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Climate change is an urgent global issue and the IPCC process needs to create realistic scenarios to tackle it. This video discusses the need for economic and social progress to be coupled with reducing emissions, as well as the possibility of a rebound effect if more economic activity is pursued. Solar energy is currently the most viable source of energy, but nuclear power may be needed if demand increases significantly. Prosperity can give us the resources to solve problems, and we must maximize our problem solving capacity to be prepared for any issue.

Short Summary

A group of around 50 researchers developed new scenarios for the IPCC report, despite a 20-year trend of exponential growth for solar and wind energy. The fifth scenario, SSP5, is a separate paper which highlights the scenario, though it is not clear where the group of people came from. This process attempted to be rigorous, but the researchers lacked qualifications or expertise in technology or technological change. The paper discusses their process and attempts to be rigorous, but the lessons of the previous generation of climate assessments have not been taken on board.
SSP5 is a scenario in which economic and social progress is fueled by fossil fuels, resulting in an increased intensity of their usage. Carbon withdrawal is assumed to occur through biofuels, soil sequestration, technological-based program withdrawal, and ocean-based carbon enhanced weathering. The speaker argues that this is wrong and backwards, as pushing for economic and social development should be coupled with reducing emissions. There is a possibility of a rebound effect where if there is more economic activity, there could be a net increase in emissions even if the per unit impact is smaller.
Technology development must go hand in hand with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to reach the goals of the scenario by 2100. Solar energy is likely to supplant coal due to economic reasons, but this could change depending on the cost of capital and externalised costs. A new industrial revolution could involve robotics making mining coal incredibly cheap and demand for energy being effectively infinite. This could lead to an increase in solar panels, as well as continued burning of coal. It is important to consider all scenarios and look further afield than just natural gas when making decisions about energy investments.
Clean coal is a concept where coal is burned with the emissions captured, but it is less efficient and costly. Renewable energy may supplant fossil fuel infrastructure, but the question is whether the cost of producing an additional unit of energy is lower for coal and gas than renewable energy. Solar energy is capable of meeting unlimited demand and is more efficient than coal or gas, but there are potential bottlenecks in production due to the need for certain materials and labour costs. Automation may help to reduce costs, and if renewable energy is included in the production loop then it may be easier to use these sources.
Solar and wind energy are currently the most viable sources of energy, but if demand increases significantly, nuclear power may be needed. In the future, new materials and equipment may be used to make solar panels more efficient, reducing the competitive advantages of geography. However, the speaker is skeptical of the idea that localization of production will completely pan out, citing the emergence of large companies as evidence. Automation of labor is expected to fundamentally change many of the assumptions made today, leading to decentralization and localization of energy, transportation and food over the next 15-20 years, although there may still be room for centralization.
The speaker criticises the lack of realistic scenarios in the IPCC process, noting that the few dozen people making decisions have not consulted experts in technology to create a more plausible scenario. They are instead motivated by ideologically driven constraints and have trillions of dollars at stake in policy making decisions. This is inadequate for the seriousness of the problem, as the world could divide into geopolitical blocks, with some having access to advanced solar power technology and others relying on coal.
Climate change is a global issue and countries are trying to come up with strategies to combat it. China is taking the problem seriously, but the speaker has doubts about the official documents they are signing off on. Rethink Disruption is a blog website discussing how pessimism erodes faith in progress and how political calculus may lead to not making a stand on certain issues. The blog website is part of a new media strategy to keep a consistent drumbeat, but it is prosperity that enabled the solving of most of the world's problems. The speaker remains optimistic that everyone will be able to benefit from new technology and abundance can help avoid conflict.
Prosperity can provide the resources and freedom to tackle problems, but austerity is not the answer as it implies there is no solution. Climate change will still happen due to the existing carbon in the atmosphere, and the despair caused by this has led to a decrease in people having children. Civilization is fragile and we should be maximizing our problem solving capacity to be prepared for any issue that arises.

Long Summary

Scenario-based analysis is a sound approach for modelling and understanding climate change. The previous generation of climate assessments made unrealistic assumptions about the growth of renewable energy, with the best case scenario expecting only 4% of global energy to be from solar, wind and geothermal by 2100. This was published five years after Tony Siva published on exponential growth of clean energy, and despite a clear exponential trend of growth for solar and wind for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, the lessons of this have not been taken on board.
A group of around 50 researchers, mostly the same as the previous round, developed new scenarios for the IPCC report. They do not have any qualifications or expertise in technology or technological change. The paper discusses their process and attempts to be rigorous. The fifth scenario, SSP5, is a separate paper which highlights the scenario. It is not clear where the group of people came from, but a research assistant is looking into it.
SSP5 is a scenario in which economic and social progress is fueled by fossil fuels, resulting in an increased intensity of their usage. It is the only scenario in which a high level of technological development is pursued. This scenario corresponds to the highest temperature degree increase and the highest total greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon withdrawal is assumed to occur through biofuels, soil sequestration, technological-based program withdrawal, and ocean-based carbon enhanced weathering.
The speaker argues that the push for economic and social development is coupled with exploitation of abundant fossil fuel resources and adoption of resource and energy-intensive lifestyles, which is wrong and backwards. The speaker suggests that the scenario which involves the most rapid technological progress will also logically lead to the most rapid reduction in emissions per unit of economic activity. However, there is a possibility of a rebound effect where if there is more economic activity, there could be a net increase in emissions even if the per unit impact is smaller.
