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Amid Climate Catastrophes, Finding Opportunities in the New Energy Economy

“There are huge opportunities for those who will benefit from the innovation of new technology,” climate scientist David Schimel says.

Increasingly devastating weather events – hurricanes with far-wider impact areas, unprecedented drought, and record-setting floods and heat – have been more frequent the past few years than even dour climate scientists had predicted.

But other scientific predictions that missed the mark offer hope, such as that the cost of solar power and batteries would take longer to fall to current levels. That’s a view held by scientists like David Schimel, co-founder and chairman of climate data and analytics company Entelligent who was lead author of the damning climate report that won Al Gore a Nobel prize in 2007.

Schimel told a climate investment opportunities conference that the rising costs of climate catastrophes and the falling cost of climate-mitigating technology may be creating a tipping point for the global economy.

“The costs of mitigation have been overestimated systematically and the costs of damages have been systematically underestimated, meaning that the cost of decarbonizing the world may either have a rather modest effect on the global economy or, relative to the business-as-usual scenario, might actually create wealth,” Schimel said during a discussion at the conference, co-sponsored by Societe Generale and Entelligent.

These developments are already resulting in big implications for investors, entrepreneurs and inventors in the low-carbon sector.

“There are huge opportunities for those who will benefit from the innovation of new technology, the investment in and profiting from new infrastructure, leading to the realization of what might be considered a new energy economy,” Schimel said. Industrial history shows that transitions start slowly but accelerate quickly. Abruptly and rapidly, investments flow, innovators innovate and transitions come ahead of expectations.

And not a moment too soon for the enormous populations without sufficient protections, Schimel said. “There are no longer isolated, extreme, Hurricane Katrina-type events,” said Schimel, also a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Looking forward, among the many challenges will be to avoid increasing use of energy when choosing so-called adaptation pathways, which include coastal zone management, wildfire management and resilient agriculture. With so much focus on adaptation and mitigation, another hurdle will be to increase investments in emerging technologies to address the problems of the future.

“It’s critical for investment to be in not only existing and understood technology, but also in blue-sky technology that might enable transitions we can’t even imagine right now,” Schimel told conference attendees.

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