The Future I See Is Bright and Beautiful
I'm Counting on You to Help Make It Happen
When I think about 2050, I see a wonderful world we’ll be thrilled to enjoy together. The future could be beyond our wildest dreams and entirely within our grasp.
Awful things happening now make it hard to imagine. Racism seems to be growing. Climate change is painfully delivering on its threats. Poverty got a real boost from COVID-19.
As a result, it is easy to forget that long-term trends on most metrics are pretty positive.
We are not, however, moving quickly enough with respect to climate change. Today, I’d like to share my vision of the climate future with you, hoping that you’ll be motivated to join me in efforts to reverse climate change, starting now.
Energy feels expensive now. Energy cost in 2050 should be much lower than it is now. Perhaps dramatically. The reason is simple and obvious: solar panels work.
I’ve heard intelligent, liberal people worry about replacing their solar panels in as little as seven years—the time it takes to pay for them. That’s silly. Many panels are guaranteed to deliver 90 percent of their initial rating in ten years and 80 percent after 25 years. Dusted from time to time, some solar panels are likely to generate power for 100 years.
In 2050, most of the solar panels ever built will still be in service, but we’ll have long finished paying for many of them, and owners will have fully depreciated them, too. The energy coming from those panels will be genuinely free. Completely free. Unqualifiedly free. Free!
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If current trends continue, the cost of new solar panels will be much lower, adjusted for inflation, than today. Expanding the world’s access to the sun’s power will be cheap.
Wind turbines have many of the same benefits, but they will require increased maintenance over time. At some point, wind turbines with their moving parts will be retired, recycled and replaced. Don’t forget, however, that for the past decade, wind power has been the cheapest source of power on the planet. We’ll always tap wind for cheap power—precisely because the wind often blows when the sun doesn’t shine.
Smaller wind turbines operating atop your home or between downtown buildings are in development by intelligent people who calculate that they can bring the cost of residential wind down to be comparable with solar, reducing the need for batteries.
Other entrepreneurs and scientists are working on more sources of fuel-free energy.
Wave energy is expensive today. The technology is still in development. The oceans where waves are biggest are harsh environments. Once that technology scales up, it could drop in price to be comparable to the cost of solar plus batteries—and it operates in many places 24 hours a day, providing reliable baseload power.
Geothermal technology is improving. The critical measure of improvement is the temperature at which we can convert heat to power. As that declines, more marginal geothermal resources will be available for cheap, baseload power generation.
Many worry about the cost of batteries in their homes. Please don’t give it another thought. Our cars will have batteries. We’ll plug our cars into our homes and connect them to smart grids that use our cars’ batteries as backup power plants. This futuristic dream is already happening in California. In the event of a loss of grid power, powering homes from our cars will be easy, default behavior.
In the future, we’ll rely exclusively on fuel-free power. Electricity will be cheap. The grid will be more stable. What happens next is fantastic.
Every home in the U.S. will have access to reliable, clean energy (remember that in 2022, thousands of rural homes, especially in Native American communities, lack power). By 2050, universal access to reliable power may even be accurate for the entire globe. Everyone in the mountains of Nepal and the deserts of Africa could have comfortable and affordable electricity.
In that world, access to all the world’s knowledge via the internet will be universal, too. Kids growing up in Fiji will have the same opportunity to learn high-value computer skills as kids in Palo Alto, California.
By 2050, no one will live in extreme poverty. No one. Even refugees—rarer though they’ll be—will have access to income opportunities and other resources. While we will still identify people who live in relative poverty, they will be living lives those stuck in extreme poverty today would risk their lives to enjoy.
In 2050, it will be commonplace for people in big cities to commute via the air. The power required to enable a cross-town flight will be cheap. Charging the craft for the next flight will take less time than disembarking and boarding new passengers. Short-range flights of all sorts will utilize quiet, safe and efficient electric motors and batteries.
And, yes, by 2050, we’ll have multiple options for zero carbon, long-range flights. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t see how that would happen. Now it is clear. Jet engines can burn hydrogen as fuel, and it produces zero carbon. We can produce hydrogen without any carbon by using fuel-free energy.
We can also use cheap, abundant power to provide water in places where it is scarce. Desalination is primarily an energy challenge. Pulling water from the air is possible but expensive, primarily because of the energy required. Water-from-air may never be feasible for industry or agriculture. Still, it will be for drinking and perhaps other residential uses with proper gray-water recycling (flushing your toilets and watering your plants with the water from the sinks and showers).
In a world of cheap, abundant energy, our wildest fantasies can become a reality. In that world, enhanced by artificial intelligence, we can imagine developing vaccines in weeks rather than months, stopping pandemics before they begin. We can envision universally effective cancer treatments and better drugs for heart disease. The future could be beyond our wildest dreams and entirely within our grasp.
How do you and I move the world in that direction and on that timeline?
We act. We do something. Ultimately, we each must do everything we can.
We can all play a part in three arenas: policy, personal responsibility and investment.
Policy: In this arena, we must all vote for people and policies that will put the transition to clean, green fuel-free energy on the top of the agenda. We can become activists who advocate for these policies, too.
Personal Responsibility: I’m infuriated when people say, “What I do doesn’t matter. My carbon emissions are less than a drop in the bucket, smaller than a pimple on the elephant’s butt and just a drop in the ocean.” If we all make good choices, corporations will have no choice but to heed the people’s will. If no one will buy a VICE (Vehicle with an Internal Combustion Engine), then no one will make them. Personal choices with our spending are our most powerful tool. If you can, put solar panels on your home. Rooftops are a much better place for solar panels than farmland, spectacular desert scenery or where forests could be. Recycle. Eat less meat. Drive less. Walk more.
Investment: Almost everyone has the opportunity to make a difference by investing directly in climate change solutions. You may think, “No one wants my $100, and I can’t invest more than that. Why bother?” Let me tell you why. When 1,000 people put $100 each into something, investors with millions to deploy take note. Your tiny investment could catalyze big ones.
The future could be beyond our wildest dreams and entirely within our grasp. Join me in the effort.