Ideas in Motion

GIG founder Geraldine de Bastion and Annemarie Botzki, Co-Founder/CEO at Rocsun, write about innovations, open technologies and ideas like a climate solutions network as part of their reflections for the “Extinction Rebellion” movement that is currently engaged in their International Rebellion in more than 60 cities across the globe.

Emission: net zero. That means a complete change of our way of life. 

And yet: Nothing less than that was decided in 2015 by the Paris Climate Conference.

But: Who will build this world, a world without emissions? When will we begin? And where is the plan how to reach this survival goal as quicky and fairly as possible?

Courageous revisions of the global energy and economic system are necessary. Society‘s goal can no longer merely be growth and profit maximization, but must rather be ecological and social justice and stable living conditions.

Radical as it may seem, this is not the first time a society has had to readjust. What helped during such social readjustment was one of humans‘ greatest talents: their ingenuity. When the conditions of survival changed, people were always able to think outside the box, to try new things. Farming instead of hunting and gathering, huts instead of caves: innovations, ultimately. In order to enable a dignified and, better yet, enjoyable life for a record number of people on Earth in the 21st century, new technologies are needed to transport, feed and house people ecologically. How can we foster innovation, how can we encourage the economy to serve this changed approach?

Innovations

This paradigm shift is possible and feasible. It does not mean a return to the past. Innovations are an agreement for the future. Important innovations change our idea of ​​the possible and create new livelihoods. 

Without technical innovation, we could not demand greenhouse gas neutrality by 2025. Due to solar, water or wind technology and yet to be invented technologies, the demand for the abolition of coal, oil and gas becomes feasible.

How and to what extent will solar film, meat substitutes, CO2-absorbing reactors, wooden skyscrapers and wave power shape our future? When can we fly electric planes? Or maybe even create clean water from molecules and think differently about our product cycles through replicators? None of this is science fiction: Already today, young companies are working on all these inventions.

Start-ups use the latest technologies to stop the life-threatening destruction of forests on an industrial scale. Drones and new software can analyze landscapes and map areas to determine where trees should be planted.

Innovative materials are also helping to revolutionize the building sector, which accounts for about 36% of Europe’s carbon emissions. With new materials and product innovation, building zero-energy houses is no longer a problem or connected to high costs. These have innovative insulated walls, floors, foundations and roofs. Photovoltaic cells are now found not only on roofs, but also on building facades and even in transparent modules that are used as windows. Skyscrapers provide ideal locations for wind turbines on the roofs.

Meanwhile, solar systems can even swim: The pilot project was built in Japan, in Honshu. The country’s many inland lakes and reservoirs now house 73 of the world’s 100 largest floating solar systems.

But even though the energy market is being revolutionized: the transformation is missing.

In terms of diversity, the sector is far behind other sectors: no other sector employs as few women as it is the case in the energy sector. Almost 90% of the executive boards of energy companies is staffed by men. A flaw that restricts progress. 

It will take a revolution to completely overcome the 200-year-old model of fossil energy, destructive agriculture and a wasteful construction industry. At the same time, this is the opportunity to create a new economy that is not based on the exploitation of finite resources, but establishes a fundamental connection with nature, protects it, promotes life and heals habitats. 

And a chance to stand up for free ideas, exchange and cooperation. Investments in clean technologies and energy are booming – in Africa, the CleanTech sector is the second most invested in sector following fintech, meaning financial technology, $ 10 trillion were invested in clean energy startups worldwide last year. At the same time, more and more investors and financial institutions are limiting investments in climate killer industries.

Modern patent law is used to monopolize and monetise knowledge rather than allowing the widespread dissemination of knowledge. Patent law therefore means prohibiting others from using something that you have done or thought of first. But who owns ideas and who has the right to give or to deny access? In particular when technologies become crucial for survival?

Intellectual property and patent rights are mostly with western companies that are looking for new sales markets. The same applies to our data, which is collected by large corporations for commercial purposes. So ideas are not free. Not even our data. Yet knowledge and data are a basis for global innovation.

Do we want lawsuits or cooperations? It is in the interests of every inventor that we create the global transformation to greenhouse gas neutrality. Because planet there is no patent right on a dead planet.

How do we create an innovation landscape where there are incentives to invent new ideas, but the inventions benefit the general public instead of making a few startup founders and investors wealthy? When will the knowledge of clean technologies be released to the public? How can we ensure that all countries have access to sustainable technologies?

You can not rely on the Exxons and Shells. For 90 companies have generated two-thirds of the global emissions in the last 25 years, long after we knew what catastrophe that would trigger. Responsibility is something completely different. Good economic management also. 

Weather extremes are already destroying countries of the global South that contributed least to the emissions and ecological destruction. Nontheless, we stick to our trade agreements and patent rights, which form the foundation for the exploitation of resources for large corporations.

Open technologies

Today, we can neither afford to leave the key inventions to some major corporations, nor can we afford to leave all our data in the hands of a few Internet companies – data that does not curtail personal rights should be disclosed to serve as a driver of innovation that benefits everyone. Open source models have already been established in the digital world. They disclose technologies, ideas and inventions and are made available to others so that everyone can work with them and develop them further: a coexistence of ideas instead of the traditional competition. How can this be transferred to clean technology? 

There are many exciting developments that can give hope: a worldwide network of makerspaces where local hardware innovations are built. 3D printers that use recycled or renewable materials to provide local production with no transport routes: A great opportunity for countries suffering from unsafe energy supplies and a lack of manufacturing facilities. There are other ways to advance social development than how the western industrailized nations did. Unfortunately, such innovations have a hard time achieving a global impact. 

The state plays a significant and decisive role in promoting technological development and facilitating market entry, rather than consolidating old monopolies and ensuring control. States can support experimental rooms, open technology laboratories and free training. In addition to good regulation, there needs to be a shift from public procurement to working with sustainable businesses and initiatives to share data that can be used for climate-related research and innovation. Governments need to be courageous. Clear goals can revolutionize markets.

Sweden introduced a CO2 tax in 1991, as well as tax relief, which encourages repair rather than new purchases. New Zealand is banning new offshore oil exploration. China is demanding of global carmakers producing in China to produce a large proportion of electric cars. Germany has advanced the global energy transition with support for solar and wind power.

But: Concrete change does not come from above, but from below – from the many.

So how about an Innovation Space and Climate Solutions Network in every city where ideas can be explored that bring us 100% renewable energy, biodiversity protection and resource conservation? Reforestation programs we work on together, labs where we can research for money without much bureaucracy. Spaces that are used for coaching, for events such as workshops, and as offices for pilot projects, allowing more people to participate in the development of innovations and gain access to knowledge. 

Cities and local communities should not have to wait for climate change packages and large corporations to introduce new technologies, but be able to do so themselves when citizens decide.

Whether the next low-carbon innovations come from Silicon Valley, Jakarta or Accra is open – fair global trade relations, access to open data and open technologies would be the foundation for the invention to spread across borders. No matter where she comes from.

Our survival depends on solutions. We need a green and just revolution. The problem will not be solved only by intelligent inventors, but by international cooperation. It is time to navigate the crisis with innovation and collaboration.

This article was originally published in German at 114 s.Fischer.

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