There is no issue today that is more polarizing than climate change. And that point was on full display during Michelin's Movin'On Summit.
The panelists agreed that all should focus on the 2050 target of achieving zero emissions, but the debate gets heated when it comes to discussions on how to reach that goal.
The crux of the argument, to paraphrase one of the panelists, comes down to whether you value progress over perfection. Most leaned on the side of progress, where there will be incremental improvements toward the goal, starting with a reliance on technology that is available now. That, they argue, will enable them to reach interim targets set for 2030, and then continue working along the way toward developing technology that can bring about net-zero.
One panelist, however, stood out in decrying that view as dead wrong.
Jeffrey Sachs is a big name in the topic of climate change, as president of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.
While he said the COVID-19 pandemic may have "shocked the world," it hasn't altered the world's prospects of fighting—and beating—climate change. To achieve that, an energy system transformation is needed. Sachs argues that the technology exists today to beat climate change. Wind and solar power work, and the auto industry is showing that the transition to electrical vehicles is not only viable, but inevitable.
Where the problem lies, he maintains, is with the fossil fuel industry and the political clout it wields throughout the world in nations where petroleum energy still rules.
Sachs specifically challenged the panelists who said that interim solutions bring incremental progress, such as a shipping company using liquid natural gas for its fleets. Fighting climate change, he argued, requires giant leaps backed by big investments, or else the temporary fixes will become permanent solutions that put up obstacles to enact true change.
The others panelists weren't shy about defending their plans.
Michelin CEO Florent Menegaux said it is vital to make progress now, rather than wait for the "perfect solution," which may not arrive for decades.
Rodolphe Saade, chairman and CEO of the shipping firm using LNG, said the technologies don't exist for his industry to work toward net zero emissions, and may not for another decade. So his company will start with what is available now and continue to chip away at the problem.
In the end there may be no one right answer. They all agree on the final destination. Are you the pragmatist who says an elephant can only be eaten one bite at a time? Or the dreamer who believes the only way to an end point is to reach for the stars, and do it now?