It’s easy to get lost in the shadows of the coming financial crisis and to assume that the entire world is going to hell in a 140mph Tesla.
The financial crisis is real, and our money definitely is going to hell. But in the broader world, some positive things are happening. Here are two:
Solar Is Eliminating Coal
Even if you don’t believe that the stuff burning coal puts into the atmosphere is destabilizing the climate and disrupting the ocean food chain, just Google “mountaintop coal mining” for all you really need to know about that particular fossil fuel. Coal as an energy source is not that far from whale oil in terms of barbarity, and the sooner it’s consigned to history’s trashcan the better.
And that is actually happening in a big way, thanks to the emergence of solar power. The following chart of solar economics looks like something from the computer industry, which it kind of is since solar panels are similar in many ways to microprocessors. No traditional power source can compete with exponentially declining costs.
For a real world illustration of what this means:
(CNBC) – Saudi Arabia and Japanese telecom giant-turned-tech investor SoftBank expanded their partnership this week, announcing the world’s biggest solar power generation project at a press conference in New York.
The project was projected to cost $200 billion through 2030. That’s about how long it’s anticipated it will take to build out all 200 gigawatts of the project.
By comparison, there are roughly 70 gigawatts of solar capacity in operation, under construction or in development in the United States, according to a list of large-scale projects kept by the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The take-away: Coal, with all its attendant environmental and moral problems, is over, and oil is next. In another couple of decades the fossil fuel era will be firmly in the rearview mirror and its accumulated damage, while a long way from healing, will at least have stopped increasing.
Now For Factory Farming
Insect and bird populations are plunging because vast monoculture farms spray half the planet with pesticides. Billions of pigs, chickens and cows suffer inconceivably in “confined animal” operations where they’re mutilated and crammed into cages or feedlots for their entire lives just so we can have cheap eggs and Big Macs. Meanwhile, millions of acres of former forest and prairie are required to grow the grains that fatten these animals while they suffer.
But in the same way that solar is eliminating coal, lab-grown meat and milk will take a blow-torch to factory farming – on Internet time. A decade hence your cheeseburger and milkshake might be made by people like this:
Perfect Day’s plan is to make milk using the exact dairy proteins cows create, but with designer yeast instead of cows—and in a matter of mere days.
In other words, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
Well, maybe not free, but certainly far more efficiently—and thus far more profitably. In a process similar to how baker’s yeast produces CO2 to make bread rise and brewer’s yeast produces alcohol, Perfect Day’s yeast produces actual dairy proteins (like casein and whey). Food scientists program the genetic code into the yeast, and that yeast starts pumping out the desired proteins. The yeast never makes it into the final product, enabling the final product to be labeled GMO-free.
Perfect Day has raised millions and has attracted talent from some of the world’s largest dairy companies. They plan to start by selling dairy proteins as functional ingredients for food manufacturers, with other dairy products not far behind. Having personally eaten from their early batches of yogurt, I’m convinced that they’re onto something big.
The company is part of a group of promising start-ups pioneering the field of “clean” animal products: real animal products grown without raising and slaughtering animals. The terminology is a nod to “clean energy,” but in addition to lightening the “food-prints” of animal products, clean milk and meat are also just, well, cleaner.
We’re warned to treat raw meat in our kitchens with extreme caution because it can carry E. Coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and other intestinal pathogens. But when growing clean meat, there are no intestines to speak of. Instead, from a tiny biopsy of an animal’s muscle, we can grow the meat we want to eat without the rest of the animal.
Just how much meat could we grow? When MIT Technology Review profiled Marie Gibbons—a fellow at the nonprofit Good Food Institute, which is working to hasten clean meat’s rise—they made it clear why venture capitalists like Chau are salivating: by taking a sesame seed-sized sample of turkey muscle, Gibbons just might feed the world.
“In theory, the growth potential is enormous,” MIT reported. “Assuming unlimited nutrients and room to grow, a single satellite cell from one single turkey can undergo seventy-five generations of division during three months. That means one cell could turn into enough muscle to manufacture over twenty trillion turkey nuggets.”
The venture capitalists pouring money into clean meat companies are betting that theory becomes fact. One company, Memphis Meats, has attracted capital from billionaires like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Jack and Suzy Welch.
But this isn’t all simply a product of Silicon Valley; even Big Meat has taken notice. Just last August, Cargill became the first large meat producer to invest in clean meat. In a Fox Business interview, Cargill CEO David MacLennan discussed his new investment, boasting that Memphis Meats “produces chicken or duck in a way that doesn’t use the resources that traditional meat uses. So it’s all about sustainability. Call it ‘clean meat’ if you will. It’s a way to produce meat in a different alternative that isn’t as resource-intensive.”
Lab-grown meat, cheese, and milk are where solar was a couple of decades ago: Way too expensive and inefficient to threaten established competitors.
But like solar they’ll go exponential in coming years. Their costs will plunge and their quality will rise until starting a factory pig farm will seem as ridiculous as starting a coal mine seems today. Farmland will start returning to nature, fewer animals will be tortured slaves and (assuming we avoid a nuclear war) the gold-bugs who get rich during the Great Monetary Reset will inherit a world that, while still very messed up, is in some ways at least moving in the right direction.