What’s the most important thing that you do with your phone? Calls? Email? Facebook? Getting a higher score on Candy Crush? You know who you are. What if you could do something even more important? Like solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And if you could solve any of the world’s biggest problems, what would it be? For me, the problem that I’d solve is climate change. Why? Well, for starters, I’m a scientist at Stanford University and I’m compelled by the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that says our current fossil fuel use is endangering every ecosystem and the existence of human civilization as we know it. But the deeper reason that I care about climate change is actually much more personal. I grew up on a small farm in California and I’ve seen the seasons become unpredictable first-hand. Record floods and record droughts have become the new normal. My family had seen summer heat so intense that it split ancient oak trees.
And we’ve seen our neighbors devastated by hundreds of wildfires. We’ve also lived through our own home burning to the ground, taking the lives of two fantastic dogs, a wonderful cat, and five generations of history with it. So I care about climate change because I love my family and I want to protect my home. And I care about climate change because there are literally billions of other homes and lives in danger. I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to work around the world for 15 years, and I’ve made many great friends along the way. Friends, whose homes, lives, and livelihoods, are often in even greater danger than most of us here, because of the interconnections between climate, poverty, hunger, disease, crime, and violence. So how can we solve climate change? Well, for starters, for the rest of the world to live and thrive, the fossil fuel industry must die. And we also need to stop unsustainable manufacturing in food production.
These are monumental challenges to be sure, but the good news is we already have all the clean energy technologies and sustainability technologies we need to solve the problem. What’s missing is public engagement that’s sufficient to put these solutions in actions fast enough to avoid disaster. So the biggest missing piece of our climate puzzle is really you. And by you, I mean all of us, myself included. We like to blame corporations and governments on climate inaction. But their decisions all trace back to our votes, our lifestyle choices, and how we spend and invest our money. So the climate problem is really our problem. Most of us already know that climate change is a huge problem, but the big challenge is bridging the gap between how much we say we care about climate change and actually what we do on an everyday basis.
To do this, we need tools that put information and incentives in the right places to change our everyday actions. Fortunately, you guys already have an amazing device that can do this. Which brings me back to where I began. That’s right. You call this a phone, but it’s really a hyper-connected super computer that it can inform all your decisions and send advice to you to change, and connect you to pretty much anyone else anywhere in the world. I’m now working with an extraordinary team of scientists and engineers to launch a service that connects the power of this amazing device as a tool to solve climate change. We’ve launched a service called OROECO that makes it fun, easy, and rewarding for everyone to be part of a collective climate solution. We started with the goal to create the world’s most powerful carbon footprint calculator. Then we’ve added personalized tips for what you can do to improve your climate footprint while saving money at the same time.
And to encourage us all to move from saying we care about climate to actually doing something about it, we’ve added in points, prizes, and real-world rewards to swing the deal. OROECO’s climate number crunching has led us to some surprising conclusions. For one, we found that many people who really say they care about climate change, actually have a personal carbon footprint that’s substantially worse than average. This is definitely true for myself. And the reason for this is that a lot of us who care about climate change also tend to fly. We want be multicultural, and go around the world, and connect with our families, too. And just one cross-country flight could easily outweigh everything else we’re doing to be more sustainable.
Another surprise from many OROECO users is how big the carbon footprint is from our dietary choices – what we eat. And that is actually matters a whole lot more for climate change to eat less red meat than it matters to eat everything local or everything organic. Because it’s not just how we spend our money but also how we invest our money that makes a difference. We’ve started to use OROECO’s data to create low carbon investment products. And here we found an even bigger, and quite frankly, much better surprise. Investment funds that are fully divested from fossil fuels and only invested in climate leaders and other industries actually perform better. They make more money than conventional investment funds. We’re now working to launch this strategy into the market, which we think can mainstream low carbon investing, and really dispel this myth that we have that dirty energy companies are necessary for a healthy investment portfolio.
And of course, there are many of other great services out there, beyond OROECO that help us align our personal values with our everyday actions. There’s GoodGuide which makes it easy to see the sustainability footprint of virtually everything we can buy at the supermarket. There’s Buycott and BuyPartisan, which show us how our spending decisions connect to money and politics. There’s Slavery Footprint which shows us sobering information about how our lifestyle choices are connected to forced labor, modern day slavery. And of course, there is Fitbit and MyFitnessPal apps that are encouraging us all to lead healthier, happier lives. What these apps all have in common is they’re taking previously invisible information about our impacts, and making it both visible and actionable. And it’s not just about information. It’s about motivation. Our phones can be a tireless coach that’s always with us, giving us just the right information and incentives, and the motivation to act and change your everyday actions.
Also, when apps like OROECO connect up to services that connect us socially so we can compare with our friends and family in our social networks, they tap into something much more fundamental. We, as humans, one of the most powerful motivating forces we have is to earn respect from people we care about. And we all like to see that we’re doing at least as well as average. But of course, this is never actually possible for all of us to always be better than average. But that’s actually a good thing. Because when an app shows us we’re not actually better than average, it encourage us to improve. And when enough of us consistently try to be better than average, then the average improves creating a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement that benefits everyone. Last, but certainly not least, our phones can inspire us through the power of storytelling which is really what TED is all about. And we’ve already been talking about this today.
This is Chai Jing. She’s a Chinese journalist who just release a low-budget documentary on how air pollution is affecting her daughter’s health. Her story, thanks to the power of social networks and mobile apps, received over 200 million views in just 48 hours. That’s about one-third of China’s urban population in a weekend. Stories that are both inspirational and important can now race around the world at the pace of Twitter and Facebook, which is to say, at the speed of ‘like’. I care about climate change because of how it connects to my own story and my own loss. And I care about climate change because of how it connects to the stories of people and places I love around the world. I’m sure you all have your own climate stories to share stories that can inspire you and many others into action. And action is exactly what we need because climate change is a massive collective action problem that requires a collective action solution.
We now have the tool we need to act together. With this, we are empowered to reinvent our future and align it with our values. With this magic wand, we have the power to change our own lives, then spread that change to everyone around us; even changing companies and governments in the process. With this, we are no longer drops in a bucket but a connected ocean of potential. So how will you change the world? The power to shape the world that you want is now literally, in the palm of your hands. Use it with love, use it with passion, use it for a little bit more than Candy Crush. (Applause).