Soon Everyone Will Be Net Zero, Whether They Like it or Not

The green revolution will take another 20 years. We're out of time now.

Woman looking at phone

Recently, I got curious about heavy machinery.

I wanted to know how close we were to powering bulldozers, forklifts, excavators, and dump trucks with electricity instead of diesel. I wanted to know how much green energy goes into manufacturing.

Turns out, not very.

Not much.

Compact EV construction equipment went to market within the last couple of years. It will eventually grow into a big industry, but it's going to take at least a decade for those to become commonplace, and probably closer to two. As for the giant machines we need to mine and transport raw materials, EV versions of those have barely left the research and development stage.

There's a lot of hurdles.

Big machines in mining and construction need a lot of power. You have to be able to charge them. You have to be able to replace the batteries. You have to be able to build a renewable grid onsite. It's expensive. At least in the U.S., there's not a lot of incentive or sense of urgency to do it.

As for manufacturing, less than 1 percent of the electricity used by factories and plants in the U.S. comes from solar power. At best, we could power 40 percent of our factories that way.

Only a handful of companies have managed to build renewable factories. There's one in Germany that can operate off-grid on sunny days. Tesla has been promising renewable plants that produce solar panels and electric vehicles for years. To put it mildly, those projects are behind schedule.

We hear a lot about the so-called explosive growth of renewable energy. In reality, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that renewable energy will account for half of the world's total electricity produced by 2050. It will account for only 26 percent of our total energy consumption by then. That doesn't exactly sound like a solution.

It's a fraction of a solution, in 25 years.

That's a problem.

You see, global industrial civilization requires heavy machinery at every stage in order to function. We have to rip thousands of tons of metals and minerals out of the ground and transport them thousands of miles. We have to smelt it all in ladles and furnaces. We have to roll it in mills. Almost every single thing we buy or do requires fossil fuels to make and transport.

If you still believe we have until 2050 to reach net zero emissions, then none of this probably bothers you. It probably sounds like we're right on schedule. Okay, let's talk about that 2050 date.

Who came up with that?

Not climate scientists.

It was organizations like the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UN who started pitching 2050 as a reasonable deadline to transition all of global industrial civilization to solar and wind. Big oil companies turned Net Zero 2050 into a marketing campaign. Even Apple and Amazon have been running feel-good commercials about eliminating their emissions in 25 years, updating the public on all the great things they're doing.

If you don't buy the 2050 pledge, then all of this sounds like performing heart surgery on a dead patient.

What's the point?

Here's the thing. These CEOs and bankers aren't trying to save humanity. They're trying to save their financial empires.

This year showed everyone beyond all doubt that we don't have until 2050 to reach net zero emissions. We barely have until the end of this decade, and every single day makes things worse. We're living through climate disasters that scientists didn't expect until the 2060s. Everything's going sideways faster than even the most alarmist scientists predicted.

A recent article in Politico sums it up:

From a nearly depleted federal disaster fund to state insurance markets that are faltering under the weight of multiple catastrophes, extreme weather is testing the ability of even a rich nation like the United States to withstand the warming that has arrived faster than many scientists expected. So are the torrential rains flooding Northeastern states like Vermont, the shriveling Colorado River that has prompted a multistate brawl over dividing the water, the record temperatures that have raised worries about the stability of the electric grid, and the Canadian wildfire smoke that has repeatedly blanketed D.C. and other parts of the U.S. in recent weeks.

We're living through the future we thought we had another 30 years to prepare for, and it's just getting started. The Nation published an essay painting 2050 as a bleak time when most of us would spend our days just trying to survive, severed from the comforts and conveniences we take for granted now. We've seen dozens of books, articles, and reports saying the same thing. Except now, we can expect that to happen by the early 2030s.

Like many of us keep saying, it's not going to happen to everyone all at once. It's happening to millions of us now. People are already losing their jobs and their homes to climate disasters. It's already driving wars. It's wrecking a few cities at a time, faster than we can rebuild.

Let's get this out of the way:

Obviously, most of us like electricity. We like computers. We like hospitals and advanced medicine. We like grocery stores. We like running water. We like science. We don't have to give any of these things up. We could power them with solar panels and wind turbines.


As a society, that's not what we're trying to do. We're trying to have our climate cake and eat it too. We want robots and exotic vacations. We want superstores with sushi bars and coffee joints. All of the research shows us that we can't do it. We can't build enough renewable energy to keep it all going. At best, these green energy miracles can support half of that.

We should be having hard conversations about how much of our global industrial civilization we should try to save, and how much we should let go. We're not even close to having those conversations. If you mention any of this, your friends and family sit in silence. They look at you like you're crazy. The corporate media team up with climate optimists to call you a doomer.

But you get it.

We can't keep all of this going. Those of us who take the future seriously are preparing now. We're bracing for a low-energy future. Most people don't understand yet that nature doesn't care about anyone's net zero plans. As we run out of fossil fuels, we'll see just how much we always depended on them for everything, including our bright green future.

Soon, everyone's going to be net zero.

The hard way.

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