My latest for Exponents: Green Tech and the Post-Decadent Society

I argue in Exponents:

Ultimately, it is alchemy – cultural and technological creativity – or as Douthat puts it, the capacity to “imagine and work toward renewal and renaissance” that counteracts decadence. So where to begin the post-decadent project? Well, green technology – to avoid the worst of climate change and, perhaps, transcend yet more spiritual disillusionment.

In the discussion of stalled growth, Douthat paraphrases Tyler Cowen for the proposition that green technologies are “defensive” in nature – helpful for sustainability but “not a world-altering innovation in the style of the steamship or the airplane or the gas-powered automobile that it aspires to replace.”

Douthat’s reservations here are overstated, as sustainability is underrated. In Cowen’s own case for the morality of economic growth, Stubborn Attachments, the watchword is “Wealth Plus,” with the “Plus” encompassing the essential feature of environmental and societal sustainability. To the extent the crisis in cultural confidence Douthat depicts is the result of deceleration and subtle backsliding, even modest steps forward are vital inflection points and potential origins for yet greater ambition. With further imagination, green tech is the beginning of our renaissance.

Imagine a grand bargain that sees a carbon tax enacted alongside wise deregulation – of the Saul Griffith, not C. Montgomery Burns, variety – to make nuclear and solar energy more affordable and devote a greater share of national GDP to research and development. Imagine, as Peter Thiel invokes in a review of The Decadent Society, compact nuclear reactors cheaply powering, with zero carbon emissions, the factories to produce and the electricity to fuel Teslas for mass consumption. Imagine those same reactors powering hyperloops to carry commuters from abundant, affordable, and aesthetic carbon-sink housing to prosperous urban cores. Imagine in the heart of the city (as well as the cloud) Stripe University – educating minds for creativity, not credentialism – where the Department of Progress Studies is pioneering institutional incentives to speed the replacement of compact fission with fusion reactors.

Imagine a reporter from the Srinivasan Post – her retirement fund and children’s college funds secured with assets from initial coin offerings that seeded transformational technologies – delving into her latest in a series of investigations of fusion technology, which help scientists, regulators, venture capitalists, and the public parse PR puffery from bona fide breakthroughs. Imagine students and researchers the world over inspired by those articles to make significant contributions to fusion and other digital science hub repositories – from the COVID-25 vaccine to the Martian Excursion Module repos – in return for their own coin stakes in that technological progress via the a16z “It’s Time to Build” exchange.

Is this future far-fetched? As Douthat might say, have some faith – and let’s get to work.

Check out the rest!

Trees of Life: Turns out We Can GROW our Way Out of Climate Change

The New York Times has an optimistic piece about the potential of modern, wooden construction to improve urban design and transportation, all while sequestering carbon.

The only thing the story lacked was photos of the beautifully-designed buildings.

Photos from Ema Peter in Olivia Martin, “Largest mass timber building in U.S. opens tomorrow in Minneapolis,” The Architect’s Newspaper (Nov. 29, 2016), https://archpaper.com/2016/11/t3-minneapolis-mass-timber-building/#gallery-0-slide-0; see also https://www.carbon12pdx.com/.

From Frank Lowenstein, Brian Donahue and David Foster in The NY Times:

“This opportunity arises from cross-laminated timber, or CLT. First introduced in the 1990s, it enables architects and engineers to design tall, fire-safe and beautiful wood buildings. Recent examples in the United States include the seven-story T3 building in Minneapolis, the eight-story Carbon12 building in Portland, Ore., and a six-story dormitory at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. In CanadaNorwaySwedenEngland and Australia, even taller wooden buildings are already in use….

Private industry is gearing up to provide engineered wood for more tall wood buildings here in the United States. This year a highly automated, large CLT plant opened in Washington state. Last week, the first ever CLT plant in New England was announced in Maine.

The energy embodied in the materials for new buildings around the world — mostly steel and concrete — accounts for 11 percent of global carbon emissions. Typically, coal is used to heat these materials to temperatures over 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit in the manufacturing process.”

“Transportation hubs in the inner suburbs of cities in the United States are often surrounded by multifamily housing of only five or six stories. With CLT, those buildings could be taller, creating more housing close to trains, subways and buses, and a more compact urban development pattern. That would save forests on the urban fringe from being cut to make way for more housing, and cut emissions and congestion on highways. Taller mid-rise wood buildings would also help lower the cost of housing by increasing supply.”

Frank Lowenstein, Brian Donahue & David Foster, “Let’s Fill Our Cities With Taller, Wooden Buildings,” The New York Times (Oct. 5, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/03/opinion/wood-buildings-architecture-cities.html?searchResultPosition=1.