In the midst of one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity—climate change—parts of the U.S. energy system are already collapsing, ecopreneurs Sara Menker and Donnel Baird warned at the TIME 100 Summit Tuesday during a panel discussion moderated by Simon Mulcahy, the president of sustainability at TIME.
Menker and Baird—who are both founders of companies on the forefront of tackling climate change—advocated for increased awareness about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel dependence, and food insecurity—a problem that has been exacerbated by rising food prices and changes in climate conditions.
“I’m very alarmed about the climate crisis,” Baird said. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and clutching my newborn trying to think about what our life is going to be like when she’s my age.” But, he added, “it’s a solvable problem.”
Menker, a 2021 TIME 100 honoree, is the founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence, a startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to tackle food security and climate change. Her company works with thousands of clients, ranging from big food companies to financial institutions, providing each with troves of data and analysis on the global agricultural ecosystem.
Baird is the founder and CEO of BlocPower, a climate startup that helps aging urban buildings become greener. His company won a contract for the first large-scale, city-wide electrification initiative in the U.S., with the goal of moving the entire city of Ithaca, N.Y. off fossil fuels in the next four years.
Both companies have been named to the TIME 100 most influential companies lists.
Menker, who was born in Ethiopia and founded Gro Intelligence in Nairobi, Kenya, emphasized the power of African companies, some of which are creating cutting-edge solutions to dire global challenges. Traditionally, there’s been “this idea that innovation only came from America,” Baird said, but that’s been shattered.
Still, the path to entrepreneurship isn’t always easy for people of color. “People thought I was nuts when I went to Silicon Valley to pitch,” she added. “They were like, ‘What bunch of Kenyan engineers can solve a technical challenge this complex?’”
Going forward, the ecopreneurs are optimistic that today’s youth—regardless of their sex, race, and age—will contribute innovative solutions to the climate crisis. “We really do need the wisdom of the crowds,” Baird said. “I welcome them to the fight.”
The TIME 100 Summit is the live event extension of the annual TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. It convenes leaders from the global TIME 100 community to spotlight solutions and encourage action toward a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.
Speakers for the 2022 TIME 100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, filmmaker Taika Waititi, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwayne Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, Christian Siriano founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, author, poet, and president of the Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda editor in chief Sevgil Musaieva, and TIME co-chair and Salesforce chair and co-CEO Marc Benioff.
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