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HUBweek event brings MIT experts, Boston community together to collaborate on climate change solutions

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By Mary Potts, Communications Intern, MIT Energy Initiative

Continuing its tradition of supporting the innovation ecosystem in Boston, HUBweek 2017 featured a multitude of events designed to bring together creative and passionate minds, and facilitate impactful discussions on today’s leading problems. One such event, hosted by the MIT Climate CoLab, was “Deep Dive: Open Innovation on Climate Change.” The event took a unique, bottom-up approach where participants shaped the agenda for the day and took an active role in leading breakout sessions.

The morning started with an opportunity for participants to suggest topics of interest within the climate change realm on which they wanted to collaborate and brainstorm high-impact solutions with their peers. Event facilitator Laur Hesse Fisher of the Climate CoLab invited attendees to share their names, background and work related to climate change, and the issues they wanted to discuss in a large open-circle setting. Participants came from all walks of life, including researchers, scientists, industry experts, entrepreneurs, economists, students, advocates, retirees, and concerned citizens.


This broad intersection of people gave rise to an even more diverse array of discussion sessions. The event was structured with three sets of half hour sessions, with up to seven different topics being discussed simultaneously in small group workshops during each time block. Sessions included digital currencies and carbon pricing, engaging the healthcare community in climate change discussions, personal sustainability, the future power grid, open spaces and flooding in Boston, climate change in the Himalayas, and much more.

 


MIT Joint Program Director John Reilly led a breakout session on climate modeling and prediction. He began his session with asking everyone in the group to introduce themselves and share their primary interests and concerns. Finding the risk Massachusetts faces from climate change-induced sea level rise to be a recurring answer, Reilly shared his work modeling tens of thousands of tropical storms and the impacts they would have on coastal areas. Discussions centered around Boston not being prepared for tropical storms and the trade-offs between retreating from or hardening our coasts with shoreline armoring structures. Conversations then evolved to consider the role of young people in future climate solutions. Reilly asked, “Is there a role for high schools to play to help students learn how to protect their households from natural disasters and make climate-smart decisions on where to purchase a home?”

MIT Energy Initiative Postdoctoral Associate Emre Gençer explored carbon capture, utilization,and storage (CCUS) during the workshop he led. Gençer explained “large scale deployment of CCUS technologies is a must to achieve decarbonization targets.” The power sector is the largest single carbon dioxide emitter, and more than half of coal-fired power plants worldwide are less than 20 years old, meaning they will still be operational into the foreseeable future and must be paired with CCUS technology to avoid being major emitters. However, the total capacity of current CCUS projects is only around 30 million tons of CO2/year—well below thetargeted level of 4 gigatons CO2/year by 2040. Following his explanation, Gençer fielded questions from the group; when asked about how to make CCUS an economic reality, he replied that given the current costs, “carbon pricing is required to boost the widespread deployment of CCUS technologies.” The call for effective carbon pricing was echoed at numerous other sessions throughout the day.


It was a consciously low-tech day, with minimal screens and distractions. Instead, chairs were set up in small circles around the room to catalyze engaged, inclusive discussions. There was an optimistic tone to the day despite the major challenges being discussed, with attendees feeding off the ideas and passion of other participants. At the end of breakout workshops, most people exchanged email addresses to continue their problem-solving discussions at a later time. An effective and motivating networking day, the impacts of the event will likely extend well past the time of HUBweek itself.