Note — Nov 07, 2021

The Industrial Re-Revolution

According to Ed Conway, economists are obsessed with the industrial revolution and usually focus on their own pet event to explain how it unfolded. Conway shows that of course what followed was not made possible by one thing, it was a long sequence of inventions building one on top of the other; the Leblanc process, Portland cement, Aluminium, nitrogen fixation, etc. Why is that important? Because carbon dioxide is created in pretty much all of these processes, so when we talk about decarbonating the global economy, it’s not just cars and power stations, it’s re-inventing all of these technologies. It’s recreating the industrial revolution.

There is carbon dioxide created in the manufacture of Portland cement, of steel, of glass, in the making of most chemicals, in the production of nitrogen-based fertilisers, in the electrolytic reaction at the heart of the Hall–Héroult process that creates aluminium, in the refining of most metals, in the minting of silicon chips and solar panels and the making of lithium ion batteries. […]

…literally some of the most incredible technological leaps the human race has ever achieved. And we literally need to do it all over again. Not just that: unlike in the Industrial Revolution which was really spread out over centuries, we are aiming to do this in a matter of decades.