For most of human history, the human condition was a struggle to survive. Quality of life barely improved for thousands of years. As recently as two hundred years ago most people were farmers. They worked over 60 hours a week to barely make ends meet, went hungry multiple times per year, and had a life expectancy of 29.

Only the last 250 years have been exceptional. The industrial revolution led to an explosion in human productivity that transformed life as we know it to the point that in the West, we now have a quality of life that would be the envy of kings of yesteryear.

We managed to massively improve quality of life while the world population exploded from 1 billion 200 years ago to 8 billion today.

This growth has been powered by a massive increase in energy consumption, which in turn has mostly been powered by hydrocarbons, especially coal, oil and natural gas. The issue is that the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions of this use have reached such a scale that they are warming the planet to the point that climate change is an existential threat.

The amount of energy accumulating in the oceans is equivalent to detonating five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs per second, every second over the past 25 years. If aliens showed up and started dropping 5 nukes a second on Earth, we would drop everything to deal with it. However, because this process is largely invisible, we have been complacent.

As a result, more than 1 million species are at risk of extinction by climate change.

If greenhouse gases continue to get pumped into the atmosphere at the current rate, most of the Arctic basin will be ice-free in September by 2040.

The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years.

The magnitude of the problem is so daunting that many people despair at the problem believing it to be hopeless. Others believe the only way to solve it is to return to a life of misery and degrow out of the problem. Neither is viable. The first is pure nihilism, while the second one is not palatable. No one wants to go back to the low quality of life of the past. Not to mention that without most of our industrial processes the planet could not sustain more than 1 billion people, let alone the 8 billion we have living on Earth right now.

But I have good news. Real progress is being made. Humanity is rising to the challenge. While growth used to require a growth in emissions that is no longer the case. Since 1990, the US economy has more than doubled in real GDP (excluding the impact of inflation) while emissions have remained flat.  

It’s also worth noting that this is not because we outsourced emissions to China. Typical measures of carbon emissions, like the one above, show emissions from production. If production is offshored, then emissions can be outsourced. Climatologists keep track of how much emissions are outsourced. The Global Carbon Project maintains a database of estimates of consumption-based emissions — the carbon emissions that are necessary to produce the goods and services that a nation consumes.

Consumption-based emissions cannot be offshored. Under a consumption-based measure, if an American buys a TV, the carbon emissions that go into making that TV are allocated to the US, no matter where the TV is made. If an American TV factory packs up and moves to China, but the TV still gets sold to an American consumer, then consumption-based emissions are unchanged.

As you can see below US emissions from consumption are flat over the past 40 years, while most of the increase in emissions in China come from an increase in consumption. Emissions due to outsourcing and offshoring are negligible.

Let me explain why emissions have stayed flat in the West during the past 30 years despite real GDP doubling. The main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming are CO2 and Methane. 25% of these emissions come from energy production. 25% comes from agriculture. 21% comes from industry and 14% from transportation.

Energy Production

By far the most progress is being made in energy production. Solar is already the cheapest form of energy production.

Solar prices have divided by 10 per decade for the last 40 years, a whopping 10,000 decrease in price and are continuing to decline. Even the most optimistic forecasts of the past underestimated the scale of the decline in prices.

As a result, people have massively underestimated the increase in penetration of solar energy production. Solar accounted for 4.7% of energy production in 2022 up from essentially nothing in 2010, far outpacing even the most optimistic forecasts.

In fact, most of the new electricity capacity added in the US in 2023 is renewable, most of which is solar.

Something similar is happening around the world. Because solar and wind are so cheap now, utility companies are starting to install them in large quantities. As of 2022, solar and wind were almost one-eighth of global electricity generation, and 2023 is going to show another large increase.

In many countries of Southeast Asia and Africa the grid is so unreliable that people are creating their own solar microgrids. I am even observing it at my small scale. I am taking my house in Turks & Caicos fully off grid with solar and batteries with a payback period of less than 3 years!

However, when it comes to the decarbonization of the grid, energy production is only half of the solution as solar is intermittent and we need an effective storage solution for nighttime use or cloudy days.

I have good news here as well. Battery prices divided by 42 since 1991.

Prices are still dropping rapidly with a 50% drop in price between 2023 and 2024.

Meanwhile, energy density has improved 10-fold since the 1920s, and five-fold since the 1980s.

As a result, energy storage installations tripled from 2022 to 2023, with forecasts revised significantly upward.

US battery storage capacity is expected to nearly double in 2024.

It’s already having an impact on how we power ourselves. For instance, this is how California powered itself in 2021 versus April 2024.

