Ecopreneurs Are Critical to the Planet’s Future
FOver the past quarter century, in the face of growing warnings about the dangers of global warming’s ravaging effects, representatives of almost all countries have been brought together by the U.N. to discuss solutions. While the private sector has generally had a presence at the annual meetings, known as COPs (for Conference of the Parties), their focus has been on government actors—the heads of state and diplomats who attend. At the latest one however, things were different. The event attracted thousands of business executives and entrepreneurs to Glasgow. Many, including me, were able to attend their first COP.
The meeting’s shifting makeup reflected a new paradigm in the climate fight. Up until now, it was assumed that the government would guide any progress. This is “a war in which all nations must be allies,” TIME said in naming “Endangered Earth” as Planet of the Year for 1988, in lieu of a Person of the Year. Even though climate diplomacy has made some progress, it’s become clear that the political will to make it work is lacking.
All of which has put the private sector in the driver’s seat, a once unthinkable development that is the theme of this issue and a focus for us going forward at TIME. The energy transition is both a time of opportunity and risk. Businesses have enormous control over the outcome and how it looks. Many companies—urged on by employees, customers, and investors—are seeking to reduce emissions and “offset” carbon footprints. Business as a whole has yet to address the problem. We face a great challenge in navigating the many options available and making sure those commitments are made.
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One of the biggest opportunities lies in the massive private investment under way in climate tech— $147 billion of it in the past three quarters alone, according to consulting group PwC. But first we must face the challenge of deploying much more aggressively the technology we already have, such as renewable energy through solar and wind, which are in many cases now cheaper than traditional alternatives; electrification of anything that can be electrified; “cleaner” aluminum, cement, and steel; cookstoves that promote cleaner cooking; and reforestation and other nature-based approaches.
A second challenge is looking further ahead, to 2050, when we’ll need a lot of new technologies to have a shot at keeping global warming below 1.5°C. While science is clear that cutting emissions is the top priority, we’re already far behind the curve. Getting to net zero will also require removing some of the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere—an immensely complex process that is seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment but may well take decades to scale and become financially viable.
Potentially more transformative is what everyone can do—indeed must do—to make a difference. As Justin Worland, senior reporter, stated in a recent cover story, climate is everything. That’s also why we continue to step up our coverage in this area. TIME had one climate reporter when I first started nine years ago. Under the leadership of editorial director Elijah Wolfson, we’ve built a growing team that covers climate every day and in every issue. Nearly all our reporters contribute to this coverage today, and about one in four do so on a regular basis.
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We’re also increasing our focus on the role of the growing ranks of individuals, innovators, and businesses around the world who are stepping in—scaling technical and nature-based projects, developing new energy sources, supporting climate-vulnerable communities around the world. We call them “ecopreneurs,” environmentally focused entrepreneurs taking risks that—along with the critical work of fossil-fuel reduction and increased awareness—will be integral to the planet’s future. In the first in a new series, you’ll find in this issue senior correspondent Aryn Baker’s interview with one of those individuals, Impossible Mining’s Renee Grogan.
At TIME, we’re also now ecopreneurs ourselves. Since becoming an independent company in late 2018—nearly 100 years after our founding—we’ve launched several new businesses built on the authority of our brand, including TIME Studios, our TIME100 Events, and our web3 expansion. We are a 100-year-old startup. Our newest division is called CO2, a climate-action platform whose aim is to help guide every sized business—including our own—in becoming net zero and nature-positive. “Our mission is to serve all those who want to have a climate impact but find it hard to know the right thing to do, and challenging to find the bandwidth to do it,” says Simon Mulcahy, who recently joined TIME as president of sustainability and will lead CO2.
TIME’s history is a source of inspiration and guidance for the future. We are thrilled to play a larger role in making it a more sustainable publication. We’ll keep you posted.
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