The Financial Express

Fighting climate change for peaceful coexistence in prosperity

| Updated: April 22, 2021 20:42:19

Fighting climate change for peaceful coexistence in prosperity

Global unity and prosperity for peaceful coexistence have never been a reality for the human race. Our history is riddled with incidences of war and war-like situations for protecting as well as invading the territory of prosperity, often at the cost of life. On the other hand, innovation has been a driver of wealth creation for driving prosperity. There is a saying that necessity is the mother of invention. History tells us that war had been the greatest necessity for mobilising resources to fuel our creative engines to make scientific discoveries and inventions. It happens to be that the technology invention for the purposes of sharpening weapons also led to peacetime civilian innovations, driving economic growth and prosperity. Hence, whatever affluence we have gained out of major technological inventions did not have root in the purpose of peaceful coexistence. Instead, hostility has so far fueled our invention and innovation engines. For this reason, long-time global peace often leads to a lack of prosperity-- slowing down economic growth. But Climate change is a big issue. It poses a threat of massive destruction to the whole human race-- far more than all the past wars, including WWII and the cold war. Unlike other wars, climate change is a war to be fought by all nations, at all levels. Why can we not turn this agenda for scientific discoveries and technology inventions for driving our prosperity in a united manner?

Let's look into the history of the growth of technology inventions leading to fortune and improvement of quality of living standards. One of the notable ones has been the airplane. Wright Brothers' flyer emerged in primitive form. For almost 30 years, it did not find any civilian applications. The idea had to move further. But what was the source of fund and stimulus for ideas to keep improving the primitive flying machine? It was the military. Initially, the first world war, subsequently followed by World War II. Let's look into our kitchen. A highly useful microwave oven came from the Radar technology developed for the purpose of fighting wars. The list of technologies having roots in defence technologies appears to be endless. Some of the notable ones are the internet, computer, and mobile phones. In the absence of defence contracts, firms would not have got either creative stimulus or money to keep improving silicon chips forming the Silicon Valley. Even Apple's magical innovation engine is fueled by technologies built for the purpose of fighting wars. Starting from mouse, graphical user interface, click wheel, Siri, to multi-touch, the list of Apple's core technologies having military root is endless. In fact, Apple has been acquiring, fine-tuning, and integrating them into innovative architecture to churn out one after another innovative feature of its magical products.  

Technology ideas have dual roles in the climate change effect. Yes, technologies like steam engines, power plants, internal combustion engines, or jet engines are at the core in causing emission and creating greenhouse-like effects. But those technologies have been contributing to our richness too. Continued technology progression has been contributing to the steady growth of living standards of a growing number of people while making the climate change effect worse day by day. Fortunately, the advancement of technology further offers the opportunity of creating additional wealth and lowering the climate change effect simultaneously. For example, the idea of increasing the burning efficiency of biomass in cooking stoves improves the energy supply and reduces emission. Summarily, better means of harvesting energy from the sun, air, or water lowers emission and increases energy supply.

The climate change effect can not be dealt with either through regulation or a couple of big ideas coming from a few countries. Instead, we need to empower every individual, family, firm, and nation to continuously keep generating ideas and deploying them for increasing wealth extraction from natural resources while causing less harm. Each of the ideas may have a very small effect. Fortunately, the compounding effect of generating and applying ideas by billions of people in a consistent manner over a decade will certainly create a huge positive effect. For example, a small idea of how to give better support to a growing plant or reduce evaporation of water from plants' roots may lead to higher yield and lower usages of water. Well, at the individual level, its implication in dollar terms could be very little.  Let's imagine that we make billions of people aware of the intensity of the growing curse of climate change. And we empower them with the capability of generating and applying ideas in their work and living to lessen the effect bit by bit. It's likely that their creative mind will start responding to innovative means for making a positive contribution. Particularly, if we succeed in showing the path of innovation for reducing the climate change effect in a profitable manner, there is a strong likelihood that an innovation culture will start taking root. Bring a positive change at the cultural level for mitigating climate change agenda with the cumulative effect of incremental innovation appears to be a very powerful means.

In addition to fostering innovation at the grassroots level through incremental steps, we should also focus on macro issues like emission-free energy production, distribution, and consumption. How we can develop critical technologies or system-level capacities should be the agenda at the national and global levels. In many cases, we cannot succeed with the effort of a single nation alone. For example, the lithium-ion battery offers the hope of energy storage for emission-free transportation and for dealing with the intermittence issue of renewable sources. As we know, the progress which has been made so far is not the success of a single country alone. The basic invention has roots in the US and the UK. But the contribution made by the Japanese for commercial applications is equally important. Further, the role of Africa in supplying raw materials and China's role in refining them for making the batteries are equally complimentary. For the take-off of electric vehicles, risk-taking investors and also governments have been playing an important role in harnessing this climate change-friendly important technology.   

It's time to accept that climate change is a single most burning agenda in front of the human race. It's the outcome of our necessity of meeting growing consumption out of depleting resources. Measuring different parameters and ringing alarm bells is not enough. Similarly, placing regulations on production and consumption is not going to offer us sustainable solutions either. We must succeed with the agenda of producing more while reducing harm to the environment. The only solution is to unleash our creativity at all levels. It happens to be that every human being is blessed with the inherent ability of creativity. All of us should be firing our creative engines for producing ideas and applying them. Starting from the fisherwomen of the remote village of Bangladesh to the top-notch scientists at the US national laboratories or Japanese universities should have a topmost necessity of invention for reducing climate change effect.

Our challenge is to make human minds aware of the climate change problem and empower them with knowledge and tools to give stimulation to fire their creative engines to come up with innovative ideas and apply them. There is a need for a system capacity for systematic ideation and innovation to solve this pressing problem in a collaborative manner for peacefully living in prosperity. Instead of keeping the world divided into two halves as idea and object suppliers, it's time to democratise wealth creation out of ideas while causing less harm to the environment.  The focus should not only be limited at the country level but also, most importantly, we should empower every individual of every country as an innovator for driving an endless flow of ideas for fighting our pressing climate change problem and creating prosperity for peaceful coexistence simultaneously.

 M Rokonuzzaman, Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, society and policy.

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