But I've also been generally skeptical that such a technology will be discovered in the next 50 years. Scientific American this month gave me a new reason to hope: computer-driven material design. Just now, we have the computing power to model the full quantum-mechanical behaviors of (non-organic) materials, but we can automatically screen *all known* materials for the necessary properties. I think we'll identify a break-through photovoltaic (or similar) in the next 10 years, and it will be global by 2040.
Climate change, on the scale we're dealing with now, will be over.
But the big problems will remain:
- Environmental damage: We will continue to destroy the planet directly, and probably do it at a faster scale with the cheaper power, unless we can find a way to value nature.
- Conflict: We will have a greater capacity for destruction, unless we have can greatly improve our international institutions for communication and resolution.
- Inequality: Until we manage to disentangle having a job from having a livelihood, cheap energy won't mean a post-scarcity existence for anyone.
The global scale and deep social drivers of climate change provide an incredible opportunity to set things up right. Without it, becoming a more enlightened global civilization might be a lot tougher.