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Stéphane Bancel, CEO of pioneering biotech powerhouse startup Moderna, understands the vital importance of climate. More than a year into a global pandemic brought forth by COVID-19, a brutal new virus that has triggered so much chaos and disruption, Bancel thinks the world has been primed to see how collective action can address monumental challenges. And that communities are capable of great change. Together, people can not only make do, but also make better. “I hope this crisis has opened the eyes of people that climate is a much bigger crisis, with much bigger consequences,” says Bancel.
At the helm of one of two companies bringing a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to market, Bancel and his team constantly ask, “What if?” This keeps the company bold and relentlessly exploring new spaces with advanced technology to find better solutions for human health. “I think you need to be able to take risks, calculated risks, and execute with quality,” the Frenchman says. “If we don't do high-quality science, it's garbage in, garbage out.” Put this business philosophy at the emerging field of mRNA therapeutics and treatments, and a start-up the size of Moderna, which employed 800 people at the start of the pandemic, is with established titans operating at more than a hundred-times their size.
Moderna’s next efforts involve bringing modern science, technology, and scaled innovation to cancer treatments, birth defects, heart repair, and even the flu vaccine, which Bancel notes can be brought to higher levels of efficacy.
The same questioning spirit and urgency is needed when tackling issues such as environmental resilience and food sustainability. “We're in such a race against time that we need to unlock every tool available to us… we need to go at the climate issue with the same intensity that the industry went after making a vaccine,” Bancel says. “We need to reinvent how we do our jobs. And I think agriculture has a big role to play in how we care for the planet.”
In the drive to address climate change, agriculture has a unique opportunity to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it within the soil and reduce emissions through specific, beneficial land management practices – such as no-till, cover crops, complex crop rotations, and input reduction. This potential has received bi-partisan recognition, and support from both the private and public sector. But it also has not been nearly fully tapped, yet: The transition to beneficial farming practices that regenerate the soil may require changing decades-long habits, takes time to see results, has upfront costs, and requires a localized approach based on the unique microclimate farmers are operating in. In a study Indigo conducted last year on 3.4 million fields—or 90% of American farmland—cover crops and no-till only saw 5.5% and 34% adoption, respectively,
“Scaling soil carbon capture is going to change the world,” Bancel says, referring to the “gigantic impact” farmers can have in rectifying the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “Farmers have the tools in their hands to help the world, and so we need to figure out how to help farmers.”
Bancel’s teenage daughters are focused on protecting our planet, learning how to take action, and ensuring Earth Day is a priority in their household. Research shows the younger generations are capable of learning and consuming new information while older generations can only leverage what they already know. Collective action between the generations is needed, too. Bancel says:
There's this massive movement happening across the planet. We need to come together.
Stéphane Bancel is an Indigo Board Director.