Technology development must go hand in hand with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to reach the goals of the scenario by 2100. However, this assumption is false in many parts of the world, including China. Even with the assumption, the figures show that a reduction of emissions is necessary. A friendlier scenario could involve a new industrial revolution, where robotics make mining coal incredibly cheap and demand for energy is effectively infinite. This would lead to an increase in solar panels, as well as continued burning of coal. The economics of the coal industry must be taken into account.
Solar energy is likely to supplant coal due to economic reasons, but this could change depending on the cost of capital and whether externalised costs are accounted for. If the cost of capital is near zero and externalised costs are not taken into account, then solar energy is likely to be the preferred option. However, if the cost of capital is high and populations increase rapidly, then coal power could be more cost effective. It is important to consider all scenarios and look further afield than just natural gas when making decisions about energy investments.
Clean coal is a still mythical concept where coal is burned but the pollution, particulates and carbon dioxide emissions are all captured. This is less efficient and costly, but still produces energy. It is argued that if automated labor and capital are abundant enough, emissions wouldn't be a worry. This is seen as a dangerous scenario and is worth taking seriously, but should be seen alongside a scenario where renewable infrastructure supplants fossil fuel infrastructure. The question is whether the marginal cost of producing an additional unit of energy is lower for coal and gas than renewable energy.
Solar energy is capable of meeting unlimited demand, as it is more efficient than coal or gas. However, there are potential bottlenecks in production due to the need for certain materials and labour costs. Automation may help to reduce the costs of coal and gas, and if renewable energy is included in the production loop, then it may be easier to use these sources. Ultimately, solar energy is a viable option for meeting unlimited demand, but there may be certain challenges in production.
Coal production is physically possible, but not economically viable by today's standards. Even if demand for energy increases 100x, solar and wind would not be able to meet this demand and nuclear power would be needed. In a future with more geopolitical conflict, the supply chains for solar may become more complex, making investing in production infrastructure such as coal more attractive. This could lead to a significant part of the coal reserves being burnt in the next hundred years, making the long-term outlook uncertain.
Solar panels are currently produced using certain materials and geography plays a role in their production. However, advances in technology and energy production could make production more localised and autonomous. This could reduce the competitive advantages of geography, although the speaker is not fully convinced. In the future, new materials and equipment could be used to create solar panels that are more efficient, making them easier to produce.
The speaker is skeptical of the idea that localization of production will completely pan out, citing the emergence of juggernauts such as Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon as evidence. Automation of labor is expected to fundamentally change many of the assumptions made about the world today, with counter-intuitive results. The team is leaning towards decentralization and localization for the next 15-20 years in energy, transportation and food, although there is still room for centralization and its advantages.
The world could divide into geopolitical blocks, with some of them developing highly automated solar power. This technology would be viewed as a strategic asset and not shared with non-aligned countries, who would have to keep burning coal. Western countries could still produce coal and sell it to those outside the advanced blocks, resulting in the world having higher energy production overall. Criticism of these scenarios is that they lack the scenario of the world divided into blocks.
The speaker observes that the lack of a more plausible scenario alongside the one being discussed implies motivated reasoning and ideologically driven constraints on the scenario space. This is concerning given the trillions of dollars at stake in policy making decisions based on the IPCC process. The speaker suggests that the few dozen people making decisions haven't bothered to consult experts in technology to create a more realistic set of assumptions for their scenarios, which is inadequate for the seriousness of the problem.
The speaker criticises the mistake of not consulting climate experts when making economic decisions that could have a huge impact on the environment. They are surprised that the Chinese went along with this and praise the technical competence of the Chinese officials. They point out that the advances in technology are not always made in the same place and remain optimistic that everyone will be able to benefit from new technology.
Climate change is a global issue, and there is a consensus among many countries that certain strategies should be pursued. China is taking the problem seriously, although the speaker has doubts about the official documents they are signing off on. Scarcity breeds conflict, and the speaker is hopeful that if there is sufficient abundance, then conflict can be avoided. China may be taking advantage of the situation by quietly moving pieces into position without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Rethink Disruption is a blog website set up to discuss how pessimism erodes faith in progress. The blog post discussed how political calculus may lead to not making a stand on certain issues, as other countries may be de-industrializing while the country can just sit back and reap the benefits. The blog website is part of a new media strategy to crank out content every couple of weeks and keep a consistent drumbeat. This strategy is counterintuitive, as it was prosperity that enabled the solving of most of the world's problems.
Prosperity is a great ally when tackling problems, as it gives the resources and freedom to transform the world from less desirable to more desirable. Climate scientists often suggest austerity as a solution, but this runs contrary to human experience and feels wrong. It implies that there is no real solution and that despair is coming from the cognitive dissonance of feeling lied to. Even if emissions were zeroed out tomorrow, climate change would still happen due to the carbon already in the atmosphere. Tanking the global economy by half, as Covid-19 did, would be ten times worse and would not solve the problem.
People are feeling that there is no solution to the problems of the world, and this is a profoundly important shift away from the belief in the future that has occurred in recent decades. This despair has led to a decrease in the number of people having children, and it is a serious issue that is not being taken seriously enough. Civilization is precarious and only ever one unsolvable problem away from collapse. To prevent this, we should be trying to maximize our problem solving capacity so that we can be prepared for any issue that arises.
Climate change is an enormous problem that cannot be solved by simply torpedoing prosperity and regressing. China is more optimistic about tackling climate change and the decrease in the belief in the church seemed to be inevitable historically. The speaker also finds it strange how people have come to stop believing in the future and notes that scenarios beyond 2035 or 2040 are a joke. He also expresses his dismay at the lack of discipline in terms of what can reasonably be said on a given time frame.

