Ramez Naam on the Future

Ramez Naam is a Futurist who wrote on transhumanism and accurately predicted the growth of Solar Energy and batteries for over ten years. Ramez recently had a lengthy interview published at noahpinion on substack.

Here are some prior videos where Ramez gave talks.

Here are some updated opinions and predictions from Ramez.

1. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is going to substantially accelerate the clean energy transition. I [Ramez] say this as someone who invests in clean energy and climate tech startups, and keenly watches the pace of innovation in these technologies. In particular, the war in Europe is going to accelerate the development, deployment, and price decline of the technologies needed to replace natural gas.

Natural gas (methane) keeps the lights on and it is a regionally traded commodity. Oil is a global commodity. Oil is moved extensively in tanker ships around the world. Europe could stop buying Russian oil and buy oil (or refined oil products, like gasoline or diesel) from somebody else. Natural gas is different. The world has relatively little shipping capacity. To move gas over oceans you have to chill it to -160 degrees C, and turn it into a liquid. That’s doable. But it’s relatively expensive. And so most gas is moved by pipeline.

Ramez talked about long term energy technology:
1. Energy storage, especially long-duration energy storage. Store multiple days of energy, for the long periods in winter when you don’t have sun and you may have a wind lull for days at a time. Those technologies are nascent. Scaling them is going to have a massive impact on driving down their cost.

2. Electricity transmission and the grid. Political barriers could drop.

3. Electrifying building heat.

4. Offshore wind and floating offshore wind.

5. Green hydrogen. A third of natural gas usage is for “industrial” uses such as making fertilizer and chemicals, or high temperature heat. New deployment of electrolyzers that use solar and wind electricity to electrolyze water into oxygen and “green” hydrogen. This could replace natural gas in these applications. NBF Notes: any energy like Nuclear can also power electrolyzing water.

6. Nuclear fusion, geothermal anywhere, and other next generation “clean firm” resources. NBF notes that nuclear fission including new molten salt nuclear fission fits here as well.

Ramez also highlights some important climate change technology areas.

Decarbonizing agriculture and ending deforestation.
Stabilizing fragile ecosystems.

Those two topics relate to the Nextbigfuture video on accelerated forestation to offset trillions of tons of CO2. Making massive numbers of greenhouses would densify farming and make the crops grown in greenhouses more resistant to temperature changes, other weather and drought conditions.

Direct climate system interventions. Geo-engineering.

The mildest form of geo-engineering is actually a variation on growing more plants. This is to create algae blooms. 4 to ten guys in Jaws boat could place 100 tons of iron powder into the ocean and generate a 1 to 10 million ton algae bloom that would take that mass of CO2 to the bottom of the ocean while also feeding algae to fish like salmon. This happened and worked in 2012. 200 boats could each do this twice per month and offset all of the 40 billion tons of CO2 we generate every year and massively boost fish stocks. This action would be replacing the 98% of whales killed over the last few hundred years.

Separate Non-Ramez Naam Assessment of Nuclear Energy

Columbia University looked at increasing Europe nuclear energy to reduce Natural gas imports.

1. Postpone the decommissioning of the 6 GW of nuclear capacity in Germany and Belgium due to be retired by early 2023. This may be challenging, as these plants will need fuel and a qualified workforce to operate the plants, but given that they are still operating, it could be possible to reverse the process if the decision is made soon enough. This action would not significantly change the situation in 2022 but will have an impact on next winter and add close to 50 TWh in 2023, mostly from Germany and Belgium.

2. Restart the 4 GW recently decommissioned in Germany. This can be technically challenging and costly, and could face local opposition. To the extent regulatory and political barriers are removed, action needs to be taken quickly. As time passes, it becomes harder to restart plants, as they will need a workforce and fuel, which has to be ordered well in advance specifically for each reactor. However, such a process could add another 30 TWh by 2023. How much can be added in 2022 depends on the speed of the process.

3. If French nuclear generation EDF were able to increase its power generation back to 2021 levels quickly, that could add 10 TWh in 2022 (the upper range of EDF’s forecasts) and 50 TWh in 2023. Given that France has typically low load factors, there is an upside to going back to above 400 TWh—the levels reached in the mid-2010s—but this may be limited by the number of 10-year inspections happening over the coming years.

If these three options are achieved, Europe’s nuclear generation would reach almost 660 TWh in 2022 and 760 TWh in 2023, compared to 735 TWh in 2021. Looking at 2030, an additional 14 GW out of the 100 GW operating in 2021 are expected to be retired. A reassessment of nuclear power plants could be done to determine which plants could safely be operated longer.

Nextbigfuture notes that nuclear power plants generate heat as well. Heat generated can be used to heat water for building and other process heat.

Ramez is More Negative About Antiaging, Singularity and Space Colonization

In 2003, Ramez wrote his first book, More Than Human, and was writing about life extension technologies, gene therapies and gene editing of both adults and children, human augmentation tech, brain augmentation and neural interfaces. And guess what? All of it has gone much, much more slowly than I [Ramez] forecast then.

I [Ramez] am, in the words of the Extropian philosopher Max More, a “Dynamic Optimist”. That means I [Ramez] believe that things will get better. But not because they just magically get better on their own. I [Ramez] believe they’re going to get better because we’re going to make them better. It takes action.

Ramez thinks the Singularity is further than it appears.

Ramez on Space. The prospect of self-sufficient colonies in space any time this century seems dim. Not because we can’t develop the technology to do it, but because the incentives to do this are extremely minimal.

Ramez on Human biology, and especially “life extension”. In medicine, we’re doing amazing things. Yet progress is more difficult with each increment.

None of this makes me a pessimist about the future. I [Ramez] think the future is better than the past. But I [Ramez] am a skeptic of the narrative that overall progress (as measured in quality of life of the median human) is really rapidly accelerating.

Brian Wang of Nextbigfuture notes this is why having someone like Elon Musk who can make very profitable businesses developing space is so important to accelerating human progress. If the incentives are weak, then it is critical that we find ways to create high profitability while generating these important long term goals. Elon is doing that with Super Heavy Starship, self driving electric cars and with Teslabot. It does not and should not be all Elon Musk but others need to study how he creates new highly profitable leading edge industries and emulate.