Speed & Scale

An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now

By John Doerr
Speed and Scale book cover. It is mainly white with black text. Some words are red for emphasis. The title is sideways in the lower left corner.
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A venture capitalist’s view of the climate crisis. John Doerr, engineer turned investor, tells us exactly where we need to put our money to innovate our way out of this mess, “with urgent speed and at massive scale”. No one solution is going to cut it; we need a variety of solutions for many problems at once.

We need to scale the ones we have—immediately—and invent the ones we still need. In short, we need both the now and the new.

Main Points

How is the Climate Crisis Like World War II?

It starts with a fascinating story. In 1942, FDR needed to win World War II. But how? It seems like a massive, impossible problem, just like the climate crisis. FDR was able to distill the solution down to three points, each specific and action-oriented. He wrote it on a cocktail napkin:

  1. Hold four key territories
  2. Attack Japan
  3. Defeat the Nazis in occupied France

Laying the plan out in front of military leadership gave them the clarity they needed to work together and get it done. And they succeeded.

We need to do that for the climate crisis. So John Doerr has provided us his (considerably longer) cocktail napkin of a plan to tackle the climate crisis. It is multi-pronged, action-oriented, and clear. Each step gets us closer to a healthier planet.

The Plan

The ultimate goal: net-zero emissions by 2050, and to get halfway there by 2030.

To do so, we need to:

1. CUT (slash emissions)

2. CONSERVE (get more efficient)

3. REMOVE (clean up what’s left).

These actions need to happen across five broad sources of emissions:

  1. transportation 🚗
  2. energy 🔋
  3. agriculture 🌱
  4. nature 🌲
  5. industry 🏭

The Details

Each of these industries has several key results (KRs), which are too numerous for me to reproduce. As an example, transportation is split into Price, Cars, Buses and Trucks, Miles, Planes, and Maritime. Each of these has its own goal for reducing emissions. To see the whole plan, you’ll have to read the book.

In the spirit of FDR, we aim to be clear and concise: By “electrify transportation,” we mean switching from gasoline and diesel engines to fleets of plug-in electric bikes, cars, trucks, and buses (chapter 1) By “decarbonize the grid,” we mean replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, and other zero-emissions sources (chapter 2) By “fix food,” we mean restoring our carbon-rich topsoil, adopting better fertilization practices, motivating consumers to eat more lower-emissions proteins and less beef, and reducing food waste (chapter 3) By “protect nature,” we’re referring to interventions and protections for forests, soil, and oceans (chapter 4) By “clean up industry,” we mean that all manufacturing—particularly cement and steel—must sharply lower their carbon emissions (chapter 5) By “remove carbon,” we’re saying we must remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for the long term, using both natural and engineered solutions (chapter 6) As for our four accelerants, we’ll expedite these solutions by doing the following: • Implementing vital public policies (chapter 7) • Turning movements into meaningful climate action (chapter 8) • Inventing and scaling powerful technologies (chapter 9) • Deploying capital at scale (chapter 10)

A large part of the book is comprised of stories and opinions from influential wealthy people who are taking action on the climate crisis, such as Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Laurene Powell Jobs (see the full list on their website).

But It’s Expensive!

It is now cheaper to save the Earth than to ruin it.

Hal Harvey

Developing new technologies is expensive. Changing the basic infrastructure of entire industries is expensive. But we can’t afford not to. Difficult as it is to imagine a future so different from the present, the consequences of not spending that money would be far worse. Those who have the power and money need to make it easier for those who don’t to take action.

When people spend more to buy a “green” product over one that emits more carbon, they’re paying what’s known as a “green premium,” a term I first heard from Bill Gates. Markets have proven that when given a choice, most people won’t pay or can’t afford a premium for energy.

Other Notes on Climate Action

Doerr weighs in on the individual vs systemic action debate:

Individual actions are both needed and expected, but they won’t be nearly enough to reach this huge goal. Only concerted, collective, global action can get us past the finish line in time.

Equity felt like a bit of an afterthought, coming in mainly at the end, but Doerr did acknowledge it. That’s a small win, but we need to keep talking about it. Social inequity and injustice are part of the climate problem.

Here’s the big lesson we learned: You have to address everything at the same time. Environmental injustice presented itself as childhood asthma at five times the national rate. East Palo Alto is a drive-through community. It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic for more than five hours a day. The exhaust stays in the community. They collect no revenue from cars going through, and they have deeply negative health issues. When a kid is suffering from asthma, two things happen: 1) they miss a lot of school, and 2) they have lifelong negative health effects.

What Can I Do?

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” To which I’d add: The second-best way is to fund it.

The target audience for this book is wealthy, business-oriented Americans. That said, there are still lessons for everyone. What are the biggest problems we have, and how do we solve them? Maybe you can’t afford an electric car right now, but you know that as soon as you can, you should get one. Or at least take comfort in the fact that you shouldn’t be stressing too much about your food waste or plastic use. Reducing those is helpful to the planet, but you can’t solve the climate crisis on your own.

If you are a wealthy American, think about how you can leverage your capital and influence to reduce emissions in one of these sectors. Choose one you feel connected to, and where you might have more power than most to effect real change. At the very least, you can afford the green premiums that will go down as early adopters like yourself support the technology.


So remember, we need to cut, conserve, and remove across:

  1. transportation 🚗
  2. energy 🔋
  3. agriculture 🌱
  4. nature 🌲
  5. industry 🏭

This will help us get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and to get halfway there by 2030.

But if ever there was a time to make a wholehearted commitment, come what may, this is it. Because no one can say, “Climate change is not my problem.” Because we’re all in this together.

Want to read more? Find Speed & Scale here: Bookshop

The quotes above were gathered using Readwise. It’s a truly amazing app to help you remember what you read. If you want to try it out, use my link and we both get a free month 🙂

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You might also like my notes on:

The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway