangible—are huge: cleaner environment, healthier water and air, lower operating costs and higher profits, better insurance rates and real estate values, ability to attract employers and retain employees, and more. The cost of inaction and what Alex Steffen calls "predatory delay" are huge too.
There are pivotal roles for government at every level. How it builds, spends, and operates. What it buys, and what it requires of vendors. How it shapes our communities through planning, zoning, and building codes, and through transportation policy and services. And more.
The key challenge for all of us: "Be realistic." But realistic doesn't mean aim low and go slow. It means engage reality!
It means Face the physics; if we put and store more energy into a climate-driving atmospheric system, that system will change.
It means Learn from the biology—3.8 billion years of open source research and development gifted to us by the living world
It means Reinvent the chemistry—from our current linear take/make/waste system to one that's cyclical, w/o persistent toxics—just like living the living world.
It means, in fact, Reinventing everything—from how we build to how we travel to how we plan.
It means Stop subsidizing the world we don't want and invest instead in the world we do want.
Because every dollar we move—as government, business, and households—is a vote for a future. *The election we hold every day!*
Are we too late? I don't know. I'm a futurist who's given up trying to predict the future in a world in in such turmoil. But I do know this: the advice that George Washington Carver gave us 100 years ago is still sound:
Start where you are, with what you have.
Make something of it, and never be satisfied.