“I strongly believe that we will solve this problem—that we have the capacity to do so, that this is the critical decade.” That was the overview from Tom Steyer—a climate investor, businessman, philanthropist, and environmentalist you may remember from the time he ran for U.S. president in 2020. He was speaking to a (virtual) crowd of hundreds of Terra.do fellows, alums, and others in 2023.

Over the course of an hourlong conversation, Steyer shared observations on an array of topics, from 2050 net-zero pledges (a lot less meaningful than actual steps companies can take now) to fossil fuel subsidies (does a multibillion-dollar U.S. Navy ship amount to a subsidy if its role is to keep oil and gas flowing globally?) to the oversized brown chair he was sitting in (not his; he was on the road). 

 

“The technology—and our ability to solve this problem—is better than people understand,” he said early on, before elaborating on what innovations are already there, and what else is needed: He said he sees three categories, the first being “the technologies that we have that are absolutely competitive or leading in the market right now.” 

 

Solar, wind, electric vehicles, and batteries are all key examples, “because as we deploy them, we’ll continue to drive down the cost curve,” he said, arcing a hand downward, “and they’ll be completely dominant.”

 

Then there are nascent technologies like hydrogen: “They exist but they aren’t broadly deployed in any way. They don’t really have mature product-market fit.” Lastly, the category Steyer called “deep tech,” like fusion, will take still longer to deliver.

 

“In deployment, we need to win this decade in terms of electrification, efficiency, and renewables,” he said, noting the United States has some catching up to do: “There are a lot of countries in the world that have passed the U.S. in terms of renewable energy that might surprise you: Vietnam, Chile, Morocco. There are a lot of countries that have just gone ‘BOOM,’” he gestured like a line chart soaring up and to the right. 

 

Steyer also spoke to the justice dimension of climate action—how a problem largely owing to rich countries stands to disproportionately affect the developing world. This needs to progress “in a way that is good for those (poorer) countries to do renewable and clean technologies. And that’s going to involve technology transfers; it’s going to involve innovative finance which we are not seeing but maybe we’ll start to see.” There is an opportunity here, he said, for something much more just. 

 

Steyer had many other insights you can catch in the replay of his talk on YouTube. We particularly appreciated the bit about how “all investment is going to have to take into account climate, looking forward.” We think often about how the same is true for jobs—after all, Terra.do wants to help you get ready for your dream job working in climate.

 

– Daniel Potter

An earlier version of this piece ran last year when Steyer first spoke with us.