The climate crisis is here. Time is slipping away to stop the worst effects of global warming, and the world is looking for solutions.
On “How We Survive,” Molly Wood explores the technology that could provide some of those solutions, the business of acclimatizing to an increasingly inhospitable planet, and the way people have to change if we’re going to make it in an altered world.
Our first season season dives deep into the economics, the tech and the human stories behind the race for lithium. It’s the “white gold” that will help electrify our cars, homes and power grids, and unlike the gold rush of the 1800s, this time, our survival might depend on it.
How We Change
Technology will help us avoid the worst outcomes of the climate crisis, and it’ll help us adapt to a warming planet. But technology alone can’t save us. Humans need to make profound changes. We need to change our behavior, our consumption, our policies and our mindsets.
In the final episode of the season, we talk to a climate psychologist about how our minds react to change and hear from a politician relying on Fergie and Megan Thee Stallion to get Americans excited about energy policy. We also visit an encampment in the desert where people are already adapting to a changing climate, living off-grid and generating their own renewable energy.
The Better Battery
Imagine a future where all the lithium we need has already been extracted from the ground and is endlessly recycled. Or where the batteries we use to store renewable energy are made from abundantly available materials — like salt.
This episode, we visit a lab where a couple of brilliant scientists are trying to build the batteries of the future. And we drop in on a company that’s extending the life cycle of lithium through something called “urban mining.”
Our favorite place to look for climate solutions: Science fiction. In fact, sci-fi (and its sub-genre, cli-fi) is what got us thinking about adaptation in the first place.
Cli-fi can get a little bleak — weather turns deadly; earth becomes uninhabitable; humans flee to space. And while it’s entertaining to imagine the worst-case scenarios, the best of the writing is hopeful. It allows us to dream up solutions that don’t involve billionaires, rockets or climate-changing satellite stations.
This week, Molly sits down with climate fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson to discuss his most recent book, “The Ministry for the Future,” which almost reads as a blueprint for saving the planet.
Our journey through the California desert continues. We visit the quiet front-runner in the race to extract lithium from the superhot, corrosive brine bubbling underground. And we dive into the past to look at an earlier attempt to harvest lithium from the Salton Sea. That project ended in failure, but its patents live on. And those patents could be a roadblock for the companies racing to extract the “white gold” today. With millions of dollars invested and a global supply of lithium waiting below the Salton Sea, there is a lot on the line.
We’re back on the road this week, to California’s Salton Sea, a salty lake in the desert that was once marketed as “Palm Springs with water.” Today the water is receding and increasingly toxic. The community that once thrived here now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
But there is some hope. There’s a huge amount of lithium all around the Salton Sea in the bubbling hot brine deep underground. Some hopeful modern-day 49ers have big plans to get it out. If they can only succeed, the lithium here could meet 40 percent of the world’s demand.
To survive the climate crisis, we need to electrify everything: our cars, of course, but also our appliances, homes, mass transit, entire neighborhoods and cities. Everything.
That’s no small task. So to better understand why electrifying everything matters, and how we’re going to do it, we look at the aftermath of a natural disaster and talk to one man who used batteries to save lives. Then we spend a little time with an entrepreneur whose vision for an electric future includes turning every building into a Tesla (sort of). And we talk to U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on how we can seize this moment.