Raw Transcript

okay so um this is the the content that um i'm interested in in looking at uh so these new the new set of scenarios are successors to the previous ones they're um each the last couple of major climate assessments from the ipcc have had a handful of scenarios that go along with them that then the climate science community and the environmental science community more broadly on modeling around so each of these is basically a set of assumptions that you then plug into your modeling analysis efforts and uh as far as that goes that i think that's a sound approach to have to have several sets of assumptions that are agreed upon as the basis for for um modeling around uh so in principle the idea of scenario-based analysis is great um the i i think uh i don't think i shared the um sort of have a scathing couple of graphics that show how silly the previous generation was in its assumptions about what was going to happen with energy i don't think i showed a graphic of that but just very quickly the previous generations were called rcp scenarios represented representative concentration pathway scenarios and the best case scenario um with the lowest warming and the lowest i think i think also the lowest overall emissions and the lowest warming impact on a time horizon to 2100 overall best case scenario had uh had non-hydro renewable energy so what that means is solar power plus wind power plus geothermal power power um but excluding hydropower and actually excluding biofuels as well but but solar wind geothermal and tidal energy i think they also include in there those three they were assumed to provide four percent of global energy um well primary energies just think of energy in all of all kinds and all uses four percent by the year 2100 that's it that's what the assumption was and we're gonna we're on track to get there in about five years from now um so they're way way off and that was the best case scenario for the um for for clean energy and so it was really quite a silly uh and this was in 2014 so that's a good five years after my uh boss and colleague tony siva was you know started publishing on exponential trajectory of clean energy and all that kind of stuff so there was a probably not much in the way of excuses for that and there was also a very clear exponential trend of preceding for more than 20 years for the growth of solar and wind so this was a bit of an embarrassment and we we've my team has drawn attention to this a little bit um but unfortunately the lessons don't
seem to be have been learned and this the new set of these scenarios is making some similar mistakes so the one that i'm particularly interested in well first of all if i've got my screen up here you can see that these new scenarios have been developed by a pretty big group of researchers 50 or so people a little less than that i think in this particular article and i'm sure others were involved these names are all the same names that were the folks who were involved in the fir the previous round especially the the lead authors so um uh riahi uh van buren these these are the same the usual suspects and to my knowledge they don't have any particularly relevant qualifications at least not in publishing or stated positions at their institutions that qualify them to um any expertise about technology and technological change or the history of technological advancement in particular they just i don't know something that's opaque to me and i've actually set one of our research assistants our team to try to figure this out um is who where this where this group of people came from it seemed to be as far as i can tell more or less self-appointed and they're non-experts with respect to technology so all of the assumptions about technology in these scenarios are being made by people without any real claim to expertise in that domain so when the title when the title here says overview this is like we are the people who developed this thing that is now in the ipcc report and now we explain it to you or this is like we are people outside the ipcc process trying to interpret this thing for you or the the former yeah that's my that's my interpretation and uh and so this that this i don't want to get bogged down in the paper this is just the this is just the starting reference for for these scenarios and they you know they talk about their process and and what that stuff what what that is and you know as far as it goes there they seem to be making reasonable um attempts to be rigorous and so forth but what i want to draw attention to and the thing that i wanted to talk about and i've scrolled down to it is this the is the um sp5 the fifth sure and i can actually that's probably hard to read let me skip over this is this is the um this is a separate paper specifically about the scenario that i'm interested in discussing this is ssp5 and the highlights of it are are here in the um is this clear enough to read can you guys see that from the screen sharing the highlights um uh so this is sort of uh
actually let me let me do one more screen change sorry if it's slow and irritating i don't think those highlights do as good of a job as just the summary in wikipedia so um and this is what i had highlighted before it's this is a direct quote that's in wikipedia which summarizes this but but we can just read this and then discuss so ssp5 and the error in the thinking is right in the title fossil fueled development not sure what taking the highway means uh completely here it's it's it's i mean you know these are trying to be a little clever and catchy but it's it's i think it doesn't really work but anyway the first the first portion of the title is fossil fuel development so the assumption is right there in the title that that economic uh and social um quote unquote progress um will be fueled by fossil fuels will require the increased intensity in the use of fossil fuels so let's read well so rather than read it out loud it's i i could just read it out loud but one wanted each of you guys just take a second to read through this this ssp5 paragraph if you would oh sure that is that okay i i read these are you guys comfortable with have you ever read that yeah okay i'm sorry go ahead and comment that oh it's just gonna say when we were discussing this i guess that was when the sixth report came out or thereabouts uh i read through this list and well i can't see the earlier ones now but it was my impression and you can confirm this or or not that this is the only scenario in which somehow technological a high level of technological development is pursued somehow right like that's correct yes it strikes me technology scenario like isn't this like a crystallization of the like this seems so ideological to suggest that the only path forward that involves increasing faith in competitive markets and rapid technological progress is also the one in which fossil fuel usage is out of control somehow is maximized is the largest of any of these and ssp5 the titles correspond to temperature degree increases so ssp5 is the one where there's the most major increase um and and the most total greenhouse gas emissions although there's some i think if you dig into the details there's some assumptions about carbon withdrawal as well through a few different mechanisms um vex being beccs being the primary mechanism there that's basically biofuels and soil seek restoration of carbon um not sort of the technological based program withdrawal or the ocean-based um carbon uh enhanced weathering that i've talked