Because of network and scale effects, we are nearing the point solar plus batteries will be cheaper than all other forms of energy production. Given that humans typically only do the right thing when it’s in their economic interest to do so, at this point all new capacity will be carbon free. All this is to say that I can easily imagine a world within 30 years where all our energy production is carbon free.

The IEA — whose predictions are famously conservative — now forecasts solar to provide a larger percent of global power capacity than either coal or natural gas in just four years.

Of course, batteries will help transform that capacity into a similar percentage of total generation. In other words, you are looking at a true technological revolution in progress. It is no longer a question or a theory; it is a fact.

This future may also come faster should fusion ever become commercially viable or other solutions become viable.

Likewise, while I believe solar plus batteries will be the winning combination because of the ever-decreasing costs, there are alternatives that are being worked on such as gravity-based energy solutions like Energy Vault or hydrogen based grid scale storage.


A similar trend is happening in transportation. Most of the emissions in transportation come from cars and trucks.

Real progress is also being made. Global new electric car sales were 14% of all cars sold in 2022, up from 0% in 2010, again far outpacing even the most optimistic forecasts of a decade ago.

It’s worth noting that most of these of fully electric and that sales grew 50% in 1 year from 2021 to 2022.

China and Europe leading the way on electrification. 1 in 3 cars sold in China are now electric while 1 in 4 cars in Europe are now electric.

Electric cars are simpler to build and maintain than conventional cars given that they do not have transmissions. With the rapidly decreasing cost of batteries and network effects, they are becoming ever cheaper. As better batteries and more dense recharging networks address range anxiety and with rapid charging batteries on the horizon, it’s easy to imagine that over half of new cars sold will be electric within a decade and that the entire fleet will be electrified within 30 years. It may happen faster as the decrease in penetration in cars with combustion engines will make many gas stations unprofitable, decreasing their density further accelerating the trend towards electric cars. So far electric car sales have far outpaced even the most optimistic projections.

While they are not a large source of emissions, progress is also being made on electrifying aviation with both helicopter and short haul electric aircraft currently in development.

On top of that all the arguments against electric vehicles are wrong. Some believe there are not enough easily recoverable metals in the world to build the necessary batteries. As Hannah Ritchie writes, this is extremely unlikely. For example, here is the chart for lithium.

The estimated lithium resources has continued to increase over time. In 2008, total global resources were estimated at just 13 million tons; now that number is 88 million tons. Chances are it will go higher. Reserves will increase, too; in 2008 they were just 4 million tons, and now they’re at 22 million. We keep finding new lithium deposits and improving our ability to extract lithium.

People are starting to realize that the world is is full of lithium. The US finding massive amounts of it may be one reason why lithium prices have collapsed over the last few months.

Hannah Ritchie has more charts showing a similar pattern for every other critical mineral — copper, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and neodymium — but their pictures all look even more optimistic.

Range anxiety is becoming a non-issue has range is rapidly increasing. Almost all vehicles now get over 200 miles per charge, and many are getting over 300 miles. On top of that there are a lot more charging stations than before to the point the chances of being stranded in your electric vehicle are very low.

Electric vehicles already emit only 50% of carbon emissions relative to gas cars, a number that only goes up over their lifetime. This will improve dramatically once the grid shifts to solar. Also, the emissions from building electric vehicle infrastructure are a one-time expense. In the very long run, electric vehicles and their infrastructure will be totally zero-carbon.

People also worry that mining minerals for electric vehicles exploits poor countries. As Noah Smith points out, his is thought to happen in two ways:

1.         Poor miners will be exploited, and

2.         Communities near to the mines will experience environmental harm via industrial runoff from the mines.

A key example of the former is how quasi-slave labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo is used to mine cobalt, which is used in electric cars. And there are many examples of industrial pollution from lithium and copper mines.

But there are at least two big problems with this argument. First, extracting and exporting mineral wealth is the main economic activity that many poor countries do; it is what supports them at more than a subsistence standard of living. Demanding that rich countries refuse to buy minerals from poor countries on humanitarian grounds would actually just impoverish those countries, with the blow falling hardest on the poor and marginalized. Having rich countries refuse to buy those exports would be the exact opposite — a moral blow to Earth’s most vulnerable.

Second, we shouldn’t compare the exploitation and pollution of electric vehicle mineral mining to some imaginary degrowth utopia where everyone becomes a subsistence farmer with no need for lithium or cobalt. That is simply fantasy-land. Instead, we should compare it to the economic system we have now. The system we’ve set up to extract coal, natural gas, and oil is far more exploitative and damaging to the environment than a system based on electric vehicle mineral mining.

Even considering the quadrupling of mineral demand that will be necessary for the green energy transition, the amount of mining that goes into extracting fossil fuels is just orders of magnitude larger than what we’ll need to do to make electric vehicles. We’re talking millions vs. billions here.

