Many hoped that this year would be a return to normalcy and in some ways it has been. The trend toward popular authoritarianism seems to have ebbed and, for the most part, economies are back on track. People have largely returned to work and kids have mostly gone back to school. At least in the US, shops are open with decent foot traffic.
Still, what’s perhaps most striking is the challenges that remain. Covid deaths in 2021 outpaced 2020 and there’s always the possibility of more severe variants. Despite all the hype around technology, we remain in a productivity crisis. We continue to struggle to maintain competitive markets. The specter of climate change still haunts us.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the books I read this year focus on those challenges. We are in the midst of a demographic handoff from the Boomers to the Millennials, who are much more focused on the long-term. So we should expect more seriousness in how we tackle problems. Genuine solutions, however, still elude us.
Book of the Year
Without a doubt, climate change is the greatest challenge we face. It is complex, long-term and pervasive, affecting everything from geopolitics to economics to what were once considered natural disasters. Over the next decades, we can expect sea levels to rise, extreme weather events to increase and regions of the planet to become uninhabitable.
To a large extent, commentary on the issue of climate comes in two flavors: shrill and dismissive. Many pundits insist that we face disaster if we don’t immediately make drastic changes to how we live. Others either claim that the problem doesn’t exist or that technology and market forces will magically take care of it.
That’s why Bill Gates’ book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is so good and so important. He goes through each facet with a clear, pragmatic eye, spelling out both the challenges and opportunities. One surprising insight is that transportation and electricity generation only make up 40% of carbon emissions. So even if we all drove electric cars and put solar panels on our houses, there would still be a significant challenge.
The bottom line: Getting to net zero by 2050 will require us to invest and innovate. Viable solutions to…