about with you in the past but the thing that's the thing about this that there's a couple of things to look at and i agree with you about the ideology but i try to set that aside um because these it's very clear that this is a this is a group of all like-minded ideologues coming from the same approximate place you know um who constructed these around these are just offshoots of the conventional narrative from this from this particular academic community it's frustrating because there doesn't seem to be any effort that made to reach out to obtain different perspectives on any of this stuff but a couple of things here that the increasing faith in competitive markets and innovation and participatory societies produce rapid technological progress that's the opening line so you've got markets and innovation you've got rapid technological progress and um then there's things that are maybe credible like okay you're developing human capital um trying to get us a path to sustainable development those are the next couple things um uh there are strong investments in good stuff health education and institutions yadda yadda okay that's all who would object to that um but really this sentence here at the same time the push for economic and social development is coupled with exploitation of abundant fossil fuel resources and adoption of resource and energy-intensive lifestyles right so the the key assumption here which is not just wrong but in my mind backwards is that when you maximize these social and economic factors and in particular when you maximize technological progress the assumption here is that that also maximizes or increases um or leads to an increase i suppose maybe a way of saying it uh of fossil fuel resources and therefore leads to an increase in emissions and my mind that is absolutely backwards that it's just completely backwards the path has whichever scenario involves the most rapid technological progress also must also logically be the scenario that involves the uh the most rapid reduction in emissions per unit of economic activity and yes you could have a bit of a jeffers paradox there you could have a rebound effect where if there's so much more economic activity in this scenario then you could have a net increase in emissions even if you have a very much smaller per unit impact you know per economic unit impact but i don't really see that happening if unless you're talking about you know unless the scenario has something like something crazy like 10xing the economy
or 10xing the global population or some combination of those but really i see a way which is this is basically backwards in my mind and i wanted to bounce that off you guys and see if if that is a fair interpretation or if i'm just being if i'm not being ideological myself in the other direction uh no i agree i guess maybe there's a point here that i think really is doing a lot of work and needs to be defended explicitly so when you say that it's clear that intensive technological development must go hand in hand with the reduction of a reduction of say greenhouse gas emissions per watt generated on earth or something well that is clearly false at certain points in time in history right uh it's even maybe still false in many parts of the world now it's probably almost certainly false in china for instance so you you do need you know i should clarify these are um just just just to to um more specific these are these scenarios are all the year 2100 right but that's the horizon of analysis right um yeah so so yeah you're and i take your point um in the early years it's the assumption is valid um temporarily on the time horizon of the scenario which is which is explicitly to 2100 not 2050 or 2040 or something like that it's 2100 yeah it's seems pretty clearly false yeah it's hard to look at the figures for example the ones you've shown us and really not see that uh i mean so the embedded assumption in the embedded assumptions in this scenario are that energy whatever technologies you choose you know solar wind uh whatever even nuclear power or whatever else it might be that all of these grind to a halt in terms of their growth which that we have clear track records to date here's that that must be the assumption that here that that you know solar and wind just just hit a ceiling um isn't there a scenario i mean what's what's the scenario what's the simplest scenario in which all of your predictions are wrong i mean they're of course uh simple ones like world war iii destroys everything and whatever people burnt coal forever uh but you could imagine a simpler well simpler but a friendlier scenario where okay suppose that there is a new industrial revolution the scale of industrial society increases by 10 to 100 times abundant robotics mean that mining coal is incredibly cheap and the demand for energy is effectively infinite so people build heaps of solace panels but they also keep burning coal now i guess the economics if you as you've discussed it of the coal industry
mean that in the current world that can't happen so solar basically has to supplant coal purely for economic reasons and capital sort of just the iron law of capital means that'll happen but if capital is essential i mean if the marginal cost of capital so to speak is near zero maybe the logic and the capital encompasses labor right yeah right and maybe that logic doesn't apply maybe actually the equilibrium is like infinite coal and infinite solar uh like well i do wonder because then the the question there is is is the you then have to make a set of assumptions about the cost for cost accounting like are you are you doing full cost accounting or are you doing are you ignoring externalized costs are you still assuming that we're going to be externalizing all environmental and social costs well that would be the scenario in which i mean i think you're on shakier ground if you sort of i mean the strongest parts of your argument it seems to me is something like even if we don't account for externalized costs you know even if the downstream cons you know people who breathe in the coal if they don't get a say somehow things will still work out in the way you say right which is kind of like the human beings and the institutions and the world governments that we have such as they are right now as long as the economics roughly keeps working the way it is and global capitalism kind of keeps functioning then your scenario comes to pass that's it's pretty convincing but you know you could imagine a scenario in which okay suppose the rich countries have superpower as you've proposed it they desalinate enormous quantities of water and they pipe it to poor countries and the cost of food is near zero populations increase very rapidly but infrastructure for energy is much slower to build or something right so that it actually makes sense to build a lot more coal power stations because the world population has increased by 10 times i don't know you can imagine scenarios like that i suppose in which it's it is it's a it's a it's good to do that and to look at the limit and and i think that that is and so let's think through it and let's think further afield than just the whole like like um so natural gas would be a more tempting plausible uh technology for which we could say well maybe we should still be investing in this especially especially if um what what if the cost of uh carbon capture at the you know either at the point of production of the of you know the energy in these from these
