The UN recently issued a bleak report on green house gases. Dire as the news may be, this is a practical problem that's amenable to social and engineering solutions. Those solutions are now quite well understood and younger generations are motivated to implement them.
How the Future Will Be Different
We are already pumping twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as it can handle according to some estimates. This claim may, however underestimate the capacity of the planet to resist change - the Gaia hypothesis. For example, mushrooms and other fungi modulate their growth rate in response to temperature so as to resist global warming.
Even if the pace of our response to the climate change challenge is far too slow, there are many reasons for optimism:
- In future, we can be sure that less fossil fuels will be used, if only because they are depleted and hard to extract. Renewable energy sources, such as solar are becoming dramatically cheaper over time and have already reached parity with oil in regions with plenty of sunshine (3).
- It is a safe bet that homes of the future will be smaller and more energy efficient given the economic insanity of building ever larger homes for ever smaller families and the environmental costs of doing so.
- There will be a lot more vehicle sharing, cutting the huge costs of materials and manufacturing for cars that otherwise sit around in driveways doing nothing. Web sites that share clothing and toys are already gaining strength and point to a future where there is much less consumption and much less waste.
- 3-D printing will usher in a world of distributed manufacturing so that items are made close to where they will be used, cutting down on transportation. Manufacturing will use locally available recyclable feed stocks that eliminate the problem of used products ending up in landfills.
- The local food movement is also gaining strength and we will see more urban gardens, domestic greenhouses, backyard fish ponds and so forth.
- Green architecture will create new buildings that are at home with their local ecology rather than being in conflict with it. This means having more green plants to retain rainwater and to minimize temperature change during the day. Buildings will be designed to take advantage of the prevailing wind, so minimizing the need for air conditioning. Better glass and window designs will trap solar heat in winter and block it in summer.
- In the future, people will likely be eating a lot less meat because it is the most expensive way of deriving nourishment. is a highly inefficient use of agricultural land, and constitutes a major source of carbon pollution today.
- Industrial point sources of pollution will also be less of a problem due to the development and adoption of effective carbon scrubbing technologies capable of removing all of the carbon from smokestack emissions.
It may seem excessively optimistic to imagine that all of the causes of climate change are amenable to technological solutions. Yet anyone who bets against the pace of technological innovation is likely to lose their stake. On the other hand, the damage to rainforests and other sensitive ecologies may not be reversible.
The mere fact of knowing how to solve this problem does not mean it will get done either. We also need the political will and financial resources. Unfortunately, far more is spent on exploiting new sources of fossil fuel than is spent on preventing global warming while most national governments do not commit to limiting carbon emissions. A recent accord between the U.S. and China shows that the two biggest players are on board, as is Europe, opening a path for smaller countries, and less developed countries, to follow.
Major changes are generational and younger people are also more fully committed on environmental issues, seeing alternative energy, reduced meat production, more fuel efficient cars, and recycling, as no-brainers, for example, and being prepared to practice what they preach on these matters.
Business needs to be on board as well. The alleged conflict between free enterprise and environmental concerns is often over stated for at least two good reasons. First, the technological innovations required to solve environmental problems are in their infancy but will prove a boon to entrepreneurial business types that will provide dynamism to the global economy of the future.
Second, we are all in this together. Investors of the future will refuse to invest in corporations that do not take their responsibility to the environment seriously whether it is a matter of using alternative energy, creating a greener supply chain, using recycled materials, operating in green buildings, or funding green initiatives and even green politicians. The green of business will be reconciled with the green of environmentalism.