The conversation surrounding environmentalism and climate often focuses on big solutions, involving sweeping legislative reforms and increases in government spending. While these approaches may make a difference, they overlook the power of small changes and bottom-up innovation.
In his new book Time to Think Small: How Nimble Environmental Technologies can Solve the Planet’s Biggest Problems, Todd Myers makes the case for implementing smaller solutions to tackle our greatest environmental challenges. Myers, who serves as the environmental director at the Washington Policy Center, recently joined John Hart on Right Voices to discuss his book.
While it may seem counterintuitive to approach large problems like energy, conservation, and climate change with small solutions, starting small often leads to innovative breakthroughs. As Todd Myers explains in his book, thinking small can be the most effective way to tackle huge problems:
“Small is nimble. Small is the ally of creativity. Small can spread rapidly. There is a reason we say something is ‘going viral’ when it suddenly appears everywhere. Small moves fast. Small can do big things.”
The release of this book comes at an especially important time in the energy and climate debate. Over the past few years, lawmakers have used top-down mandates and massive spending sprees to advance climate agendas. To be sure, federal investments in emerging technologies are important to driving environmental progress. But the conversation can quickly become ineffective and misguided when it focuses solely on what the government can do. As Myers told Hart, “So much of the focus is on big government, and government solutions aren’t working.” Instead, this strategy often leads to the government virtue-signaling and promoting policies that look and feel good, rather than drive down emissions and increase human flourishing.
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In his book, Myers points out several examples of innovators that are thinking small and making a huge impact. One company is eWATERservices which is using the power of AI and the cloud to deliver clean and affordable water to Africa. Referred to as the “PayPal for water,” eWATER gives its users a key fob that opens up access to one of the company’s water pumps in the community. Customers then pay for their water use (often less than $0.01 per day) with their cell phones, an approach that is readily available for many Africans.
Having a privately owned water pump incentivizes upkeep of the system. Many water access points and wells in water-impoverished areas are installed by NGOs and governments, which can lead to neglect and long wait times for upgrades and improvements to be implemented. For eWATER, repairs happen within a week. This keeps water flowing. And because eWATER’s spickets deliver clean drinking water on demand, communities do not need to burn charcoal to boil and purify water, which has reduced deforestation rates in respective eWATER communities. To date, eWATER has dispensed over 1 billion liters of fresh water to nearly 400,000 people worldwide.
Another company that is using the power of small innovation to drive environmental progress is called Sense. The company has created a small monitor that connects to residential electrical boxes. Once there, it determines the electrical use of each appliance and room in a house and relays the information to the homeowner. After Myers installed one in his own home, he realized how much electricity his kitchen lights were using. This prompted him to buy LED light bulbs, saving him money in the long run and making his home more energy efficient.
Time to Think Small makes the case for climate optimism by pointing out that bottom-up environmental solutions are nearly endless. As Myers said on Right Voices, this realization can shift one’s mindset from focusing on top-down government solutions to looking to individuals and the private sector to address environmental challenges.
“The impulse is to say ‘okay, how can government solve this problem?’ Well in a large part of the world, and especially in parts of the world where environmental problems are the biggest, government solutions simply are not an option. If the government were doing its job we wouldn’t be having these problems. The fact that we have these problems in many cases is because there is poverty, because there are weak government institutions or simply because there isn’t the political willpower. So instead of just throwing our hands up, how about we innovate? How about we create something that solves the problem.”
As the issues of climate, energy, and the environment become more prevalent in policy discussions, Todd Myers in Time to Think Small demonstrates that the best way to solve these issues is often by looking for ways to unlock and deploy the innovative thinking of entrepreneurs and the private sector.
Order Time to Think Small here.