Does Generation Z change the prospects for global warming?


As the sound of COP26 fades away, we are wondering if there are any signs that the juggernaut of global warming may be turning. Will organisations, governments and people decide to act? Will these efforts be enough to halt the warming trend?

Generation Z and Millennials such as Greta Thunberg have been highlighting the issue of global warming. Sarah Jaquette Ray, a professor of environmental studies, describes how Generation Z are approaching global warming:

“Generation Z students care a lot more about humans than previous generations. They flock to environmental studies out of an awareness that humanity and nature are deeply interconnected and a genuine love for both. These students are increasingly first-generation Americans, non-white and motivated to solve their communities’ problems by addressing the unequal distribution of environmental costs and benefits.”

She adds that the rapid and radical changes that society has undertaken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is evidence that change is possible. 

Some investment funds have claimed to be focusing on green industries, while the ESG descriptor is being viewed critically. Until recently, however, it is probably fair to say, there has been more talk than action. Now, people, governments and organisations have started to ask what will it cost to contain and reverse global warming, to ‘turn the ship’? A friend who sold computer systems told us that once a prospect asked the price, she knew she had a customer.  We think this is a similar signal, a sign of plans for action on carbon emissions.

Bill Gates’ book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need highlights that between us, we humans generate 51 billion tons of CO2 each year. So to halt (without even reversing) the incremental global warming effect of CO2 emissions each year, the planet’s economy needs to remove 51 billion tons of CO2 each year. About three quarters of this comes from industry, electricity generation and agriculture. The rest comes from transport and from the heating and cooling of buildings.

The concept of a “green premium” can be used to estimate the costs of de-carbonising each sector. This premium is lowest for heating and cooling of buildings, which means that design of new build and insulation of older buildings are obvious targets. Similarly, the design of electric or hydrogen powered passenger cars, buses and trucks is relatively easy. And in New Shoots, we provide snapshots of companies piloting systems to reduce carbon emissions in “wicked” sectors like steel manufacturing and agriculture.

Breakthrough Energy, Gates’ climate fund, has laid out four different uses for his planned $1.5 billion investment: developing green hydrogen fuels, sustainable aviation fuels, energy storage, and technologies that take carbon dioxide out of the air.

The Earthshot Prizes announced recently included one directly addressing climate change. It went to a German company, Enapter. They have already delivered their scalable plug & play AEM electrolyser modules – which turn renewable electricity and water into green hydrogen – to 33 countries.

Other finalists were Reeddi Capsules, from Nigeria, making solar-powered energy capsules to make electricity affordable and accessible in energy-poor communities, and SOLbazaar, Bangladesh, who have the world’s first peer-to-peer energy exchange network in a country on the front-line of climate change. The prizes were specifically to support scaling up of proven technologies.

We think that these new shoots suggest that the ship is turning. The new visibility of the attitude of Generation Z, the focus on “what will it cost”, massive investment in four key technologies, discussion of easy and wicked sectors using “green premiums”, and prizes to aid in scaling up – two years ago we did not see any of these.

Today, we are more optimistic.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Natasha Thoday says

    The ship is turning. But not IMHO towards yet more growth. Why? Because the bio-physical fact that depletion of fossil fuels and minerals (requiring ever more energy to extract ever less) upon which everything relies, means all roads must lead to significant shrinkage of industrial civilisation and human population this century.

    To compensate, even if we could magically reduce and equalise every person’s wealth and CO2 foot print to a bare minimum, with a globally ‘managed’ economy (not going to happen see: Snakes in Suits), this ‘pale blue dot’ simply cannot sustain 8 Billion humans.—psychopath-test-all-policymakers

    Earthshot Prize winner Enapter’s web site claims they have a patent (!) to “Replace fossil fuels with low-cost green hydrogen. Enapter’s AEM Electrolysers unlock on-site hydrogen production for any use, at any scale.”

    But none of their supply chain can operate without major fossil fuel inputs. Ever. Even helium vital for microchip manufacture is fast disappearing forever.

    Global vanadium supply, a critical material for their ‘anion exchange membranes’ (AEM) is 80% dominated by China & Russia.

    Further, hydrogen is terribly inefficient and cannot scale, if at at all, even with free electricity to make it.

    Enapter are treating the laws of physics (and geopolitical realities) as an externality, which they suppose the patents and the price mechanism can fix. They can’t. No matter how loudly neo-classical economic theory protests, thermodynamics prohibits scale-up of their AEM Electrolyser beyond a few rich people.

    The only remaining sensible question is how low is the number of people remaining going to fall to? How quickly? And what can we do to ameliorate the worst outcomes of industrial shrinkages? Waving our hands at symptoms such as climate change and CO2 emissions, and putting fake solutions in behind patents and neo-classical economic gate kept enclosures – infinite externalities – misses these ‘whole system’ insights.

    Gates (whatever his motivations) is correctly pro high energy density nuclear energy.

    Greta, unfortunately, hasn’t got the ‘whole system’ memo. Yet. I blame those around her.

    Perhaps we can direct our efforts towards helping Greta and her generation review their knowledge base, so they can direct efforts towards lobbying in favour of ‘whole system’ technological cures, which the laws of physics does allow. Let’s give them practical, rational process tools. This site has a very good reading list.

    This paper, by N.J. Hagens (amongst many others) re-views the architecture of whole system limits, so we don’t waste effort and time being distracted. We urgently need to be teaching this kind of ‘whole system’ content to young people, indeed all people.

    • We lack a cohesive map on how behavior, economy, and the environment interconnect.
    • Global human society is functioning as an energy dissipating superorganism.
    • Climate change is but one of many symptoms emergent from this growth dynamic.
    • Culturally, this “Superorganism” doesn’t need to be the destiny of Homo sapiens.
    • A systems economics can inform the ‘reconstruction’ after financial recalibration.

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