Published on April 28, 2021
Will technology save the planet?
We don’t think so. At least, not alone. Saving the planet requires bold political decisions, a drastic change in our behavior, and fast action. Yet technology has a key role in avoiding environmental disaster. It’s up to all of us to make sure it does.
We are not urging for either positive or negative growth. Nor do we blame big polluters or condemn those responsible for global warming. It’s too late for that.
We maintain that given the environmental crisis facing mankind, it’s time to revise our development model.
We are convinced that the future will not be modeled on any existing ideology, dogma, or statistic. Predictions are no longer possible. There are too many variables involved: political, scientific, economic and behavioral. Given we don’t know where we are heading, we must try to at least try change direction. That’s our objective.
Obviously, that depends on the speed of the downturn.
If supplies of oil and gas suddenly stopped, the entire economy would collapse. No more driving to school or work, no more transport for food, no more intensive agriculture, no more industry. Remember, electricity accounts for only 22% of the energy consumed in France, so compensating for fossil fuels is still out of the question. There would be mass unemployment and poverty. The welfare state would crumble and that would be the end of pensions, social security, free education and the like.
It would be like going back in time to the Middle Ages. It is a lifestyle that very few people in Western countries can imagine - or would be capable of surviving. For example, agriculture without mechanical tools may look desirable, but the whole society would have to work in farming to feed everyone the way the current intensive model does. See Jean-Marc Jancovici’s energy slave model. With around 80% of the population working in the fields, food prices would rise dramatically. The organization of our society would change radically. Service and industry would be dramatically reduced to minor sectors. We enjoy our level of material comfort and working 35 to 40 hours of work. It would be a shock. Time for education, cultural activities, rest, wellness, a social life, among other things, would be greatly reduced in a world without fossil fuels. In this model, people would once again die from conditions that have been eradicated. Without energy, producing drugs or having a scan would be impossible. Without operations, a fall from a horse could be fatal. Even worse, one out of two children would not reach their tenth birthday.
The way the coronavirus pandemic has stopped the world economy is nothing compared to the effect of a sharp downturn in the economy.
Of course, it is an unlikely prospect. And totally undesirable given the terrible consequences. On the other hand, the call for a gradual downturn is increasing.
A gradual downturn would progressively reduce fossil-fuel supplies, forcing mankind to use energy only for essentials. But who would decide what is “essential”? This question must be addressed, but it’s not our point here.
Don’t forget that the IPCC report states that mankind must divide greenhouse-gas emissions by three by 2050 (Jean Jouzel, World Mayors Summit). A correlation between energy production and GDP is inherent to our current economic system. In other words, deliberately reducing our energy use would lead to a decline in GDP. Currently, all our economic and social models – such as pensions and funding debt – are based on minimum GDP growth. Given that 80% of the world’s energy is carbon based, dividing it by three would mechanically shrink GDP. And very quickly - in just 30 years. Yet we have no idea how politicians would manage in a downturn. How do you choose between slicing pensions in half, not paying teachers, and cutting healthcare funding? The corona virus pandemic has caused an 8% drop in GHG emissions. It has also generated unprecedented public and private debt. A gradual reduction in energy consumption is more likely than a sharp downturn, but it will also drastically reduce our social advantages. Particularly if radical changes to our economic and social model are not envisaged.
Even if France or any other country wanted to begin the downturn or limit greenhouse-gas emissions, one country alone would not make much difference. Coordinated decisions at a global level are required. The main obstacle is a lack of global governance. One need only view antics by Trump and Bolsonaro to see how egocentric some countries are. Interconnection between global fiscal, social, and regulatory issues means that voluntarily triggering a downturn is unlikely, but not impossible. It would be unreasonable to limit energy consumption for our domestic businesses if their international competitors are not subject to the same constraints. A wave of unemployment and inflation would follow, leading to a populist, nationalist government focused on identity issues rather than on a sustainable economic model.
As we’ve discussed, and as Jean-Marc Jancovici develops in his videos, there is a very strong link between energy production and GDP. And we know that 80% of the world’s energy is carbon based - which means it produces CO2. That means there are two ways to reduce GHG emissions:
Energy consumption needs to be reduced in many sectors. The most essential areas for research and innovation include building insulation techniques, miniaturization of computers and machines, high-performance recycling, and the replacement of mineral materials with biological materials. Even more importantly, energy consumption must be decreased without any rebound effect, in other words without side effects that generate more energy consumption.
We need to find ways to produce and store renewable energy that no longer require scarce or limited resources. They need to be available in the market as an alternative to carbon-based technologies, which must become a thing of the past.
The IPCC explains it clearly: cutting our GHG emissions is not enough to keep global warming below 2°C. New carbon capture technologies must be developed to absorb as much GHG emission as possible. If only it were that simple. The technologies necessary to capture, stock and transform CO2 and methane are embryonic. But they are absolutely essential.
To reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and absorb excess, technology and innovation must contribute, at least partially. That’s a fact.
When discussing innovations for the future, there is often a clash between two different world views: high tech versus low tech. On one side, some push for an even more technological approach. They believe that the current development mode and science alone will allow human civilization to carry on. More and more science, always more science: transhumanism, inter-connected objects and so forth. On the other side, are the defenders of scaling back technology, or low tech which uses little or no energy. This presents very low development costs as it is based on existing technologies.
