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From the president

Taking our earthshot

The world has less than 30 years to get the global economy to net-zero carbon. Here’s what MIT is doing to help tackle the problem.

Simon Simard

Last May, when we issued our Climate Action Plan for the Decade, we were mobilizing MIT to take on the climate problem as never before.

The complexity and uncertainty of climate change make tackling it much more than a “moonshot.” Getting humans to the moon was difficult. But it was a well-​defined problem with a solution based on established science, with no opposing forces other than a few laws of nature.

The “earthshot” we need now requires sustained contributions from industry, government, academic institutions, foundations, and philanthropists—and from all of us as individuals.

Daring to oversimplify, here’s the challenge: we must find affordable, equitable ways to bring every aspect of the global economy to net-zero carbon no later than 2050. At the same time, we must adapt to effects of climate change we can’t prevent.

To do all that in less than 30 years, we should pursue two tracks at once. On path one, we must go as far as we can, as fast as we can, with the tools we have now—not only science and technology, but also policy, infrastructure, behavioral and cultural changes, and more. In the US, the federal government can play a pivotal role by providing a national road map and sustained investment.

But current technology alone will not get us to the 2050 target. In parallel, on path two we need to invent, invest in, and deploy a suite of new tools. 

MIT is taking action on all of these fronts. Last year we issued the Climate Grand Challenges to inspire daring ideas to address some of the toughest unsolved problems around climate. Our faculty responded with potentially game-changing concepts, from capturing carbon dioxide by domesticating fast-growing microbes to designing lightweight, all-carbon buildings. 

It’s also crucial to find fast, efficient ways to deliver new solutions across the economy. This is why we built The Engine: to identify entrepreneurs with bold new scientific answers to deep societal problems and connect them with investors. Ideas in the works range from zero-­emission steel production to the most promising strategy for carbon-free fusion power.

And we launched the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium to help companies achieve their net-zero goals—through collaboration, not competition. The consortium’s member companies include industry leaders in fields from aerospace to AI, personal devices to packaged foods. They are working with MIT researchers and with each other to dramatically speed the creation, testing, and deployment of practical climate solutions.

When it comes to the climate crisis, nobody has all the answers. But if we tackle the pieces of the problem within our reach, and collaborate with each other, we have a real shot—an earthshot—at preserving a habitable world.

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