You entrepreneurial types are good with numbers. Solutions, too. So here’s our pitch for the planet: We need to transform the U.S. economy such that by 2050 we are eliminating one ton of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere for every ton we emit. That’s net zero. To get there means dialing back to zero our yearly output from 6.6 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. That figure represents our 2005 emissions in billions of tons, which is the U.S. global contribution we pledged to eliminate per the Paris Agreement. Balancing the carbon equation–zeroing it out–will require radical and rapid changes across the entire American economy, which contributes 11 percent of global emissions.
The urgency is that if we don’t cap the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2050, climate change turns calamitous. We’re already at plus-1.1 degrees Celsius, and we can plainly see the impact in climate-related mega-disasters. But science-based doom and gloom is only a starting point.
We’re here to solve problems. Indeed, American entrepreneurship is key to creating the societal demand necessary to counteract climate change. Fortunately, the action required is mapped out in a U.S. policy document titled “The Long-Term Strategy of the United States: Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050,” which prescribes the need to decarbonize electricity, use it to power our cars and buildings, and develop carbon-negative or -neutral fuels to run things electricity really can’t, like airplanes and ships. We get a jump on reducing 6.6 gigatons through anticipated improvements in energy efficiency (installing smart thermostats in our homes and offices) and natural carbon sequestration, assuming we preserve our forests and peat bogs. But, as the report says, “the long-term transformations to get to 2050 net-zero emissions will require the United States to bring all its greatest strengths to bear, including innovation, creativity, and diversity.”
And that’s where the startups you’ll read about on Inc. figure into the equation. Inc. has identified seven private companies built around seven key technologies that are driving development within seven key pathways to net zero. That the technologies exist–and are funded–is critical, given that we have 28 years remaining until our target date. It took green technologies such as LED lights and lithium-ion batteries 10 to 30 years to move from prototype to commercialization–and then another decade to gain 1 percent market share. And it’s only by creating markets for green tech that we can cut our reliance on fossil fuels. These companies aren’t peddling magical thinking or banking on moonshots. They’re leading the way so that you–and the rest of the world–will follow. Starting now.
To get to Net Zero by 2050, the U.S. needs to remove 5.2 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Here are the seven pathways to net zero, and the startups working to get us there
From the May/June 2022 issue of Inc. Magazine