What technologists can do about climate change

Bret Victor complained on Twitter that technologists were wasting their imaginations, energy and talent on things that wouldn't matter after climate change reduced the world to a drowned cinder; his followers pushed back and asked what they, as technologists, could do about climate change.

In response, Victor's produced an incredible, exhaustive, insightful and attainable list of projects that technologists can address in their work to mitigate climate change and build a better world. Even better, Victor's list is full of potentially profitable ideas that nerds can raise money for ("there are basically only two scenarios for investors as a collective: (a) invest in clean energy immediately; clean energy takes over the $6 trillion global energy market; investors get a nice piece of that; or (b) don’t invest in clean energy immediately; fossil fuels burn past our carbon budget; investors inherit a cinder").

Victor builds on the work of Macarthur Genius winner Saul Griffith, who wrote a still-essential series of posts on the subject for us in 2009. He breaks his suggestions into seven categories: Funding, Producing Energy, Moving Energy, Consuming Energy, Tools for Scientists and Engineers, Media for Understanding Situations and Other.

This is your essential read for the day. If this inspires you, read the late David MacKay's open access, accessible engineering book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, the single best book about energy and climate I've ever read.

Some of the best news of the last few years is the plunging cost of solar power. It’s instructive to look at what exactly is responsible for the drop. It’s partly cheaper solar panels, due to improved conversion efficiency and falling manufacturing costs. But panels are now so cheap that they only make up 25% of the total system cost.

The majority of the price drop is now due to better inverters, and better mounting racks, and better installation techniques, and better ways for solar companies to interact with customers. There’s innovation everywhere, and you don’t need to be on the photovoltaic manufacturing line in order to play.

The reason that these reductions in system cost are potentially so significant is the tipping point once solar and wind are consistently cheaper than fossil fuels and can be scaled up to meet demand.

My point here is that there are many ways of contributing toward innovation in the production of clean energy without going off and building a fusion reactor. Look at the stuff around the things.

What can a technologist do about climate change? A personal view [Bret Victor/Worrydream]