Is Clean Technology a “Fantasy”?

The CEO of the world’s largest oil company says that renewables and clean tech are a “fantasy” and not economically competitive. After I posted something joke-y about the absurdity of an oil company telling the world not to, you know, move away from oil, a lively discussion ensued. One reader asked a reasonable question about whether “facing the hard reality of our predicament is a good idea.” He posited that people make the case that…

  • A huge majority of energy is still fossil-fuel based
  • There are some things “that electricity simply can’t do at the moment” (e.g., powering planes, producing industrial heat, etc.)
  • We may face shortages of some metals (lithium, cobalt, etc.)

It’s worth discussing, and there could easily be a book-length response. But here are some topline (and not comprehensive) thoughts/reactions.

  1. Yes, a majority of the world’s primary energy is still supplied by fossil fuels…but every major tech that becomes obsolete was dominant at some point (typewriters, horse-and-buggy, VCRs). It’s not about the small share of clean techs NOW, but whether they’re better and cheaper. Bloomberg has reported that 90+ countries are past a tipping point on renewable energy and EVs, which comes not at 50% share, but much earlier at 5 to 10%.
  2. Yes, the clean economy requires a LOT more mining of key metals. But, to paraphrase an energy exec I spoke with, those metals seem like they’re in short supply because we haven’t truly looked yet. “Peak” oil supply came and went many times as we found much more. A combination of greater efficiency in clean techs, a historic effort to find more, and better practices in mining (in terms of working with communities) will likely remove concerns about shortages.
  3. True, some solutions are still far off, but industrial heat may not be one of them. There’s been huge progress lately — e.g., 43% of new steel capacity is planned to use electric arc furnaces. And planes may need fossil fuels for a long time, or gradually shift to sustainable aviation fuel, but i’m ok with eliminating the other 98% of fossil fuel burning in the meantime.
  4. The idea that renewables are economically inferior to fossil fuels conveniently ignores the trillions in subsidies the 150-year old industry gets every year (thanks Gil Friend for the reminder)
  5. All that said, on a philosophical and physics-driven level, the planet and climate don’t care what anyone thinks is feasible. What’s truly and profoundly unrealistic is the idea that we CAN continue to use fossil fuels at these rates and thrive, or even survive. It’s ludicrous. The FT just reported on how shockingly fast climate change is moving.


If we listen to these naysayers who preach ‘reality’, we will make the world uninhabitable for billions, if not for all of us. In short, we have no choice but to decarbonize, so we better use our energy (no pun intended) to figure out how vs. debating with vested interests.

Or to put it another way, as many have said…

“The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”

[Check out the debate on this post on LinkedIn.]