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Expert data scientist shares a powerful realization: 'I was completely wrong'

"If anything, it [makes] me more determined to build a better future."

"If anything, it [makes] me more determined to build a better future."

Photo Credit: iStock

Data scientist Dr. Hannah Ritchie is on a mission to show that tackling rising global temperatures is not only urgent, but achievable.

As deputy editor and science outreach lead at Our World in Data, an organization dedicated to using data to understand the world's biggest challenges, Ritchie believes we can build a more sustainable future that benefits both people and the planet.

In her book, "Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet," Ritchie shares a powerful realization: "I thought most of us were going to die from climate change," Ritchie wrote, as excerpted by the Guardian. "I would have bet a lot of money that more people were dying from disasters today than a century ago. I was completely wrong."

This shift in perspective sparked her journey to spread a data-driven message of hope, she told the Guardian in an interview.

Growing up, rising global temperatures were a constant concern for Ritchie. But a key turning point came in college, when she discovered the power of data to tell a story of human progress. Important measures such as child mortality rates, for example, were actually improving globally.

This realization sparked a new question: What if we could continue advancing human well-being while solving our environmental problems?

Ritchie indicates that this is true sustainability — a world that provides high living standards for people today without compromising future generations or other species.

In Ritchie's view, harnessing capitalism's innovation engine is the fastest path forward, as she indicated to the Guardian — despite acknowledging that capitalism has its flaws. With the right incentives and investments, cleaner technologies can become affordable options that benefit our budgets as much as our planet.

Ritchie already sees signs of progress. The transition away from coal is accelerating, and the international goal of tripling clean energy capacity by 2030 is important. Even short-term shocks like the war in Ukraine — which initially drove up fossil fuel use — are in some ways pushing countries to decarbonize in the longer term, as Ritchie indicated to the Guardian.

There will be speed bumps, but the overall trajectory points toward a sustainable future.

On a personal level, Ritchie told the Guardian that her research helps relieve the pressure to "optimize absolutely everything" in her own lifestyle. She focuses on high-impact choices like eating plant-based foods, not owning a car because she lives in the city, and planning to install clean technologies when she can afford a home. 

Ritchie's data-driven and level-headed approach offers a refreshing antidote to climate doomerism. Her core message is one of agency and hope: "We need to be acting on this problem urgently, on a large scale, in the next five to 10 years," she told the Guardian.

"I am optimistic about the power of technology to change the world, and in terms of our fight against climate change it's the strongest lever that we have by far."

To Ritchie, the path is clear — now it's up to us to walk it. With smarter incentives, cleaner technologies, and the courage to envision a thriving future for all, we have a historic opportunity to tip the scales toward true sustainability.

The stakes couldn't be higher, but as Ritchie puts it: "If anything, it [makes] me more determined to build a better future."

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