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The Solar Roadways Campaign: What Does It Mean for the Fight Against Climate Change?

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SOLAR ROADWAYS
Duane Prokop via Getty Images

On June 20th the Solar Roadways campaign ends -- having achieved more than double its $1 million goal. The project seeks to develop a modular paving system to transform every roadway, parking lot, landing strip, bike path, driveway and playground into giant solar panel. A solar grid like this would generate clean power -- three times more than is needed and among other things cut carbon emissions by 75 percent.

The animated debate about the feasibility of Solar Roadways is not really the key issue and sure, we may not pave America with Solar Panels anytime soon. But the campaign tells us something important about the fight against climate change. It illustrates pent up demand among growing numbers of people to seek innovation solutions by themselves. It was as if 46,000 people said "Hey, governments don't seem to be making progress on climate change, and that crazy inventor couple might actually be on to something. So why not spend 50 bucks for a Solar Roadways mug to pitch in?"

The campaign also points to a very big idea that could well be the key to solving this problem. Let me explain.

Up until now the world's biggest ills have been addressed by gatherings of nation-states. The model we have for global cooperation was forged in the aftermath of the Second World War, 70 years ago -- July 1 1944. Forty-two countries met at Bretton Woods, NH -- and subsequently created the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, followed by the United Nations, the G8, the World Trade Organization, and more.

Once state-based institutions like these had taken hold, it became hard to imagine that there could be other ways to address territory-spanning social challenges -- the human problems that, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "do not come permanently attached to national passports." But over time, it has also become clear that these institutions are unequal to the tasks. Progress on many fronts is stalled.

Today, people can take the bull by the horns. The advent of the Internet has created the means for enterprises of all sizes, down to individuals, to communicate, contribute resources, and coordinate action. We no longer have to wait for government officials to convene in order for the rest of us to align our goals and efforts.

The combination of these developments yields a new model. Multi-stakeholder networks as opposed to state-based institutions, can now achieve global cooperation, governance, and problem solving -- and make faster, stronger progress on many issues than those state-based institutions ever could.

For the past two years I've been leading a team investigating how networks of individuals, civil society, private sector and government stakeholders are achieving new forms of cooperation, social change and even governing important resources globally. Call them Global Solution Networks.

We identified 10 types of networks -- all addressing the issue of climate change (among other global problems). Advocacy networks work to change public opinion. Knowledge Networks do global research carbon. Watchdog Networks track carbon use around the world. Policy Networks create policy for governments and corporations. Standards Networks create global standards and Diasporas mobility people who have left their ancestral lands. There are Delivery Networks like the Solar Roads campaign that try to fix the problem themselves.

Governance Networks actually govern a global resource. Indeed, the Internet itself is orchestrated by a Governance Network that at one time would have been an unthinkable collection of individuals, civil society organizations, and corporations, with the tacit and in some cases active support of nation states.

So here's the big idea.

What if businesses, governments, NGOs academics created a global network to actually govern the climate -- similar to the Governance Network that oversees the Internet? Nation States have failed when it comes to taking effective action on climate change. Perhaps a multi-stakeholder network could mobilize the world to address the issue.

The world has been mobilized before, but it was around world wars where we were on different sides. A global Climate Governance Network run by a combination of the private sector, civil society, governments and individuals could mobilize the world to address the problem of carbon emissions.

The UN is organizing the biggest climate change conference ever in New York in September. To be effective this can't be a meeting of countries hashing over the same unproductive ground. It should be multi-stakeholder and the outcome should be the creation of a global Governance Network for the climate.

The Solar Road campaign shows self organization, inclusiveness, and action can be effective and that we can all get involved.

A global Governance Network manages the Internet. Why not the climate?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.com

Don Tapscott is the author of 14 books and the Executive Director Global Solutions Network Program at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. @dtapscott

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