By now it should be obvious that climate change will not spare any human, plant or animal on Earth. Mainers are already experiencing warming of the Gulf waters (jeopardizing the lobster industry), shorter periods of snow cover (jeopardizing winter recreation) and smoke from faraway wildfires (jeopardizing health). We must tackle this problem differently than we have so far, and soon.

After over 30 years entrusting national governments through the United Nations to avoid catastrophic climate change, it is clear that not enough has been accomplished by any of them to meet the targets of the Paris agreement (Climate Action Tracker). Polarization within governments, rivalries among nations and the continuing stranglehold of fossil fuel-based economies prevent the required reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions needed to maintain a stable climate.

Canada Wildfires Worldwide Air Quality

A man runs in front of the sun rising over the lower Manhattan skyline in Jersey City, N.J., on June 8 as thick, smoky air from Canadian wildfires covered the Northeast. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Yet, society still has one ace to draw upon – human technological intelligence. For the climate change problem is fundamentally not a political, social or economic problem, although it affects or is affected by all these areas; it derives from technical issues, and resolving it is ultimately a technical matter.

Over 30 years ago, the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to assess the scientific aspects of climate change. Now we need a similar movement at the international level to coordinate efforts by scientists and engineers to solve the climate change crisis by discovering broadly applicable alternative energy sources and effective carbon removal technologies that can be implemented as soon as possible. The time for endless, increasingly alarming assessment reports is over. The time for solutions has arrived – actually, it is long past due.

The scientific and engineering community needs to organize and galvanize as never before to find the technical solutions to climate change. Scientists and engineers around the world from many different fields, including those not directly related to climate, must dedicate some of their time to finding climate solutions. They need to develop massive, robust storage capacity for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind that are intermittent. And they should continue to seek other low- or no-carbon energy sources that could be broadly applied and transformational. Carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere also needs to be taken much more seriously as a primary strategy and not just as a future overshoot contingency. Much more research needs to be conducted immediately on more efficient ways of removing carbon dioxide from the air than current direct air capture approaches, including harnessing nature’s way by catalyzing artificial photosynthesis.

A significant proportion of the world’s scientists and engineers, even outside the climate field, must redirect their focus and their research to solving the climate change crisis. The Manhattan Project in World War II provides a rough analogy to what is needed now to address climate change, but at a scale orders of magnitude greater and in a much more open and inclusive way. The massive, coordinated technical effort to avoid calamitous climate change must include physical scientists (e.g., chemists and physicists), biologists and many types of engineers (e.g., civil, chemical). Broad-based scientific and engineering participation is needed precisely because solutions to the climate crisis go beyond climate science per se, although the latter needs to evaluate all potential fixes for their effects. Coordination can be achieved online, allowing a mix of both concerted and independent efforts to research and solve the problems of alternative energy sources and atmospheric carbon removal. With today’s online resources and communication capabilities, it should be possible to focus and organize research and development while still fostering creative thinking and innovation.

As we are already experiencing, climate change will, if it continues unabated, wreak hellish conditions on all life on this planet. The world’s scientists and engineers must step up where governments have not or cannot. Scientists and engineers must stop the ship from sinking, not just tell us repeatedly how much it is sinking. They must discover and deploy the technological solutions we need to avoid devastating climate change.

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