Climate Change: With Big Problems Come Huge Opportunities

In a world full of problems to solve, one crisis looms particularly large: climate change. It threatens Earth, the one and only home we know. Combatting climate change head-on is such an enormous challenge that, according to the National Academies of Science and Engineering, 5 of the 14 Grand Challenges our generation must solve are related to solving climate change. I’ve spent years learning about this problem and now devote time and energy as an investor and entrepreneur to address it. I’ve learned that whether you’re building the next billion dollar company or deciding what to eat for dinner, you can make a difference.

In the 150 years since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, humans have excelled at developing technologies that improve our lives in the short-term without regard for the negative impact these advancements have on Earth, our shared home.

And now, on Earth Day 2017, we find ourselves at a tipping point. Thanks to brilliant thinkers and entirely unforeseen innovation, each of us, as global citizens, has more agency (and responsibility) to drive change than ever before. The choices we make about bigger things, like who we vote for, and smaller things, like where we shop and what we eat, can have enormous impact.

Climate change isn’t simply another hard problem to solve; it’s a crisis that poses an existential threat on ecological, humanitarian, and economic levels. Just look at the Gulf Coast, where water levels are rising, erosion is record-breaking, and the poorest communities are slowly degrading and washing away. My Florida roots bring me even closer to this issue as I see my family’s level of concern rising with the sea level near their homes–and with good reason.

Just as climate change will define our generation and many generations to come, it’s also defined my life from a young age. In fact, that’s why we started Nest, and it’s why I’m so proud to work with a team that’s helped save more than 12 billion kilowatt hours of energy, which is enough energy to power 20 million fridges or 90 million TVs for a year. It’s as much energy as 23,000 rail cars (~2 million tons) of coal produce. And we’re just getting started.

Nest’s launch was an incredible day

“Change” is not inherently bad. In fact, it forces us to think bigger, push harder, and work faster. Climate change calls on us to do all of those things. The Trump administration can try to tell us that climate change isn’t real, but the facts tell us otherwise. That’s why America’s largest and most innovative corporations increasingly support the idea of a global climate deal: it’s the future of American business.

Think back to how much the Industrial Revolution changed humanity and commercial enterprise in the 1800s, or how electricity changed the world in the 1900s. We’ve seen similar change during our own lifetime with the advent of computers and the internet, both of which have driven the latest wave of economic and social prosperity. But this prosperity was concentrated in a relatively small number of hands on the coasts, in New York and Silicon Valley, and it created a divide that we saw come to a head in the 2016 election.

Few moments in American history have created as great a need for widespread economic growth as today. In addressing our climate challenges, we have the opportunity to create a wave of economic opportunity bigger and more inclusive than the one created by the Internet. This is the leadership and action we need more of now, rather than creating a lot of hot air about bringing back coal jobs. Climate change presents one of humanity’s greatest challenges, which is also why there’s such a huge opportunity for people and companies to go out and build solutions for a low-carbon economy that doesn’t leave the heartland behind.

So, for all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there, my biggest piece of advice is simple: build a climate-conscious, low-carbon company, or create a company that solves other real hard problems for Americans and our current stark realities. These are the companies that will thrive, create lasting impact, and lead us through the next economic wave.

But there’s also enormous value in making small changes to daily habits. You don’t have to be an aspiring entrepreneur to make a difference. In fact, you don’t even have to make radical and expensive changes to reduce your personal carbon footprint, like installing solar panels or a personal wind turbine. Instead, think about what you eat. Where did it come from? How was it transported? Is it packaged in plastic? Reducing red meat consumption, buying locally-sourced goods, and opting for compostable packaging when possible can be as impactful as switching to an electric vehicle.

If you’re looking for more ways to contribute, my wife Swati and I are proud to be on the boards of and support two really innovative organizations that are approaching the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change in different ways. I’m honored to be the Chairman of the Center for Carbon Removal, an organization that’s thinking about the other side of the CO2 equation: how do we undo the damage by removing existing carbon from the environment. The American Jobs Project, led by my friend and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, is creating clean industry jobs in areas that have seen factories, mines, and mills close over the past 30 years. And there are plenty of other organizations that are worthy of your time, talent, or financial donation.

So, let’s go make a difference together. Sure, there isn’t one easy solution, but every little contribution matters. Change some of your daily habits. Use your voice and influence to take a stance on climate change and energy efficiency. Hold other companies and your peers accountable for the environment. Donate, contribute, and work with nonprofits that are making a difference. Invest in and create new energy-saving products and technologies that will impact climate change. Create the next generation of companies that will drive economic transformation and create millions of new jobs. This sort of big thinking is what drove us to start Nest, and why we continue to push for more ways to help homes save more energy. And there’s so much more to come.