Technology, Progress, and Climate

The climate solutions we need to transform every sector are here. The question is: what role will you play in this transformation? You, your community, your business, your government?

Technology is an expansive term. It’s not just apps and electronics. Human ingenuity has created everything from plows to fishing gear, bicycles to boomboxes, windmills to electric vehicles, artificial intelligence to satellites. Technology pervades our lives, for better and worse. Some innovations, like fossil fuel technologies, we need to leave in the past. Ecosystems and humanity cannot continue to bear them.

The good news is we already have a myriad of climate solutions at our fingertips. We don’t need to wait for new technology before charging ahead to address the climate crisis. From renewable energy and electrifying transportation, to regenerative agriculture and restoring ecosystems, we already have most of the solutions we need. Now, more than ever, it is a matter of how we deploy them and scale them for a sustainable and just future. That’s what I think about when I think about progress – solving this greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

And when I think about the future, about what that might hold on this climate-changed planet, I think about possibilities. Looking at climate data and observing the ways in which the planet’s physical and biological systems are changing, my mind immediately translates those abstractions into extreme weather, the loss of human lives and biodiversity, the upending of society and ecological stability.

But what I also see in those graphs and trend lines is that we still have a wide range of possible futures. And which future we get is entirely dependent on what we do now and how we come together to transform society – economies, policy, and culture – to ensure we have the best possible future, one that works for all 8.7 million or so species living on this planet.

I think about the climate crisis as a jigsaw puzzle – assessing what’s available, figuring out what role each of us plays, and trying to accelerate how quickly we solve this puzzle to fit all the pieces together before things fall apart.

I’ve spent much of my career in ocean conservation which, to me, is a matter of cultural preservation. It presents an exciting opportunity to weave together different fields, from science to economics, policy and sociology. For years, the ocean has been looked at as a victim, and reasonably so, for all the impacts it has suffered from pollution, overfishing, coastal development and climate change. Now, we need to utilize its power for climate solutions, by harnessing renewable energy offshore, ensuring fishing becomes sustainable, regeneratively farming the ocean, and protecting and restoring marine ecosystems.

Recent research shows that when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon, 21% of the solution lies in the ocean. Let’s zoom in on the biggest of these ocean-climate solutions – offshore renewable energy. This is a major opportunity to speed up our transition away from fossil fuels, while providing clean power to the approximately 40% of people living near the coasts. How can we put up wind turbines in the ocean and produce clean energy? How can we figure out the technology and engineering needed to install them safely so they can resist the impact of storms, waves, and salt water? How do we situate them so that they are the least disruptive on ecosystems so they do not interfere with whale migrations or birds, or affect ship navigation and fishing industry?

We may only see the surface of oceanic waters, but we need to consider all these layers of activities to minimize conflicts and avoid negative impacts. Using scientific research and tools will allow us to make informed decisions to ramp up clean energy production while protecting the environment.

Of course, we should also never forget that photosynthesis is the ultimate carbon sequestration technology – and half the planet’s photosynthesis occurs in the ocean. Addressing the climate crisis is not all about fancy technology – it’s also about protecting all ecosystems from forests and wetlands to fields of wildflowers. Nature-based solutions.

The climate solutions we need to transform every sector are here. The question is: what role will you play in this transformation? You, your community, your business, your government? And how will you help accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a regenerative one?

This is progress we need. This is the work of our lifetime.


Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist, co-founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab, co-founder of the climate initiative The All We Can Save Project and co-creator of the podcast How to Save a Planet

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