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Exponential thinking is not intuitive for us humans. We are used to dealing with a world of small, linear changes. But we now live in a world of exponential development, which creates an increased discrepancy between the world we live in and our ability to understand and predict it.
Imagine taking 30 steps in a straight line. You would count one, two, three, four, five and so on. After 30 steps, you will have ended up about 30 meters away and could easily point out where you began.
But if you take 30 exponential steps where each step is a doubling in length: one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two. Where would you end up in 30 steps then? Very few give the correct answer. The answer is one-billion meters away, or the equivalent of 26 laps around the earth.
The exponential curve is treacherous to us because even though it begins modestly, it quickly grows at a rate few of us can imagine. The curve itself is a key concept we must try to understand. In the discrepancy between linear and exponential concepts, we tend to overestimate its changes in the short term while grossly underestimating them in the long term.
The exponential development of technology is not in itself a new phenomenon. In 1965, Gordon Moore described a new development in computing, now known as Moore’s Law. Therein, he observed that the number of transistors able to fit in an integrated circuit would double approximately every two years. This curve still exists.
In addition to computational power, Moore’s law can be applied to everything from connection speeds, storage space, camera sensors and other technologies that are central to digitalisation. So, anything that has a basis in calculations, and is digitised, can therefore be developed according to this Moore’s law. We have seen this in a number of technological areas, but have only scratched the surface of possible applications. Many more areas will be developed in this way as digitalisation continues to permeate our society — especially in terms of climate research and development.
The next 100 years, according to this exponential law called “The Law of Accelerating Returns”, will correspond to 20,000 years of technological development.
Carbon Law or the Coal Act
Humans have been relatively lucky. Throughout Earth’s history, the planet has been subject to various extreme, natural changes in climate. It is only in the last 12,000 years, since the last ice age, that the planet has entered a state we call the Holocene. During this unique period, humanity was able to evolve and become the dominant species on the planet. The climatic conditions have remained perfect for mankind, thanks to a global average temperature which sits within a narrow spectrum that is suitable for life as we know it.
But there is now extensive scientific evidence that we, humanity, may witness a dramatic shift in this spectrum. We cannot ignore the warning signs of our impact on the Earth’s climate. We can reach thresholds, or tipping points, of this delicate balance which cannot be reversed. Increasing sea levels, drought and extreme weather events are all possibilities if we do not act — in fact, they have already begun.
In the industrial era, we have undergone a shift from being a small society on a big planet, to our current predicament of being a burgeoning society on an increasingly crowded planet. Our generation is the first to take on the role of planetary caretaker — and we must act quickly.
There is a need to begin reversing the carbon emission curve by 2020 for two reasons: partly to reduce the risk of dramatic climate change, and partly to create a healthier society. The goal of the Paris Agreement — signed by nearly every nation on the planet in 2016 — is to halve carbon emissions each decade beginning in 2020. By 2050, the hope is to have zero net emissions of greenhouse gases on the planet.
The good news is that we are beginning to see indications that the exponential increase of greenhouse gases is leveling out and therefore should soon begin to decrease. We are starting to see renewable energy sources entering an exponential growth phase, while using new technology to harvest the planets resources much more efficiently. With the goal of the Paris Agreement garnering robust attention from around the globe, we can continue to bend the curve. It is absolutely necessary — and fully doable.
This global transition, which is still in the beginning phase, needs to follow a global coal law, or Carbon Law. The law requires an exponential reduction in emissions with the goal of introducing a global production system that does not rely on fossil-fuels. This initiative can be applied on any scale: as an individual, a household, a company or a nation — individual pieces which are then summed up as a whole. This is the golden rule that allows us to transform our current environment into a stable and resilient home. It starts with you.