When I talk about exponential growth in clean transportation—or say anything optimistic about climate change—the pessimists baulk.
C’mon, they say, the overwhelming majority of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. Demand for oil is still growing. Electric vehicles (EVs) are a miniscule percentage of cars sold. What good can a few wealthy Tesla owners possibly do for the environment?
To pessimists, the EV revolution seems underwhelming. That’s because they underestimate the power of exponential growth.
Optimists don’t demand instant results from innovation. Rather, they recognize how sudden technological transformation can be. Societies won’t register the full potential of EVs until moments before they sweep gasoline cars into the dustbin of history.
What Exponential Growth Really Means
People say that innovations like the Internet, smartphone and social media grew “exponentially” because they radically changed our lives within a few years of appearing. But what do we mean by “exponential”? The late physics professor Al Bartlett used to demonstrate the shocking power of exponential growth very clearly.
Imagine a glass with one bacterium that divides into two bacteria every minute. In one hour, that doubling process fills the glass. If you started the process at 11 am, at what time would the glass be half full?
Many people assume 11:30 am. In reality, the glass is only half full at 11:59 am. At 11:58, it’s 25% full, and at 11:55, it’s only 3% full! 97% seems like business as usual, with no tipping point in sight. The progress seems unimpressive until the moment the bacteria become ubiquitous. The same is likely true of electric vehicles.
Read more: Forbes