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Greta Thunberg or Bill Gates?

While rapid technological progress is our best hope for mitigating climate change, today’s living standards in rich countries threaten both catastrophic climate change and local environmental destruction. Responsible consumer choice matters as well.

LONDON – Some people say that to avoid the threat of catastrophic harm to human welfare posed by global warming, we must radically change our behavior – cease flying, use bicycles, and give up red meat. Others believe that new technologies can deliver carbon-free growth. So, who is right: Greta Thunberg, who advocates the former course, or Bill Gates, who just wrote a book advocating the latter?

In the long run, techno-optimism looks justified. As two new reports from the Energy Transitions Commission describe, zero-carbon electricity and hydrogen, which today account for only 20% of energy use, could account for 75% by mid-century, and clean energy will be cheaper by then than dirty energy is today. Solar electricity already costs less than coal power; battery costs have collapsed and will keep falling. The cost of producing hydrogen from electrolysis will plummet in the next ten years, too.

A massive increase in global electricity production will be required – from 27,000 terawatt-hours today to around 100,000 TWh by 2050. Total battery capacity will soar, and huge investments will be needed in expanded transmission and distribution networks.

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