From giant parasols hovering above the Earth to shield us from an unforgiving sun, to lasers shooting up into clouds to coax out much-needed water, Thomas Kostigen introduces and explores the cutting-edge technologies that have the potentials to confront the realities of climate change in his newest book, Hacking Planet Earth. We sat down with Thomas to learn about his inspirations behind the book and the innovations he finds most hopeful.
1) Why did you write Hacking Planet Earth?
I wrote Hacking Planet Earth to highlight, celebrate and create awareness about climate solutions. For too long we have hoped that preventative measures — turning off the lights when we leave a room, turning down the thermostat, using less fossil fuels in general — would help reduce global temperatures. But that isn't happening fast enough. We would need to reduce carbon emission, which lead to global temperature rise, by 45% within a decade to mitigate the effects of climate change. That isn't happening. That's why we need a Plan B: technological solutions that can artificially modify the climate.
2) Why do you believe it is important to turn towards more innovative methods to combat climate change?
More radical and innovative methods are needed to roll back the effects of climate change at mass scale. The last two words in the previous sentence are important. Simple, everyday steps aren’t going to cut it anymore. We need a significant shift in how we can address climate change. And this requires moonshots—big, awe-inspiring changes, ideas, technologies, and innovations.
3) Which innovation(s) that you researched for the book surprised and/or inspired you most?
Being able to control or change the weather with laser technology is something I turn to again and again as holding big promise. I actually was privileged to have the scientist who invented the laser create a cloud before my eyes. That was cool. And harnessing the weather can affect the climate in positive ways over time. I am eager to see how that technology gets used and the positive results it can bring.
4) Your book speaks about technologies that can harness solar power to fuel the world’s global energy needs (MIT says “the sun delivers more energy to Earth in one hour than humanity consumes over the course of a year”). What are some of the obstacles that exist in achieving this goal? What can regular people do to start heading in the right direction?
There is so much innovation in solar. The sun truly is the only energy source we need to power the world. When I was in the Sahara Desert and exploring one of the world’s largest solar fields (the Sahara holds the most amount of the sun’s energy on Earth), I was privy to how solar energy can be used for electricity — even on a distant continent. Transmission is a big obstacle all over the world. But that obstacle —getting the power from its source to areas hundreds or thousands of miles away—is being overcome. Solar energy in the Sahara, for example, now powers parts of Europe. And pricing, which has been a big obstacle in the past, is coming way down. We just need to keep working on access and the economies solar can bring. And that is happening. The average consumer can start exploring solar with smaller products, such as those offered by Goal Zero, to get comfortable with the technology and understand its potential. Rather than making a big investment for solar panels on a roof, for instance, how about starting with a power station for home backup power first and then scaling up?
5) What are the benefits of using solar to power the little things that we need electricity for every day – charging your cell phone, etc.? How can solar power help us in situations when we need to practice preparedness, like during our current public health crisis?
issue I often think about is how fortunate we are in the current circumstances that a natural disaster or other event hasn’t come along at the same time and knocked out the power. What would happen then? Imagine all the food people now have stored in their homes — and it turning bad quickly, or going to waste? In many cases, solar power is more reliable in disaster events. Solar chargers can also be a saving grace when traveling. I can’t tell you how many times I have been off the grid, trekking in some far off place, or even in places where I can’t find an outlet, and needed a phone charge or laptop charge.
6) What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I certainly hope readers find Hacking Planet Earth hopeful. The book is chock full of climate solutions. I also hope they will think about the possibilities that science and technology can bring to the climate crisis and share that awareness. If we rise to the occasion and become a solutions-based society, rather than just react to crises, I believe we can lessen the effects of climate change and create a more benign future for us.