Fears of climate tech underinvestment are probably overblown

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over whether the world will get its act together enough to prevent catastrophic warming. There’s certainly a case to be made there — we’ve spent the last several decades kicking the can down the road at every opportunity.

Well, here we are again, with the can again before us and the end of the road fast approaching.

Lucky for me, I tend to be an optimist. I still think we’re in for a world of pain, and we’ll probably have to rely on some exotic technologies like fusion power and direct air capture to pull ourselves back from the brink. But in my opinion, when the chips are down, humanity tends to pull through.

If we use computing and software as a guide, we should expect to see a nearly fivefold increase in the capital committed in the next 30 years.

That is why I think many of the gloom-and-doom scenarios regarding climate tech investments tend to be overly bearish. Take the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) forecasts, which for years habitually underestimated the growth of solar power. The agency has since added better models to its toolkit, but it and others still make predictions that go on to be proven overly pessimistic.

In reality, renewable energy and other climate tech is likely to follow an adoption curve that’s similar to other industries. It might even follow an accelerated version given how broad and deep the impacts and benefits of climate tech are likely to be — and the very real prospect of Armageddon if we do nothing.

To see how climate tech stands to outperform today’s forecasts, you only have to look as far back as 1970, when the computing revolution was beginning.

Exponential trends

The overarching trend of investment in the computing and telecommunications space over 50 years has been exponential. But that simplistic analysis papers over the significant growth that happened in the early years. It also fails to pick up on key technological advances that sparked wider adoption.