plants so basically the the um still quite mythical at this point but the idea of clean coal for example is that you burn coal but then you capture all of the pollution the particulates the you know all of those all of the nasty emissions plus the carbon dioxide that's emitted as well and um it's it's much less efficient and it's more costly but you still net energy out of it um one could imagine the argument that uh you could put you'd have a scenario where we're still holding coal and gas power plants um a because we need the energy and b because there is because our government's captured by fossil fuels but you could you could make the assumption that well why worry about continuing emissions if you can if you if if capital and labor capitaled capital the right word capital encompassed labor or something um uh automated labor basically is what it's getting at machine labor if those things are so super abundant that you can just capture carbon in a very affordable way why would you worry about emissions at all and of course this is a very dangerous this is quite a dangerous scenario um because there's a lot of a lot of articles of faith in there and and more room for breakdown um so um i can see certainly some sort of scenario that combines the number of these elements that might be you know it seems probably unlikely but at least it's got it's got some internal consistency and possibilities but yeah i guess i would i would take i think that is worth taking seriously maybe even sufficiently seriously to belong in a list like this but it can only be serious alongside a scenario that's more like the one you have in mind that's like ssp minus three or something right right not minus three we don't want to decrease it by three how much does it increase one let's go minus one point minus five okay so next next to ssp minus one which is very similar to ssp5 but somehow doesn't have i mean where the renewable infrastructure supplants the fossil fuel infrastructure or at least not not even necessarily supplants but at least uh in the new infrastructure that is built as a response to a potential boom in human population and wealth uh a decreasing proportion is fossil fuel or something like that um yeah i guess this the the question that still niggles me with this scenario that we're describing is even if you had infinite demand or if you had infinite demand for energy where is there a scenario where the marginal cost produce an additional unit of energy is lower for coal and gas than it is for
solar that's right because it because that that's the big question i mean and and and then you get then you would have you know you have to introduce other new technology options if you're if you're really taking the idea of infinite demand seriously like space-based solar and new nuclear you know nuclear fusion i mean these other crazy technologies um so yeah but i guess just keeping it simple it's that it's that question is even if you had unlimited you cannot call it infinite but unlimited demand um with your your your marginal your incremental unit of supply to be added would always be lower from another unit of solar plus batteries than it would be from another unit of coal that's right or gas at least in our analysis yeah that's right i can't quite make it work in my head either the only thing that occurs to me is that at sufficient scale the bottlenecks may be in not obvious places right so it may be that some chemical process to do with producing materials in solar panels like there's just like a limit to the volume that can be produced on the surface of the earth for some reason you know like maybe there are only so many places you can whatever put your lithium processing facility or uh there are funny things like that it's a bit analogous to the way that scaling infrastructure for tech companies works right it's like the the bottlenecks can be in very non-obvious places so i could i could imagine a scenario in which there's a bottleneck for solar panel production somewhere strange but somehow just because it's a different pathway right digging coal out of the ground and burning it is so different in terms of the materials it requires and the labor costs it may be easier to automate right you could imagine robots doing the digging and the transporting and the burning at scale in a way that maybe it has its own bottlenecks but there could be different ones so yeah they almost certainly would be different ones and it and it at some point you know resource constraints on even though there's a lot of coal in the world and a lot of uh natural gas um there really is a lot i mean especially if if cost goes down low enough and you have automated you know production of it and you have um you have a a your loop of your energy invested in the process for the energy returned if that loop is opened not closed to gas and coal themselves that is open to include the renewables in other words if you can use solar energy to power the machines that are digging for coal
um and uh there's a lot of coal out there that you could produce even if it would be not remotely economical by today's standards you could imagine the very low grade reserves of which there are you know staggeringly large quantities um it'd still be produce a bull um the other thing that it could be at least it'd be physically viable so that's that's a that's a good point and the bottlenecks would be there but they would be different certainly be different ones um and then at some point you run into sort of land surface area some bottlenecks there i mean not really but but if you're considering like a truly unlimited demand for energy if you're talking about a hundred times more energy demand than today for example and that starts to become a substantial land footprint for solar panels and wind turbines you know you really you there that limit we do approach eventually you can't you can't 1000 x right if we were talking about moving if we were talking about three orders of magnitude even two really um from today's energy demand then then solar and when you're not going to do it we are going to need nuclear power at that point um yeah so it seems to me that you couldn't do 100 you couldn't do 100x demand with coal either i mean that would be you know that would be impossible as well yeah um there's that there isn't enough coal and oil there but there is enough that maybe that next marginal unit would start being attractive eventually enough that disequilibrium from now to 2100 burns up a significant part of it and then we're screwed so who cares what the long term it looks like the other scenario well yeah sorry yeah the other thing that occurred to me was you could imagine a plausible future which has a lot more conflict in it like geopolitical conflict in which the supply chains for solar being more complex at least that's my impression i really don't know but uh maybe for strategic and security reasons i mean okay suppose the geopolitical situation situation degenerates in a way that isn't all-out war which in any case would be over quickly one way or another but it just looks like for the next 50 years you're gonna have to like defend every tanker you send around the world and so like somehow supply chains being very complicated starts to look like a huge risk and therefore people start investing more in supply chains and any production infrastructure that i mean for example australia like we can dig all our coal and burn it and as long as we don't get invaded you
can't stop us uh but uh i mean where are we gonna get our solar panels from if if there's a conflict say with china they just stop right and then what we're going to wait for the americans to produce enough for us eventually i don't know like if you're keen our thesis here we do have a thesis here that that production is going to um radically localize right um and i i i i i i think this this thesis has more problems than the rest of my team is is willing to fully entertain but i do think that most of the thinking behind it is reasonably sound at at least a you know first approximation but i i think that there are going to be individual exceptions to this i think it's still going to be you know having a very large land area is still going to be a huge advantage at least for the as far as i can tell for the foreseeable future like australia's got you know staggering natural access to natural resources and a small island nation doesn't and so even if you could for example just produce produce all your food with precision fermentation and mostly gases from the atmosphere even if you could get most of your metals and things out of dirt and mine rare stuff out of sea water for example if energy was