The current escalation of multiple overlapping crises – climate-related disasters, pandemics, wars in Europe and stagnant inflation – is increasing anxiety and uncertainty around the world. Traditional solutions no longer work. Politicians have few convincing answers. Current organizations are overwhelmed. World civilization is undergoing an unprecedented transformation.
Looking ahead to the post-pandemic era and the current surge in inflation, most economies face strong headwinds that threaten to drag them back to the secular stagnation of the 2010s. policies to promote trade in services and increase green investment, prospects will improve significantly.
Each of the five fundamental sectors that collectively define a civilization – energy, transport, food, information and materials – is experiencing rapid technological disruption. These ups and downs herald a sunset for today’s dominant extractive industries, which are entering a deadly economic spiral, driving higher unemployment, deeper inequality and civil unrest.
But this “global phase transition” also lays the groundwork for a new life cycle of civilization. The most significant technological disruptions aimed at mitigating climate change affect three fundamental sectors – energy, transport and food – which together account for 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Fossil energy is broken down by the “superpower” potential of solar, wind and battery (SWB). Private vehicles powered by gas-guzzling internal combustion engines will be overtaken by electric vehicles (EVs) and eventually autonomous vehicles (A-EVs). Commercial farming and fishing is being turned upside down by precision fermentation and cell culture, which allows all kinds of proteins to be incubated and programmed without killing the animals.
All disruptive technologies follow the same learning-by-doing feedback loop. As costs drop exponentially, adoption will accelerate to dominate the market. As these technologies become ten times cheaper than the local technology, they will quickly replace it. The disruption of horses by cars, landlines by smartphones, and photographic film by digital cameras has been going on for 10 to 15 years.
Anxiety is not a one-to-one replacement, but leads to entirely new systems with distinct properties. For the first time in our history, emerging technologies are showing a clear path to ending the age of scarcity.
Oil, gas and coal are becoming increasingly inefficient and expensive. The value of the energy they generate relative to the energy they use has more than halved in the past two decades. But the opposite is true for SWB, as the return on energy investment (EROI) increases exponentially.
As I explained in a recent Earth4All article, the cheapest SWB combination is over-supplying wind and solar generating capacity at 3 and 5 times existing needs. This “superpower” ability – generating more energy than incumbent fossil fuel systems at zero marginal cost for most of the year – would significantly reduce overall system costs by eliminating Eliminates the need to store seasonal batteries for weeks.
Swiss government scientists have shown that building such a system on a global scale could generate 10 times more energy than we use today. This will enable the electrification of a wide range of industries, from wastewater treatment and recycling to mining and manufacturing. And the system will not need constant input like the current fossil fuel system; once built, it will last between 50 and 80 years.
The same counterintuitive cascading effects would benefit the transportation industry. The electric vehicle and A-EV cost curve shows that carpooling via a Transportation Service (TaaS) will become up to ten times cheaper than owning and managing your own car by the 2030s Therefore, only a fraction of the number of vehicles we currently use will be put to use. And, because SWB and TaaS involve a tiny fraction of the battery storage needs predicted by most conventional analysts, the consumption of key minerals needed to manufacture batteries will be much lower. versus fear.
These disruptions will also render all fossil fuel-based food, transportation and energy system infrastructure obsolete. This includes oil rigs, gas terminals, pipelines and coal-fired power plants, as well as global transportation and logistics networks for fossil fuels, livestock and livestock products.
Dismantling this infrastructure will create unprecedented metal recycling potential. Iron, aluminum, steel, copper, nickel and cobalt are widely used in the oil and gas industry, but will also aid in energy, transportation and food processing.
Meanwhile, the disruption of the dairy industry will free up 2.7 billion hectares of land previously devoted to livestock for livestock, agricultural regeneration and active afforestation. This will enable large-scale natural strategies for removing and capturing atmospheric carbon.
Over the next two decades, the transformation of the global production system will create unique possibilities – what my RethinkX colleagues James Arbib and Tony Seba call the “age of freedom.” Furthermore, we don’t have to wait for exotic and expensive disruptive technologies to solve our biggest global challenges. We have all the tools needed to usher in a new era of abundance that provides power, mobility, food, education and advanced infrastructure for all at a tenth the cost. with existing systems and do not cross planetary boundaries.
But reaching this “free age” will not be easy. Today’s disruption is rapid, but not fast enough to move the world out of the climate danger zone. If we delay them by clinging to incumbent industries that are dying, social, economic, and geopolitical collapse could stall or even impede transformation.
As disruptive technologies evolve for economic reasons, governments can accelerate this transition by taking advantage of markets. This requires an end to billion-dollar subsidies and new investments in conventional energy; creating a free and fair electricity market, upholding the power ownership and business rights of individuals; and establish open source intellectual property systems for global design and local deployment. In the case of residential heating, governments should provide incentives and subsidies for electrification.
Above all, we must change our minds and embrace the need for a one-step change from centralized energy, transportation and food supply to decentralization. This means moving from top to bottom to bottom and from hierarchy to network and nodes.
The old system is dying while a new system is being born, putting us in the eye of the storm. But with the right choices, we can quickly build a fairer, more advanced civilization that delivers unparalleled levels of universal and lasting prosperity. There is no time to lose – and everything to gain.
By Nafeez Ahmed
Director of Global Research Communications at RethinkX and member of the Transformative Economy Committee of the Club of Rome.