Without much effort, you can find news every day that confirms—over and over—that we are in a climate emergency. Droughts, fires, floods, hurricanes, and heat waves are now happening with such frequency, it can be hard to remember which tragedy happened last, while the political reaction is, at best, muted—entirely incommensurate to the challenge at hand.
In the absence of a grand political solution, we are forced to nibble around the edges and hope that science and technology can make enough advances to mitigate the problem, to give more time for world governments to act on broad de-carbonization. There is no cause for techno-optimism: We will not invent a perpetual motion machine that can somehow eliminate all the carbon in a way that allows life to continue as is, all without pushing political and business leaders. At the same time, you don’t need to surrender to complete techno-pessimism because scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs are making slow but steady advances in ways to replace the vital carbon in our economy with clean alternatives.
Forty years ago, solar and wind power were considered by some to be expensive boondoggles, only for the wealthy hobbyists, that would never make a difference at scale. Now—after decades of research and development—they’re the cheapest source of power we have. This list contains just a few of the recent advances that could be the next technology that can grow into part of a future, clean economy. Some of the items on this list will turn out to be too expensive, too hard to scale, too small in impact to matter. But others could become part of the solution. No one piece of technology will save us, but together many of them can be the building blocks that undergird the political solution we need. —Morgan Clendaniel