Toward the end of this book, the authors profile a few of the thousands of new technologies that clever entrepreneurs are pursuing to this end. These efforts are taking place all over the world and will challenge many of the large corporations (and perhaps governments) that dominate the world marketplace. Many of them will fail, but collectively we will learn what works and change the world. Entrenched systems and globe-spanning companies may appear impossible to dislodge, but consider that none of the top-ten most valuable companies today were on that list in 1990. Many didn't even exist in 1990. Big changes can happen within only a few decades, and when there is a crisis like the one we just encountered with COVID-19, we now know big change can be much faster than that.
Progress is not inevitable. We literally will the future into existence through our small individual actions. There have been many times in our collective history when things did not get better for centuries. We don't have that luxury of time now. Personally, I want a future of sustainable abundance that lets us explore the world, have fantastic experiences, and provide a full life for all. I hope that everyone who reads this book will be inspired to build a better sustainable future, whatever their particular dreams are.
—Marc Tarpenning, Cofounder, Tesla Inc.
Doing Better Things Better
It ain't what we know that gets us in trouble, it's what we know for sure that just ain't so.—Mark Twain
Imagine, for a moment, a car. Any color you like, midrange, any brand. Do you have it? It runs well and does the job, taking you from home to work, with a detour to the gym in the evening before you return home. You pass your state and emissions inspections without any trouble, and you're not really thinking of upgrading anytime soon. It gives you about 27 miles per gallon—the average mpg in 2020—just 6 mpg higher than the Model T released over a hundred years ago.
Henry Ford introduced the Model T, the gas-powered disruptor to the transportation industry, way back in 1908. It was a brilliant innovation for its time, launching the automobile industry as we know it. Before 1908, cars were considered a luxury item, custom designed for wealthy individuals. There were fewer than two hundred thousand cars on US roads, and they were priced at approximately $18,000 in today's dollars. Ford's assembly-line production model significantly reduced the cost of production and spurred systems engineers to create further efficiencies. Efficiencies drove scale and mass production, and cars soon permeated every price segment in society. By 1914, Ford was producing approximately three hundred thousand cars annually, surpassing the cumulative production of every other car manufacturer in the market. Eventually, ordinary individuals across America were driving cars to work.
The impact of the Model T cannot be understated. It is the Model T, in fact, that is credited with spurring US government investment in infrastructure and roadways. Henry Ford did not just innovate the product and process; he transformed the auto industry. At a time when cars were not expected to have any significant impact on the economy at all, he democratized access to transportation and significantly influenced the American economy. The automobile industry enabled the launch of many other industries, enabled robust capital markets, and furthered rigorous research into competitive strategy and operations.
Yet in over a century we've improved fuel efficiency by a measly six miles per gallon.
Now consider the story of Okjokull (Ok, pronounced "awk"), the first-ever glacier to die at the hands of climate change. Ok covered 10 percent of one of Iceland's eight islands, the ice enmeshed into the natural landscape and into the lives of all who lived there. Because of global warming, the glacier lost so much ice that what remained melted where it sat.
In August 2019, Iceland held a funeral for Ok with poem recitals, remembrance speeches, and even an orbit by NASA satellites, the first-ever funeral by orbit for a nonhuman being. Citizens, scientists, and politicians all gathered to pay their respects. A plaque now commemorates the place where the ice once lay, with crusty earth and puddles of water sporadically breaking the landscape.
Ok's death had and continues to have devastating implications for Iceland—from water resources to infrastructural issues and even to the rising of land due to a lighter load of ice on its surface. It was a bleak sign for a country named after its vast coverage of ice and that is home to more than four hundred glaciers. It will lose them all in the next two hundred years. Iceland is certainly not "OK."