Time for the Planet is not categorical. Based on the stakes, we are counting on a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions. We can easily imagine thousands of bikes on Parisian streets coexisting with self-driving electric taxis made out of bamboo and using organic batteries. It’s possible – both economically and intellectually. Technology is not responsible for the destruction of the environment. Technology results from choices made without knowledge of ecological limits. This is no longer the case. We began the twenty-first century with our eyes wide open. This awareness is gradually influencing those who imagine innovations and those who benefit from them. Compare these two drawings of a bright future, the first by Albert Robida (The Twentieth Century, 1883), and the second by Eiffage in 2018 (below).
The Bright Future, Albert Robida, The Twentieth Century, 1883: the factory chimneys represent the promise of a prosperous future thanks to technology, not a symbol of pollution.
Time for the Planet has identified 20 technical issues, 20 challenges that mankind must face in parallel with the move to a new social model.
The 20 issues are:
Aim for zero emission:
Improve energy efficiency:
Propose alternatives to encourage mindful consumption:
Capture greenhouse gases:
These issues can be addressed by a variety of innovations requiring high-tech or low-tech R&D, or simple innovative business models.
Examples of low tech:
Bring low-cost housing with low-tech operations into the mainstream.
Source: Low-tech lab
Meeting the climate change challenge is vital, with positive or negative growth. We have no choice.
To sum it up:
Growth is problematic for our future, requiring profound and fast change to our global production patterns.
Negative growth is not enough. We need high-tech and low-tech innovation to prevent a major disaster.
Regardless, action is needed. And Time for the Planet’s only goal is action. We are not prescribing a new social model. It’s up to individuals and politicians to choose the social model. Our choice at Time for the Planet is to act now, because the situation is dire. We have developed a clear, reasoned and rational plan with results that have global impact.
The 20 major issues we listed above can be solved through innovation. This requires three elements:
. scientists/engineers/inventors who propose technical improvements that are sufficiently radical to be deployed globally, have a significant effect on GHG emissions, and with a credible economic model;
. outstanding experienced entrepreneurs who have demonstrated their capacity to develop businesses;
. enough money to finance innovations quickly and to keep up with their exponential growth.
This also requires a specific entrepreneurial mindset to address climate change. We suggest a brand new business model:
Time’s up. That’s why we plan to create companies that share their intellectual property. Time for the Planet businesses will not protect their inventions with patents that prevent anyone else from copying, improving, or marketing the solution. We are team players. The more businesses that can develop an innovation, the greater the impact on the daily lives of vast portions of the world’s population. By making their discoveries open source, our businesses make it possible for similar businesses to emerge around the world. Even if one business fails, other more skilled, fortunate or reactive entrepreneurs will be able to scale up deployment of the solution to significantly reduce GHG emissions in an entire sector.
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For open source to be possible - for knowledge produced by costly research to be available to all - those who provide the financing must agree. Investors must have priorities other than wealth. Time for the Planet shareholders invest knowing that the goal is not financial gain. Time for the Planet does not use the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) indicator used to measure return on investment for shareholders. We use the PRR: Planet Rate of Return. Developed by Time for the Planet, this measure indicates the number of tons of CO2 emissions avoided by their investment.
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Anyone can become a Time for the Planet shareholder for as little as €1. How can we be sure Time for the Planet will not be manipulated by lobbies, unions, or a big company? There is more than one answer. All investments will be approved in board meetings, which are public. Any manipulation would be detected immediately. Secondly, the Co-founders have the power to veto the board decisions to ensure that Time for the Planet respects its core mission, and that no particular social model is privileged. We appeal to all types of investors: individuals, big companies, even polluting companies, public authorities, associations, political parties, charitable billionaires - the more the better. The chosen legal structure guarantees the enduring independence and transparency of Time for the Planet - regardless of the source of financing. What’s more, all Time for the Planet accounts will be public. The Co-founders will never be paid more than four times the French minimum wage, and they are not currently paid a salary. Finally, Time for the Planet will have majority share in each business created. This will ensure the open source principal and that Time for the Planet’s mission and values are respected.
Note, we do not promote this new form of entrepreneurship as a universal solution, applicable to all sectors of the economy. Put simply, a commercial business is not necessarily only "a combination of people and funds for generating financial profit". In fact, in some cases financial motivation is the main reason for the creation of a business, in others it is incidental. Often, rapid success results from priorities other than profit. A pizzeria run by a passionate pizza chef who loves to perfect their recipe is more likely to generate profit than a pizza chef who isn’t particularly interested in the product, who simply wants to earn a decent income. There are countless examples of booming startups that were initiated by intellectual interest in technology or a new lifestyle. Time for the Planet will show that not-for-profit businesses can exist, and what’s more, can play a fundamental role in our future.
Time for the Planet will be one of many tools to address energy transition. We will finance innovations for no financial return and allow others to develop and commercialize. This model depends on:
Take a cost-effective innovation that produces solar energy without using rare metals. Anyone will be able to develop, sell it, and thereby make profit. The result? The proportion of energy production worldwide will drop much faster than if we had decided to patent the invention and commercialize it ourselves during the 20-year patent coverage. That’s the power of Time for the Planet. It’s easy to inspire selfish instincts in those who want to make a profit, so it will be easy to inspire the creation of numerous businesses that will use the knowledge we provide.
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Time for the Planet does not believe that technology alone can prevent climate disaster. Science fiction and augmented humans are not our vision for the future. Nor do we believe that negative growth is enough to avoid a climate disaster, and certainly not without creating war, inequality and social havoc. We call for action so that individuals can have a say in the type of society they prefer. That’s why we have to tackle climate change with innovative ideas, knowledge-sharing, and the power of entrepreneurship.
Become a shareholder. Fight climate change on a global scale.
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