I’ve never been shy about my passion for fertilizer.
Many people look at the environmental challenges our planet faces and see little reason for hope. But I can’t help feeling optimistic that the world has much of what we need to prevent a climate disaster—and we can invent the things we need but don’t have yet.
While our fight against climate change is far from over, I continue to be inspired by the innovative spirit that’s been unleashed across the world to invent the tools we need to stop global warming and avoid the worse effects of climate change.
My optimism got another big boost during my recent visit to Stanford University’s new Doerr School of Sustainability. The school was made possible through the generosity of John and Ann Doerr, who are supporting the school with a $1.1 billion gift, the largest contribution in Stanford’s history.
Touring research labs and meeting with professors and students at this one-of-a-kind school, I was blown away by the creativity and ingenuity at work to meet the energy and sustainability challenges of today and the future.
I stepped into the lab of Professor Thomas Jaramillo and learned about exciting research underway to convert water and carbon dioxide into fuels and fertilizer. Nearby, I visited with Professor William Tarpeh and heard about his surprising effort to minimize the environmental impact of our liquid waste, primarily urine, by recovering valuable resources from it, including nitrogen, phosphorous, lithium and even gold!
The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which opened its doors last month, was founded with the goal of accelerating solutions to address the global climate crisis. Given the urgency of its mission, the school has pulled together many academic disciplines under one roof, including Earth and planetary sciences, energy technology, sustainable cities, the natural environment, food and water security, human society and behavior, and human health and the environment. This approach will not only allow more collaboration among researchers, but it also lets students pursue double degrees, bridging science and business, law, and humanities. The world’s challenges cross many different disciplines, and the next generation of leaders should be able to do the same.
Getting to net zero emissions is one of the hardest tasks that humanity has ever faced. We need to change the way we make almost everything in the next 30 years to get to net zero emissions by 2050. That will require many new innovations. It will also require all of us—activists, elected officials, business leaders, philanthropists, and citizens—to be engaged in fighting climate change. Working together toward this common goal, as I saw students and researchers doing at this new school, I’m optimistic we can develop the breakthroughs that could transform our global economy, our lives, and our planet for the better.