This week, Worth featured articles about private jet travel and a 1,350-horsepower hypercar, while also gearing up for our Techonomy Climate West 2024 conference on April 3 in Silicon Valley. And we’re aware of the irony.

For context, the private aviation story explores how the industry continues to innovate to limit its carbon footprint. It has concrete plans to achieve zero emissions through a combination of non-petroleum sustainable aviation fuel and carbon offsets. The hybrid supercar mixes a smallish V8 engine with big electric propulsion. 

This have+eat cake model has been the formula for conscious individuals to reconcile concern for humanity with the very human desire to progress and indulge. Don’t change your lifestyle: Just change the engineering. Replace dirty with clean energy, substitute sustainable natural materials for synthetics, and recycle.


There have been reasons for optimism in innovative green tech, though. For instance, power demand in the U.S. has been flat for the past decade as we learned to produce more goods and services without consuming more energy. At the same time, renewables have boomed while coal has slumped.

A Fossil-Fuel Resurgence

But recent developments have been sobering. Some carbon offset programs have been revealed as ineffective shams. Hybrid cars still burn gas, and even an all-electric vehicle of 1000+ horepeower would have a big environmental impact. Plus, the green tech trend shows signs of stalling. Demand for electric cars has slowed, as has development of wind and solar energy; and fossil energy production is on the verge of a new boom. Bloomberg recently reported that the growth rate forecast for energy demand in the next five years has increased 81%. A major driver: the explosion of large AI models and the data centers required to run them. If all that new power was to be renewable, it might be a win-win, with all the benefits of AI coming at no ecological cost. 

That won’t be the case. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that natural gas consumption hit a record high in January, and it expects continued growth this year. Several utilities are announcing plans for massive new gas plants. What’s more, Energy companies say that AI will help them find even more fossil-fuel reserves.


How can this be, if—as so many experts tell us—green sources like wind and solar are now the least-expensive forms of energy? Uppsala University professor Brett Christophers’s new book The Price is Wrong posits a sobering answer. It turns out that getting that cheap energy to market is not so cheap, as solar and wind facilities require vast amounts of land far from the cities that need the electricity. The inconvenient truth he declares is that renewables just aren’t as profitable as fossil fuel power plants—in the absence of a carbon tax. And green commitments notwithstanding, maximizing profit is the most-powerful driving factor in business.

Time for Hard Questions

Recent setbacks to the low-carbon transition aren’t an excuse to be defeatist. But the response can’t be pollyannaish techno-utopianism, either.

Against this fraught, messy backdrop, next week’s Techonomy Climate conference will engage the latest science, policy, economics, and philosophies on combating climate change. Expert sessions by leading thinkers will probe topics such as AI’s carbon footprint, how to clean up energy-hogging data centers, tackling methane emissions, the slump in electric vehicle growth, and equity in how the ecological impacts of green technologies (think minerals for batteries) are distributed.

At last year’s Techonomy Climate NYC conference, venture capitalist Raj Kapoor eloquently laid out some of the dilemmas. There’s a lot of interest in green investment, and technology (especially AI) has great potential to help find solutions. But no one is making their targets, and making sense of esoteric data to make smart decisions is really hard. Kapoor, along with about 20 other leading thinkers, retakes the stage next week.