The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report a few weeks ago announcing that we are past the point of preventing climate change and are now officially in the era of working to minimize the damage it causes.
This is sobering but not unexpected news. People looking at the signs from a scientific view have seen this coming for years.
Humans are infinitely clever, so there remains a chance that someone brilliant somewhere will come up with an unexpected way to halt or reverse the depredations of climate change. But our species certainly can’t count on that. At our funds, we have grown increasingly focused on how climate change will impact what matters most to us: human health and happiness.
Obviously, if our planet becomes unlivable, the health and happiness of everyone will be affected profoundly. It is now possible to see how that might occur through massive storms, droughts, fires, and other catastrophes. But we think the reality will be more in line with many other major changes that will challenge health and happiness. Specifically:
Food production will need to be decoupled from land. Growing regions will shift. Fisheries, already under massive stress, will get even more sparse. The weather will become more unstable. We need to feed 8 billion people, with climate change making that ever harder to do. Thus, we are investing heavily in alternative foods, lab-based proteins, cellular systems for creating new foods and manufacturing all of these at scale. We are invested in the world’s most advanced vertical farm that can grow acres worth of strawberries and other fruits inside highly optimized shipping containers. And, we are looking ever more actively for ways to turn homes and offices into mini-farms to produce the food for those at hand.
Access to fresh water has been a major challenge for much of human history, and climate change will make it worse. Traditional rains aren’t following historic patterns in many parts of the world. Wells in parts of California are always going dry. The Colorado River is drying up too. Water is the key to life; if we lose access to it, humans will be in big trouble.
The ability to deliver pure water is a key area where science could help buffer the impacts of climate change. So we are looking at startups that make potable water from the moisture in the air, or reprocess used water, or capture and store runoff or rainwater in new ways.
The abundance of energy directly impacts food and water production, countering the effects of climate change and a host of other areas central to human survival at the most basic level — plus health and happiness higher up the chain.
Huge progress has already been made in alternative energy production. Most models now show solar, wind, and other environmentally gentle forms of energy production will take the lead over the next few years. That ascendency could be massively accelerated by acts of political will; it requires no scientific innovation. The current solutions are enough.
That new energy, once created, needs to be kept available and as close to those who use it as possible, so the big energy impact, in our view, comes from storage. The power grid was a fine idea when energy could only be created in huge plants or near dams or other special locations and then driven to the necessary locations. Now, though, energy can be created on a roof, or in a backyard. With energy production distributed, energy storage can and should also become distributed. Your house should become your personal power plant and battery farm.
The increasing number of electric vehicle owners are recognizing that they are in fact kind of a big mobile battery. The grid or the house can charge the car, but in turn, in times of need, the car can power the house or even help stabilize the local grid.
So, we are investing in new ways to charge electric vehicles, tie them into home power, and/ or store the power from solar or local wind close at hand for local use. And, we are looking at radical new ideas in batteries. Today, objects like phones and cars contain batteries; soon, those objects — the materials they are made from — may actually be batteries. This would be a true revolution in human experience. If the materials that make your house can create and store enough energy, your capacity to create water, produce food, moderate your personal environment, and other core factors rise factorially.
In these ways, we see the response to climate change and environmental degradation as fundamental to health and happiness. We are on a quest to find new science-driven companies transforming what appears to be a devastating crisis into an opportunity for humankind.
By Managing Partner Mike Edelhart