was was not a constraint and you could you could just become autonomy with the idea is that it'd be much more autonomous and independent production because thanks to again advances in technology and students super abundance of energy and and transportation and labor to make the energy and the logistics costs of you know very very low that then it you know suddenly these competitive advantages of geography start to erode but i don't have this my team has a lot of faith in this and i don't have as much as the rest of my team i don't buy it at all i think so i mean it it makes sense if the current means of producing solar panels remain more or less technologically fixed right in which case the advantages of geography and the costs of moving around materials makes a big difference and if production the mode of production remains fixed then you it's kind of a commodity production facility so yeah why not put it near the materials that makes sense but suppose that 10 years from now some of my friends in china invent a 10 time or 100 times more efficient solar cell using a new material it's very exotic and ai found it it's very difficult to produce it takes like an equipment that only one company in the world makes like semiconductors but if you have that solar panel you can use
a hundred times less land and you get much more energy and suddenly they capture the world market all over again and these this boutique solar panel production facility in my backyard here suddenly looks like a stupid waste of money right like how is that not going to happen once the entire energy industry shifts to this technology i mean it's it's a bit like saying that you'll have your local production facility for chips you could have made that prediction but that that looks not so smart so how is it different right yeah this is a this is a this is a point of contention um i'm not completely sold on this with this assumption with the rest of the team i think there are there are elements that are correct i think that we're going to see localization of some forms of production um but i don't see how it uh let's see how it completely pans out it's a bit like thinking that the internet was going to level the playing field and and be so democratizing that no new um massive corporate commemorations with with dominant control over things would it would be able to emerge and of course that's not true at all in fact if anything it's the opposite we've seen you know a hand small small handful of juggernauts emerge in facebook and apple and google and amazon um so uh i i'm i remain quite skeptical of this although hopefully hopefully some there's some truth in some way some aspects of it i don't think it generalizes fully but but the the the party line on my team at the moment is um decentralization and localization are are at least going to characterize next 15 years to 20 years with these three disruptions we've written about the the energy transportation and food i think in the larger pure there's still plenty of room for centralization and some of the advantages of that um yeah so here's this honestly one of one of our big problems there is that we haven't worked all the way through the implications of automation right and um i'm really chomping at the bit to do that because we just haven't thought through it well enough and i think automation of labor proper automation really really is going to fundamentally change a lot of things and a lot of assumptions we're making about the way the world works today are going to turn out to be properly false there will be a lot of counter-intuitive uh that's in the system um yeah where things happen one way today and they're just gonna flip and do something completely different not the opposite in the future um that's my expectation uh but we just haven't
thought through it i think we really need to yeah here's one scenario i think it's kind of plausible where coal usage remains high or increases so suppose the world kind of divides into geopolitical blocks and some of the blocks have i mean this is the way the world looks right now some of the blocks have their own sort of ai research infrastructure and networks they're kind of separate and some of those worlds develop some of those blocks develop highly automated highly advanced solar panel solar based energy so energy is what i'm saying is that there may be multiple energy markets and the price is very very different so it's inside those blocks like china and the belton road countries they roll out their version of the super advanced solar panels of 2030 the us builds its own and maybe shares that technology with allies like australia but it's viewed as a strategic asset because it unlocks like a next level of industrial production and that's seen as too closely linked to i mean the production of enormous numbers of drones and so on will require high automation and lots of energy and just like in the period of the second world war where the economic production facility was viewed as like a very direct proxy for military power you won't be giving these you know you won't be giving this technology necessarily to anybody you'll share it with your allies and there will be a large part of the country like the non-of the world like the non-aligned countries that just nobody gives the tech to so they just have to keep burning coal they have a lot of population because they can still trade for food and water which has become basically free um but you know still so the overall energy production of the world will be much much higher because most of it the overwhelming fraction will happen inside those advanced blocks but still the part outside the advanced box will be using more energy than we do today in the whole world or something might even have something perverse like the western countries still keep producing coal and just sell it to those others right exactly and for them to burn uh and we have some proxies or something approximately some approximations of that happens that sort of thing happen together yeah so it seems like criticism like these sorry speak of you oh go ahead uh my criticism of these ssp things is more like they lack the scenario you're talking about not that they should necessarily like ignore i mean this kind of scenario doesn't doesn't look crazy to me sssp
but it looks like extremely motivated to not have another scenario which is like the one you're describing i don't i don't mind that that's there i mean it seems ideological to me mostly because the alternative is not also present right i mean if you're just enumerating possibilities um it's the leaving out of the one you're talking about that strikes me as that's that's a that's a very very decisive observation damn that is really that is really really what's going on here i don't know why i couldn't put my finger on that sooner but that is exactly right it's not so much that this scenario is is unrealistic it's the lack of something seems more plausible anywhere alongside it that makes this seem so dubious right then it does it it it what it implies is some motivated reasoning and some some ideology of ideologically driven ics that constrain the scenario space in a very uh contrived way and it just invites a lot of skepticism you know but it could be that this is honest these are just honest mistakes these people are not experts in this area and there are there aren't that many people in the world who are experts i suppose or who would even claim to be experts or who've done work on you know the kind of areas that we we're doing work on and then given the centrality of the ssps to the ipcc process and what the world's going to do it seems like well like with many things there's like a tiny core of half-assed elites at the center and then like everybody thinks it's like super high quality decision making or something i shouldn't call them like that i shouldn't i shouldn't say they're half-assed i shouldn't be so that that flippant i mean no doubt these people uh you know they they contribute a lot and so on but this this is so important that and the oversights they're making uh so significant that you have to have to feel like this is not the level of decision making appropriate to the uh seriousness of this problem oh yeah i mean there's literally trillions of dollars perhaps tens of trillions of dollars over time the policy making of the entire planet right on these scenarios and this what this couple of dozen people a few dozen people are together and they haven't bothered to go out and ask anybody who actually knows about technology what would be a better appropriate more realistic set of assumptions to include in their scenarios they just haven't bothered to go out and do that and what's and this is where i get a little more senate going more pointed to my
