You may have seen the recent declaration from the United Nations that when it comes to carbon emissions, the earth is very close to going over the edge. Humanity, they warn, has a very, very narrow window in which to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint.
The report made the front pages of lots of news organizations. It was yet another dire warning, a stark omen from some of humanity’s greatest minds that the earth is on a collision course with a swampy, dystopian future, a future in which storms are more violent, people lose their homes, and food shortages, droughts, and political upheavals start to accelerate. Some articles we read predicted 150 million premature deaths by the end of the century — twice that of the Second World War.
Unsurprisingly, the report fell on deaf ears. Apocalypse, it seems, only resonates when it is tightly packaged into a two-hour zombie flick.
For me, I felt another wave of anger — anger for those who’ve failed to act, anger for the misinformation campaigns of the oil industry, outrage for the companies who put near-term profits over the future of the earth and its people.
Internally, we debated what our response to the news should be. What could we, a small start-up, possibly do that could be big enough to counterbalance yet another end-of-times warning?
Was there some cheerful B2B copy we could pump out to translate such news into an opportunity for our clients?
To be fair, the technology we’re building will have a positive impact on the environment. Our flagship product, Cobalt Auta will make it easier for consumers to keep their cars longer by bringing their vehicles into the digital age. Our route automation algorithms and smart city infrastructure technology will not only reduce congestion but also the 30 million tons of CO2that come from idling cars.
Eventually, our self-driving solutions will amplify these gains, taking cars off the road entirely and increasing the efficiency by which the remaining ones drive. We expect to see similar reductions in fuel consumption across a panoply of other industries from aviation to agritech.
More broadly, our AI consultancy services help enterprises become masters of their data so they can find new ways to increase operational efficiency and reduce costs. When UPS deployed similar technology in their business operations, the company saved 1.5 million gallons of fuel in the first year. 1.5 million may seem like a lot, but it’s the equivalent of just 20 roundtrip flights from London to Beijing.
Unfortunately, these small wins won’t be enough to save the planet.
Not even close.
As long as we keep powering our engines with carbon-based fuels (or carbon-based electricity), neither company nor government will be able to keep the planet from teetering over the sun-swept edge.
Nonetheless, we believe there are reasons for optimism.
After all, desperation breeds innovation.
By that standard, a new day may soon be upon us.
As the planet continues to warm and that doomsday metric of CO2 Parts per million ticks ever-dangerously upward, governments will increasingly become desperate to stop a runaway train — no matter the cost.
It is under these circumstances that we can imagine the rise of a new green moon shot. Humans are, after all, far better at solving big problems than preventing them.
At the leading edge of this transformation is the carbon capture movement. One such company is Climeworks. They recently installed a carbon capture plant in Italy that will suck 150 tons of carbon out of the air per year. Again, 150 tons of carbon is almost too tiny to have an impact — about the equivalent of parking 21 cars for a year.
Nonetheless, a working proof of concept is all you need when you have institutional support and a problem that desperately requires a solution.
Speaking at a TED talk, Jennifer Wilcox estimates that a carbon capture plant — she calls it a synthetic forest — will need to be about the size of New Jersey in order to restore balance to our planet.
At 22,000 square kilometers, this is not entirely implausible. By comparison, the world’s solar panels already cover an area about an eighth that size. Moreover, as the technology expands, we can fully expect carbon capture to become much more efficient, scalable, and cost-effective.
For those of you who have been following along, you’ll already know that JCC is primarily developing technology in the transportation and smart city sectors. We haven’t (yet!) set our sights on carbon capture. Nonetheless, every day we are working to build the infrastructure necessary to serve and connect all kinds of technologies — including synthetic forests.
The technology we are developing will give rise to an AI-powered ecosystem, one that will not only drive transportation but also the infrastructure that powers it.
250 years ago, the industrial revolution kicked off in a dusty, British factory — dramatically altering the planet’s future. Our hope is that soon, we will be able to look back on this century and see it as the one in which we started to clean up the mess.