July 9, 2024


The Pope Was Right—We Need Environmental Innovation

By: Kelvey Vander Hart

Pope Francis recently met with a group of leaders from many different major companies and banks. During this audience at the Vatican, he encouraged these leaders to pursue responsible innovation and care for the environment: 

“I urge you to place the environment and the earth at the center of your attention and responsibility…the innovation of the entrepreneur nowadays must first and foremost be innovation in caring for our common home.”

While Pope Francis was encouraging leaders to be socially responsible, he hit on a very important reality—innovation is the best tool environmentalism has, and it must be put to work. 

Regulation is certainly an important component of environmentalism, and has served a role in protecting species, keeping our air and water clean, and more. But, in the same way you shouldn’t reach straight for a chainsaw if a hammer will easily get the job done, it is not the first tool we should use. When an environmental problem arises, it is better to first see if innovation and market forces could solve things. 

Some environmentalists might reject this way of thinking and automatically want to hand the government more power. But innovation has been proven to be effective in helping protect the planet, develop new technologies, and create solutions for the problems plaguing our environment. Here are just three examples: 

Carbon Capture

Carbon emissions are a huge contributor to climate change. But, thanks to ongoing innovation in carbon capture, we are now able to directly absorb carbon from the air and sequester it. Technology might very well take us to a point where an industry or company becoming carbon negative is normal, not an outlier. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Conservation

The current focus of the AI conversation might be on things like ChatGPT and art, but did you know that AI is playing a huge role in conservation? AI has tremendous potential for conservation use with applications ranging from scanning the sea floor for plastic to monitoring wildlife activity to collecting environmental DNA. AI is rapidly creating new opportunities for environmental research and action. 

Advancements in biodegradables 

You might still have to deal with paper straws here or there, but we have made leaps and bounds towards creating durable, truly biodegradable disposables. While using reusable products is a great environmental action, America runs on single-use items. And in many places (such as the medical field), single-use will never truly be done away with, so biodegradable advancements are huge. 

There are so many other examples of innovation I could include, from regenerative agriculture to conservation easements to making clean energy more efficient. Whether you agree with him on anything else, the Pope was right on this—we need environmental innovation. Regulation serves its role, but innovation driven by the market is what will truly pave the way to a brighter future for our planet.