Technology has always inspired and enabled us to be our best. Innovations have moved the needle on what humanity is capable of, and that includes our ability to protect our planet and all its inhabitants. 20th century inventions such as wildlife cameras allowed us to observe animals remotely without altering their behavior, giving us unprecedented insight into their worlds. Smog and pollution detectors tell us when we need to take measures to protect those with respiratory sensitivities, and modern medicine has saved countless lives from illnesses and ailments large and small. This undoubtedly continues today, with even more amazing capabilities coming in the next few decades as our world becomes more connected with the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
At the same time, new technologies have also accelerated our impact on the planet and its climate. This winter once again brought about extreme cold, last summer was the hottest on record, and we know that we are running out of time to reverse our impact on Earth. Many have said that eventually it will be too late, or pray that a miracle technology will arrive suddenly and save us. We work every day to try and enable such a silver bullet, but we need to think bigger and more collectively, with everyone working towards The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, for example.
In January, I participated in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting in Switzerland where the guiding theme was Globalization 4.0 and the future of interactions between nations and economies across the world. I was struck by how much conversation centered on life-changing technologies that are coming and how they will impact, and could protect, our planet. Ideas and solutions from crowdsourced monitoring of snow, forests, and water to blockchain being used to monitor the health of harvests tell me that people are thinking about the right things if we could just bring them to life. We have had fire and smoke detectors in our homes for years, so why not a similar alert system to watch entire forests of precious trees so we can put out fires before they get too large?
The potential for technologies like 5G to open up discoveries that might slow down the destruction of our planet should not be underestimated, and it is essential that the developing world not make the same mistakes that the developed world did when it comes to fossil fuel consumption during their modernization. Technology must enable developing nations to advance in a way that skips unclean technologies and go straight to sustainable solutions, such as solar-powered charging stations for cars and agriculture byproducts for heating homes. While the developing world has suffered greatly due to our iterative approach to becoming sustainable, there is no reason they need to repeat our mistakes. 5G and other 4IR technologies will change just about every industry in the world, and could bring about the capabilities we need to begin restoring the damage we have done.
I hope it will be enough, and that it will come in time to make a difference, but we all must do our part now. That’s why today I am proud to announce that Verizon will be carbon neutral by 2035. Given our size and the global footprint of our business, we hope that our efforts will be an impactful step towards preserving our planet and will enable our customers to reduce their carbon footprints as well. We are already well on our way to reducing our carbon intensity by 50% by 2025, and this year we were the first US telecom company to launch a green bond to spur even more sustainable investment.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming, bringing about technologies such as AR/VR, advanced analytics, and data processing that can and must be part of the solution. As I noted in my blog for WEF this winter, it can’t come soon enough, but it’s not just up to me. It’s on all of us to leverage this future of unprecedented connectivity and capability for the good of everyone, and everything. So this Earth Day, join me in thinking about and answering what may be the most important question of our time: What are you doing to disrupt climate change? I would love your thoughts. Tweet at me at @HansVestberg to continue the conversation.