As any engineer or scientist knows, in a complex system how questions are framed — and by whom — can make all the difference. Our planet is certainly one of the most complex systems there is. The challenge for humankind partly lies in generating new ideas around our planet’s survival, but also in escaping old ideas around its nature and purpose. Our mindset is a critical player in how much progress we make, in what directions, and how quickly.
The recent news that the Arctic is warming much more rapidly than predicted draws yet another line under the urgency for driving change. Extreme heat, wildfires and floods are forcing a tipping point in policy, business and individual action — and, perhaps most importantly, our own mindset. There’s no question this is not just a moment to listen to the science. This is also a human moment: a moment to listen to each other, to come together, face what is happening and agree on a path forward for our planet.
Interestingly, the science being done in the name of climate action isn’t just about new technologies such as renewables. Research is also taking place around how we think about the issue and how what we think determines how we act. Human thought and interaction also form a complex and rarely predictable system — just think about the unfolding human experiment that is social media.
There are also many different but related discussions around climate which are increasingly converging as the situation becomes more dire. Research being done by academics such as Christine Wamsler and others at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden highlights the importance of how we think about the problems before us. Changing how we think about our planet is just as critical as building new sustainable technologies. Our mindset influences how we approach problems, and also how we influence other people to adopt new ways of thinking about climate action.
Researchers at Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication have actually grouped the public into six segments around their attitudes toward climate change: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive. From 2009 to 2019, the proportion of those alarmed has doubled while those cautious, doubtful and dismissive have shrunk. Expectations on businesses to take climate action continue to increase across customers, employees, shareholders and regulators.
The telecommunications industry may only account for about 1.4 percent of global carbon emissions, but we are seeing strong collaboration across technology providers and network operators taking firm climate action — a conversation also strongly promoted by GSMA, our global trade association. More importantly, our industry has the potential to reduce over 15 percent of global carbon emissions by enabling an accelerated digital transformation across industries.
Ericsson has always taken a science-based and collaborative approach toward climate change, and we have been making steady progress toward our goal of net-zero emissions in our own activities by 2030 and across our entire value chain by 2040. We can do a lot fast: Our own research reveals that the information and communications technology sector can reduce its carbon footprint by 80 percent just by switching to renewable energy sources.
We see further potential by introducing smart energy management solutions, leveraging lithium-ion batteries to reduce the dependencies on diesel generators, which extend to also offloading the public utility grid during peak utilization. In our ambition to pioneer a sustainable future, we are piloting advanced use cases based on 5G, XR, AI and digital twins, for example, to transform our own operations at our U.S. 5G Smart Factory in Texas. Our progress to date has led to the World Economic Forum recognizing our factory as a global front runner in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, awarding the site with its prestigious Global Lighthouse designation in recognition of our deployment of next-generation technology at the site and its subsequent impact.
In approaching the fundamental question of “what is to be done” about climate change, it is our mindset that will help shape the outcome. Viewed through that lens, the work we are doing as a company in the name of our “imagine possible” vision is so much more than an aspirational phrase — it represents a very real and desirable shift in how we view the problems we are facing as human beings.
Like it or not, money is an indicator of the value we place on something. The sheer size of the funding appropriated for climate programs in the U.S. indicates a shift in the value governments and, by extension, their citizens place on our planet and ensuring its sustainable future, which is very encouraging to see.
Markets and investors will respond according to the additional certainty that both private sector and government funding represents. There are increasing signals to the market that we are adopting a long-term view in addressing climate change, which is clearly fundamental for driving exponential climate action and protecting ourselves and our planet for generations to come.
Previously published on Ericsson.com and the 3BL Media newsroom.
Image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Niklas Heuveldop is President and CEO of Ericsson North America, serving Ericsson's customers in the United States and Canada with industry-leading technology and services.