It’s fine to complain about the environmental harms from lithium and copper mining, but we need to put these into perspective here. Even without considering climate change, the total global environmental harm from extracting billions of tons of oil a year is significant, and you really should include climate change. The whole point of transitioning to electric vehicles is to save the planet from changes that will do, to put it mildly, a lot more harm to both poor communities and natural habitats than all the lithium and copper mines ever created.

The alternative to electric vehicles isn’t some pastoralist fantasy where we all grow our little sustainable gardens and sing songs all day; it’s a world that keeps on digging up and burning billions of tons of petroleum per year.

We should try to stop labor and environmental abuses in resource-mining nations. But we should not let worries about those abuses prompt us to commit far greater crimes against the poor and against the global environment.


Emissions from industry have long seemed insoluble because creating cement and steel, two of the building blocks of the industrial revolution required ultra-high temperature heat that could only be generated with hydrocarbons. However, progress is being made here as well in two forms. Companies like Heliogen are using concentrated solar to create enough heat for use in industrial processes. Likewise, other companies are focusing on carbon capture at the factory to prevent emissions during production.

While not directly linked to industrial production, it’s worth pointing out a few other amazing applications of solar with companies like Source using hydropanels to transform the humidity in the atmosphere, even in dry desert environments, into drinking water helping refugee camps and remote communities get access to drinking water.

Food Production:

Food production is the category where progress is the slowest. The small vegetarianism and vegan movements in the West are dwarfed by the scale of the increase in meat consumption in the emerging world as people are becoming wealthier. Given that sheep and cows belch methane, which is an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas, the issue is getting worse.

I am beyond sympathetic with the ideals of the vegan movement. The way we treat animals is unconscionable. We overfeed animals that live in horrifyingly cramped spaces. I am convinced hundreds of years from now people will look at the way we treat animals today with the same horror we look upon our forefathers who condoned slavery.

However, most of the currently advocated solutions seem untenable. Homo sapiens are built to be omnivores and clearly seem to have a strong liking for animal protein. Without industrial food production we could not sustain the 8 billion people currently on the planet. The Impossible Foods of the world will become cheaper. However, they are highly processed suggesting they might not be very healthy for you. Alternative proteins like insect meat seem viable in our animal feed but are not palatable to most.

I suspect that the long-term solution will come from lab grown meat from companies like Upside Foods. Lab grown meat requires 1/100th of the water and land use to make animal protein and no animal is hurt in the making of the meat. We are in the early innings and making expensive low-quality meatballs. However, with scale and iteration the quality should improve while the costs decrease. I am hoping that in 20 years we can have lab grown meat with the same nutritional value for cheaper than animal made meat.

As mentioned before, given that humans only do the right thing when it’s in their economic interest, the transition will happen once lab grown meat is just as good while being cheaper. At this point consumption will rapidly switch.

In the meantime, companies like Symbrosia will help keep emissions under control. They provide seaweed-based supplements to livestock farmers, reducing methane emissions by as much as 80%.


This is not to say that all is for the best in the best of possible worlds. Emissions are still growing in emerging markets. We have enough heat accumulated in the oceans and atmosphere that we can expect temperatures to rise by several degrees which will require adaptation.

Progress is happening on this front as well. GDP growth has decoupled from emissions in China.

As a result, Bloomberg New Energy Finance now thinks global emissions have peaked and will decline at an accelerating pace from here on in.

That’s not yet fast enough to save the world from serious harm. But it should be an antidote to some of the flamboyant doom and gloom going around. On top of that progress is happening on decarbonization with companies like Carbon Engineering and CarbonCapture leading the way.


The beauty of solar or fusion is that while they have reasonably high fixed costs, the marginal cost of energy is $0. As a result, it’s possible to imagine a world where energy becomes too cheap to meter. In such a world many of the other constraints we have also disappear.

For instance, people have been worried about a water shortage. However, the idea that we can run out of water is ludicrous. The earth is 70% water. The issue is that fresh water is rarer. However, in a world of infinite energy, you can desalinate salt water and have infinite fresh water. At my house in Turks & Caicos, I am installing AqSep. The payback period for the device is only 1 year! When combined with my off grid solar generation with battery storage, the house will be fully off grid and carbon neutral.

Likewise, people are worried about possible food shortages in the future, even though Malthusian concerns have always been wrong. Regardless, with infinite fresh water from desalination, you could easily grow crops in vertical farms and probably even grow crops in the desert!


The challenges we face are daunting, but we are rising to the challenge of the 21st century. We are building a better world of tomorrow, a sustainable world of plenty.