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Of Climate and COVID-19: A Tale of Two Crises

By Christofer Mowry, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion

Turns out the telltale signs of the COVID-19 pandemic were here long before this public health crisis overshadowed every aspect of our lives.  While most of us were unaware of the gathering viral storm, COVID-19 quietly made its way from China to Europe last fall.  By December, health experts became alarmed at the implications of what appeared to be isolated local outbreaks of infection, far removed from the everyday concerns of our own busy lives.  Most of us and many of our political leaders chose to ignore these early warnings from those who spend their lives dedicated to understanding the complexities of epidemiology.  Sound familiar?  This is precisely the same disquieting chronology simultaneously unfolding with the changing Climate of our world.

Relative timescales for the ebb and flow of these crises is also eerily similar, although they will follow a vastly different cadence of duration and magnitude.  COVID-19 came in months and will naturally resolve itself in the coming years unless, of course, modern biotechnology manages to more quickly develop a vaccine.  Climate change has been decades in the making and, unmitigated, the earth will also eventually re-stabilize, at least in some sense.  Unfortunately for society, the period of time for the earth’s climate to restabilize into a different quasi-equilibrium is geologic in measure.  The earth last had atmospheric CO2 levels this high millions of years ago, when the world’s Climate was unrecognizable and largely unlivable for people.  But for most of us, it’s not really that bad yet.  As a result, many policy makers and industrial leaders continue to ignore the growing Climate threat for political and business expediency.

The parallels between the COVID-19 and Climate crises do not end there.  Our faith in technology to fix things goes unstated and often unacknowledged, and thus also neglects the requisite political and social will necessary to effectively deliver such transformative solutions.  Hopes for an effective COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months grow stronger every day, as hard work and innovation within leading biotech firms begin to yield promising results.  Modern medicine, built on new technologies like genetic engineering, have created the possibility of developing transformational medical solutions on a timeline relevant for mitigating the toll in suffering and death that would otherwise result from a natural end to the pandemic.  And so it is as well with efforts to address the Climate crisis.  Companies and technology ventures everywhere are developing transformational solutions to the challenge of decarbonizing the work of our society.  These solutions span the spectrum of how we use, store, and make energy for everything from food production to transportation.

Fusion offers the greatest transformative promise of all emerging climate change technology solutions.  The availability of practical fusion will, when complemented by renewables and new storage technologies, create a socially acceptable portfolio of sustainable energy generation sources.  This portfolio of fusion, renewables, and storage also creates an economically viable path to decarbonization for all societies across the globe.  And of equal merit, fusion uniquely offers true energy independence to all countries, regardless of geography.  These transformational benefits to society and industry have been understood for decades.  What is different today for fusion and Climate, similar to what is different for biotechnology and COVID-19, is that modern technologies and science are enabling companies to pursue development of practical solutions on timelines relevant to the immediacy of these crises.  Solutions can now be available in months and years, not decades.  General Fusion leads this race to develop a practical fusion energy solution for the world in time to mitigate the growing threat of the Climate crisis.

Of course, the extraordinary technical progress being made by General Fusion and other fusion industry participants is, by itself, insufficient to address the Climate crisis.  Just as with COVID-19, governments and boundary organizations, the collective stakeholders between knowledge and social action, must facilitate the aggressive development and deployment of this transformational technology.  These policy makers and influencers must embrace its enormous benefits for a practical and economic path toward net-zero carbon emissions.  The time for action is now, before Climate overwhelms the environment which fostered our civilization, just as we are reacting to COVID-19 that menaces our society.

COVID-19 is a tale of late response and herculean biotechnological effort, of global cooperation and petty conflict, of political failure and policy success.  It didn’t have to be this way, and it still doesn’t have to be this way for the world’s response to Climate.  Let’s make sure we use the hard lessons from this appalling tale of pandemic to make the final telling of environmental stewardship more virtuous.  Let’s make sure we deliver fusion and other transformational energy solutions to the Climate crisis before it too becomes a tale like that of COVID-19.