criticism i mean it would just be unthinkable to make that mistake the other way around what if we i mean can you imagine embedding a an environmental assumption so important in you know an economic bunch of economic scenarios because we had to solve some gigantic earth threatening economic crisis and the entire future of the planet seemed to hinge on it and then we didn't bother to consult any actual climate experts or climate scientists in making the assumptions around these core scenarios around which all of our policy-making investment was going to occur it would just be literally unthinkable be that arrogant at that level of hubris so it is just this failure is it's disgraceful yeah it surprises me actually that the the chinese went along with this uh i mean the i give i have a very high opinion of many of the experts and so on in both the ccp and the government in china they oh yeah me too very high quality we under underestimate the technical competence of the chinese um uh uh i don't have the right word for the entire edifice of officials officials yeah i mean it is a technocracy but that's that's we've been slinging that around as a pejorative for so long and there's such incompetence and you know bubbling bushness uh in in the ussr and previous democracies that it's easy to point fun at that but i think we do that with china at our peril there they have loaded that their official uh this was the populist the corpus of officials with properly trained tech uh uh engineers and properly trained scientists we were gonna get wrecked if our governments are entirely composed by lawyers yes personally we are going to get by that mistake um yeah i think it's it's it's already baked in i think that's my feeling living in covet invested australia why well china is code free my hope is it just doesn't matter my hope is that you know that it doesn't matter where this these the advances are made you know they'll be and i i do take your point up and with the example of semiconductor manufacturers is a good one very good one you know there's only a handful of fabs in the world that can actually make these marvelous properly science fiction nanotech stuff the technology that goes into making a chip you know at the whatever they are now what seven nanometer scale chip fabs that's unbelievable and and and um uh yeah the idea that that everybody should be able to do that everywhere is perhaps a little bit silly for some of this new stuff but i still remain optimistic that
super abundance will simply become a a fairly widespread phenomena overall and um in my experience the the the abundance is is what is the is the way i should say it the other way around scarcity breeds conflict yeah more than anything else so i i really am hopeful that um if we just if there's sufficient abundance maybe even without equality all that great equity or quality of it's spreading around maybe they'll be more super abundant somewhere in other places but if everybody's abundant enough everybody's prosperous enough and we'll stop fighting and just you can just kick back and enjoy but anyway sorry yeah one more comment about the i yeah i share that and one more comment about the i saw it on the list of authors there was one from from shanghai the i mean i think i i feel like what the the kind of talk i see out of official statements about climate change in china strikes me as actually more aligned with the kind of things you say than the kind of things i see in this kind of document so i find it i'd actually be quite interested to read thorough take on the chinese participation in the ipcc process and how that looks and their reservations because i think they're the most serious people at the table now so okay i mean i have plenty of criticisms to make of china so i don't get a pan glossier impression right so there are many many things about what's happening in china that i have plenty of negative things to say about but on this kind of topic i've i i feel like the people looking at this in china may be among the more serious people um in which case why are they signing off on this ssp list so it's it's quite possibly it's quite possible that they just to be cynical again number one it doesn't matter the the political cost of being contrarian to this this this global consensus that seems misguided is high relative to what value i mean china can just keep plugging away at doing their own thing internally and um may well prove that that is that they are on their more correct track they're taking climate change very seriously so it's not that china's ignoring them they're actually doing making great strides and taking the problem seriously um but they may also be a little bit of a trojan horse right i mean if if you think they can steal the advantage um if if they're off without so much without as much attention without as much of a spotlight on them for being contrarian they can just be off on the side doing moving all the pieces in uh into position
although when the rest of the world gets stacked together it turns out oh well you know china's already two steps ahead with all the advantage that goes along with that um so i can i mean i'm not doing a good job of describing it but i can imagine that there's that there's a political calculus in which it makes quite good sense to to you know not not make a stand on this issue because you know what do you have to gain from it you can actually use the or more to the point your your competitors will be off following this protocol and busily de-industrializing themselves while you just kid to sit back and be like thanks guys yeah the the idea of i i don't know if you saw the two blog um two series blog posts that i wrote recently on our blog website we have a separate website um i wrote a piece that was inspired completely by a conversation we had when i was at my uh cottage in in northern michigan over the summer where we talked about um how pessimism breeds a erodes the faith our faith and progress and um i kind of developed those ideas a little bit and not well enough to kind of you know make a proper publish anything proper about it but just enough for uh you know the top of my head kind of blog post i don't know if you're interested in reading that but of course i'm irritated you didn't send it to me but i will go and i'm sorry i i should i'll send it i i i i don't want to pester you with my oh come on come on just send everything you do to me please okay go on [Music] all right okay well we have this new blog website that was set up a few months back um it's called rethink disruption and um and that's just where we're parking these things for now we've got a whole new media strategy that's gonna that's evolving over the course of this year but this is just where we're parking stuff for the moment we've got a few people um on the team who are who are just gearing up to be putting to be cranking out content where the expectation is going to be you need to put out a piece every couple of weeks and we just need to keep drumbeat cool but anyway rethinkdisruption.com and i've got a a couple of things up there and um uh but just very quickly to kind of spoil the the um you know personality or whatever in in the in these pieces um one we this is what we've talked about which is that it just it it seems seems backwards and very counterintuitive to look at human history and see that it really was prosperity that provided the enabling conditions for solving most of the
