Over the past few years, the RethinkX project has made the case for yet another revolution to come. Based on major leaps forward in many technologies; in particular in the fields of information, energy, food, transportation and materials. Five sectors that are at the very heart of our economy. ‘We are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential transformation of human civilization in history,’ its website proclaims. Who are these people, and do their claims stand up to scrutiny?
RethinkX expects that during the 2020s, key technologies will converge to completely disrupt the five foundational sectors that underpin the global economy. In a number of articles, we investigate this claim. These appeared on October 31, November 6, November 13, November 19, November 29 and December 4, 2021.
RethinkX is an independent think tank, founded by analysts and authors James Arbib and Tony Seba. They ‘analyse and forecast the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society.’ Their analyses are used by major companies. RethinkX claims that their predictions about solar power, EVs, batteries, ICE vehicle sales, peak oil demand, and so on, have been proven accurate consistently. From 2018 onwards, they published a number of reports, including Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030, Rethinking Energy, and Rethinking Humanity. We will go into these in the coming articles.
Of course climate change is among the issues on which the RethinkX project comments; in the wake of the 2021 global conference on this issue in Glasgow. ‘Decarbonizing the global economy at first glance looks like an overwhelming task,’ they write, ‘given that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from everywhere – every product, technology, industry, service, and sub-sector.’ But at RethinkX, they discovered that ‘the bulk of emissions – over 90% – can actually be grouped around 3 major sectors: energy, food, and transportation.’ This insight is crucial, they write. For it means that we need to focus our efforts on these key sectors. Not giving up economic prosperity, but prioritize our technological developments. And know where to leverage the power of markets, and where that of governments.
‘Giving up economic prosperity now to solve climate change has the problem backwards. It’s like trying to stop the spread of coronavirus by not breathing,’ says James Arbib to globalnewswire.com. Instead, we should enable disruptions in the sectors of energy, food and transportation in order to speed up the process.
The RethinkX project and the S-curve
In the heart of the RethinkX project is the notion that developments often follow an S-curve. At first, progress is slow; to the impartial observer, it might seem that it will take long for changes to take place. But if developments pass a threshold (for instance, prices of a service fall below that of competitors), they may speed up very much. And take society by surprise. Until in the end, the market gets saturated and development slows down again. This process has been proven true for individual products. For instance, solar panels are in the middle of this right now. Tony Seba extended this model to society as a whole because ‘the same processes and dynamics that drive S-curve adoption of new products at a sector level repeat at the level of civilizations.’ We should recognize and make use of this process, so the RethinkX project holds.
In order to understand the future, we should add up developments in the five foundational sectors of the economy. Or perhaps, multiply them. The central thesis of the RethinkX project is that each of these five sectors ‘will be disrupted in the period 2020–2033, costs will fall by 10x or more, while production processes an order of magnitude (10x) more efficient will use 90% fewer natural resources with 10x-100x less waste.’ Can this be true?
In six articles we will provide an overview of the RethinkX project, its conclusions and recommendations. We will discuss more in detail profound changes in the transport and food sectors, including our view on the peculiar inefficiency in our present private transport system. In a separate article, we will reflect on RethinkX’s view on the new Organizational System. This is the most difficult subject in future studies, often omitted by other futurists. In a final article, we will comment on the project and compare it with the publications and books on these topics of our own.