Sara Menker and Donnel Baird: Climate Change Is a Crisis, But It’s Solvable

Youn the midst of one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity—climate change—parts of the U.S. energy system are already collapsing, ecopreneurs Sara Menker and Donnel Baird warned at the TIME 100 Summit Tuesday during a panel discussion moderated by Simon Mulcahy, the president of sustainability at TIME.

Menker and Baird—who are both founders of companies on the forefront of tackling climate change—advocated for increased awareness about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel dependence, and food insecurity—a problem that has been exacerbated by rising food prices and changes in climate conditions.

“I’m very alarmed about the climate crisis,” Baird said. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and clutching my newborn trying to think about what our life is going to be like when she’s my age.” But, he added, “it’s a solvable problem.”

Menker is a TIME 100 Honoree in 2021. She founded and runs Gro Intelligence. This startup uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to combat climate change and food security. She works with thousands, from large food corporations to financial institutions. Her company provides analysis and data on the global agriculture ecosystem, as well as access to troves of data.

BlocPower founder and CEO Baird, is a startup that helps greener aging cities. He was the winner of a contract to power the largest citywide electricification program in America. The goal is to move the entire Ithaca city off of fossil fuels within the next four year.

The TIME 100 most important companies list has named both companies.

Menker was born in Ethiopia, and he founded Gro Intelligence, in Nairobi, Kenya. He stressed the importance of African businesses, which some are helping to solve global problems. Traditionally, there’s been “this idea that innovation only came from America,” Baird said, but that’s been shattered.

Still, the path to entrepreneurship isn’t always easy for people of color. “People thought I was nuts when I went to Silicon Valley to pitch,” she added. “They were like, ‘What bunch of Kenyan engineers can solve a technical challenge this complex?’”

Going forward, the ecopreneurs are optimistic that today’s youth—regardless of their sex, race, and age—will contribute innovative solutions to the climate crisis. “We really do need the wisdom of the crowds,” Baird said. “I welcome them to the fight.”

TIME 100 Summit extends the TIME 100 List of 100 most influential persons in the world. This summit gathers global leaders from TIME 100 to discuss solutions and promote action for a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.

Speakers for the 2022 TIME 100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, filmmaker Taika Waititi, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwayne Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, Christian Siriano founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, author, poet, and president of the Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Muzaieva, editor in chief of TIME and Salesforce chairs and co-CEO Marc Benioff is also the editor.

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