problems that we've had to tackle throughout human history and i actually think most of our personal problems fall into that category as well so most human experience seems to affirm that if you're in trouble if you have a problem if you have a challenge that you're facing prosperity is a great ally because it gives you the resources the capacity the options the choices the freedom freeze of freedom or whatever it gives you wherewithal to you transform your world this form of the state of the world around you in a way that moves the state from less desirable which is what it is now to more desirable which is the state that resolves whatever the problem is that's right and that's kind of how i define a problem the world's one way we wish it were another and so we change it and you you need prosperity to do that and so when we tell the world as climate scientists when we tell the world austerity is the solution that just that runs contrary to all of human experience as far as i can see we're over to very nearly all of it to the vast majority of it anyway it just feels wrong because because it just runs contrary to to everything else that we have experienced you know it just just it seems backwards and what it really sounds like in my mind is that uh you're telling people confessing without saying so that there's no real solution to this right the best we can do is just you know delay the inevitable but we're still we're there's nothing we can do um and that's my impression is that despair at least in part coming from this cognitive dissonance that people are feeling when they feel they're being lied to they feel feel they're being sold ability you know goods something bogus just that that's my impression that that when i talk to my friends and neighbors who are so discouraged and depressed about this it's because they don't see this as a solution they just it just feels wrong oh if we just if we just contract yeah we invite a economic catastrophe in a social catastrophe by you know entering some draconian regime of austerity which won't work you know it just won't work in principle it won't work um because it won't be enough i mean we talked about that too even if we had magically zeroed out all emissions tomorrow we'd still be by climate change if we don't pull the carbon that's already up there out so you know dropping the emissions by 50 by tanking the global economy in half which is just 10 times worse than what cova did because kobe dropped the global economy
above five percent under 50 you're still only halfway there you're still completely and for what and to people just none of this lines up none of it lines up and people feel that and and uh i think what comes through is what my colleagues oh ucla michigan students fellow students faculty conversations they all say it felt that we were there's just no solution it felt we've been doomed for a decade or more now yeah i think this is this is under sort of like under reported or something right like i don't know i feel this is as important as for example when nietzsche wrote about the death of god right so i think the phenomena you're describing is as profoundly as important as the shift away from the belief in religion like it feels to me a bit like god died and then we spent half of the 20th century murdering each other and then we found something to believe in which was the future but now we've lost our belief in that too so that doesn't vote well 50 years right i think we should be as i think it's that scary right like i think the level of despair i mean like the number of people who are choosing not to have children as a result of being worried about this like that it just blows my mind every time i have that conversation i i think people should be way more worried about this phenomena than they are i mean you know i don't have to tell you of course but i it really i really think people aren't aren't this isn't on people's radar as like a problem it's it seems to me like hard to because it's at the root of our ability to solve all other problems it's hey exactly exactly exactly that's it if read this do me a favor it's it's we we're we're undermining our capacity just to solve any problem when we with this with this it's not just climate change and and the scary thing is how precarious civilization is too right we are only problems are inevitable only ever one unsolvable problem away from extinction away from collapse from catastrophe ever how many societies have met a problem they couldn't solve and if they have gone the way of the dodo many of them throughout history it's not like it's not like no society has ever run up against a problem it couldn't solve and and collapsed that has happened and so just it's a tautology where only ever one unsolvable problem away from doom and so what what is what do you really need to do you need to get the smart thing to do is to try to maximize the rate at which you increase your problem solving capacity so that when the next
one comes along we can hope to solve it where then this will do the opposite i mean torpedoing prosperity and regress is is insanity not only will it not solve climate change but then whatever problems come after that will be even harder to solve and it i mean this is this is a this is a you know this is an existential mistake this is an enormous problem i'm not this is an enormous um misstep for for with higher stakes than just climate change in my mind so anyway it's yeah it's just it's it's i agree with you this is a real the real um it's a strange devilish kind of situation a kind of strange unforced error sometimes somehow too like i don't i don't really see well maybe that's just the benefit of history right the decrease in the belief in in the church uh seemed like it had an inevitably inevitability about it historically whereas our choice to stop believing in the future in at least in the west it's not this isn't universal right so china is not like this at all which is one of the reasons to be optimistic about china um but yeah it's it's so strange i don't really understand how it got such a grip on people uh on that note i'm going to have to wrap this up we've got gotta go get a vaccine for russell yay okay all right oh hey um uh one sorry there's one one more super quick thing won't take a minute um the other thing about these scenarios it really irks me just one last thing to take away um is uh that dare to 2100 what the does anybody know about the world beyond like 2035 or 2040. yeah this is where i wanted one thing i'd love to talk to you about um i know we've never got a chance for you to come talk to my team like i really like to see if i can make that happen but um i mean we've got with with machine intel you know machine learning and artificial intelligence and you know the specter perhaps time of the century artificial general intelligence these scenarios are a joke any anything last you know 20 50 or so is just in my mind you can just ignore because you can't say anything meaningful these these these scenarios are sort of remotely plausible perhaps for a while but then anything after after a few decades ahead what the are you even talking about so that hurts me that whole thing that there's no discipline in terms of what we can reasonably say on on a given time frame so that bothers me quite a bit i have to say anyway um listen i can obviously talk to you for 10 hours amazing so let's talk again soon and um uh are we on for next week is that uh