The Great Decoupling


It’s logical to feel overwhelmed by the climate challenge we face. Last year was the hottest on record, the Conference of Party (COP) talks were predictably incremental, and we are on track to significantly overshoot a 1.5°C increase in average global temperature. We are all going to be impacted, and for the most vulnerable communities and countries, the situation may be dire.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on how we act in the years ahead, this could be a transitory period of hardship that leads to a new era of sustainable, equitable prosperity.

To achieve this, we need to break the linkage between economic growth and the health of the human and environmental systems around us. We need to decouple key metrics such as increasing gross domestic product (GDP, a limited but still useful metric of material prosperity) from rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Three key factors that can help us achieve this are new technologies, managing our footprint more intelligently, and preserving our willingness to work together to overcome this challenge. If we can manage these three things we can bend the curve below, and not stop until it is more or less vertical.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the upper bounds of human wealth and health have risen enormously. But this has been achieved at significant costs to the environment and the billions of people still left behind.

We can do better — driving economic growth without disrupting complex human and environmental systems. But we certainly haven’t nailed this to date, so what changes from here?

First, we must embrace invention, shifting talent and funding toward finding new, more sustainable ways to provide for human well-being.

Though this is far from solved, the last few years have been promising. Those entering the workforce are passionate about working on climate. Significant public and private sector R&D are flowing into finding new technologies. And serious investment capital is engaging on climate change and the energy transition, even if the risk/return profile of many energy infrastructure investments must improve to truly bring the trillions of dollars we need off the bench.

Second, we need to embrace complexity, finding ways to better track, understand, and navigate the uncertainty ahead.

This means rapidly expanding our use of sensing technologies to better track our impact on complex systems. For example, methane sensing technologies are rapidly progressing to the degree that the obvious wins for fugitive emission reductions are apparent, though there is still risk that scientists, lobbyists, and regulators will delay action while debating over the details.

Once we have that data, we need to rapidly improve our understanding of our options and repercussions of our actions. Large scale data analytics (including artificial intelligence) are ideal for distilling the insights we need from the complexity we face. This is what we are focused on at Othersphere, where we have created a searchable index of global systems to enable more confident infrastructure deployment decisions. The reality is that those upgrading our infrastructure systems face complex, risky decisions. We need to better equip these unsung heroes working to build our sustainable, equitable future.

Even with data and insights in hand, organizations must still be able to navigate this more complex future. If your organization is planning for the status quo or appears unready to adapt to market changes, then look for the causes within leadership, owners, or customers. Try to change them, and if you can’t, leave. The future is being built elsewhere.

Finally, we must embrace empathy, in the sense of working to understand the viewpoints of others and resisting political hyperbole and tribalism. In reality our collective footprint is the result of trillions of individual choices each day, made possible by the industries and governments that we have created with our wallets and ballots. It’s easy to bait clicks or court campaign contributions by pointing fingers at Big Oil, environmental activists, or China, but the real world is not that simple. We have enough unavoidable complexity; we don’t need to create extra.

I believe there is a future where we achieve the above, embracing innovation, complexity, and empathy to decoupling GDP growth from greenhouse gas emissions. This is the reason why I’m excited to begin each day, working with a stellar team to help build something better.

We have difficult years ahead, but it’s exciting to imagine building 22nd century-grade infrastructure, and our kids (and their kids) out there living some kind of sci-fi life as a result.

This sustainable, equitable future is far from a certainty. But it’s a possibility, and now it's our job to make it happen.


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Multi-Error-Removed Improved-Terrain Digital Elevation Model (MERIT DEM) is a sophisticated dataset that addresses terrain issues common in other mapping efforts.


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  • Production weighted average corn yields for the United States across all major CMIP climate models. 
  • Shocking volatility at higher CO2 levels and the yield trend is just demolished.
  • Great progress from my team on this model in the past few months.

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