You Can’t Get a Gigaton from Gig Work

I failed.

During the wildfires of 2019 I realized that I failed a decade-long quest. 

In 2009 I set out to have a large impact on climate. I created a study called, “Gigaton Throwdown,” that looked at the question of what it took to scale up new technologies to have an impact on climate. One of the conclusions at the time was that electrification of cars could not achieve scale impact within a decade, while solar, wind and efficiency could. 

Efficiency! Since personal automobiles are only used about 5% of the time, I thought perhaps we could get a gigaton of reduction in ten years by re-thinking how we use automobiles.

I set out to increase the efficiency of fossil-fuel cars. I incubated Getaround, the peer-to-peer carsharing company and passed a law in California enabling the rapid spread of that product. I co-founded Sidecar, which invented ridesharing as we know it today. All that innovation was designed to have a climate impact. 

It did not work.

Those ideas which grew into all sorts of businesses around the world are now worth hundreds of billions of dollars. They have not achieved any carbon reduction. It is possible they’ve made the problem worse. 

Turns out,when things get more efficient, we tend to use more of them and we adapt them for new uses. It’s called the rebound effect. Ridesharing and carsharing increased the demand for taxi-like services and for rental-like services. It was adapted into instant delivery of everything from Thai food to staplers and diapers. Most of us have more delivered to our door today than we did ten years ago in 2011. The innovations changed other behaviors, too. Neighborhoods like the Mission in San Francisco turbocharged its rate of gentrification once it was easy to book a ride or a car for the weekend. 

I realized that when it comes to climate solutions, efficiency does not work.

Tomorrow at 8am PST I’ll tell you how we are responding to the cold hard fact that you can’t get a gigaton from gig work.