Andrew McAfee Places His Bets!

Andrew McAfee is offering to take a number of bets centered around predictions and implication from his new book More From Less. Here are a few of Andrew’s bold predictions that he is willing to bet on through the Long Bets division of the Long Now Foundation.

  • In 2029, the US will consume less total energy than it did in 2019.
  • In 2029, the US will produce less total CO2 emissions than it did in 2019, even after taking offshoring into account.
  • Over the five years leading up to 2029, the US will use less paper in total than it did over the five years leading up to 2019.

The most famous Long Bet was between Warren Buffett and Protege Partners

  • Over a ten-year period commencing on January 1, 2008, and ending on December 31, 2017, the S&P 500 will outperform a portfolio of funds of hedge funds, when performance is measured on a basis net of fees, costs and expenses.

Buffett won that bet and earned over $2 million dollars for his favorite charity.

The purpose of Long Bets is to elicit argument and debate and to better encourage long thinking. All bet winnings go to charity.


I'd take the first two. Not the third, though it might be possible due to demographics; paper users dying out. But no, I think we will use roughly the same or more paper.

Why more?

Plastic packaging being replaced with paper and cardboard packaging, might be one reason.

Good point.

Unreliability of electronics and chronic pain. Paper is better for studying.

Paper consumption in the U.S. has already been going down for awhile.

I suspect paper will go down. I myself use a lot less paper than I used too and I'm using less all the time. At work I maybe use the printer once a month, to print some coupons (which I'm sure will end up being converted to digital in a year or two at most). I meetings people rarely print out multiple sets of their slides for everyone anymore. They present and email the deck (and if you do give people a hard copy, they will ask you at the end if you are going to email the deck for them). I subscribe to the NYT print, weekend only, but read more articles online than on paper.

Now back in 2006 I remember working with a guy who felt it was very important he print out every email he received or sent. He had multi-volume binders filled with them. One day auditors were asking his boss about an entry that was made....was it approved by email? The poor guy was paging thru binder after binder trying to find any email that might help his boss. He couldn't.

So yea I can see paper use declining and declining a lot.

Adding to this, I notice college students now often know how to get almost any book they want as a pdf. College textbooks seem to be migrating into digital form since charging $300 a book becomes less and less viable if you can get copies of the book for free. Non-durable manufacturing paper seems to have peaked in 1995. Peak paper seems to have happened around 2004-5.

Do you order through amazon?

I do. But while I buy more books now than I used too I still get a good number from the library and read more on digital thru Kindle or Audible.

Actually, the first one seems unlikely too, unless population substantially declines.

Also, the climate has been rather benign the past 100 years. Reversion of to the mean of more extreme winters will likely drive up energy demand. We are playing a dangerous game by not building up nuclear power and a very flexible/adaptable natural gas system. We should also not be relying so much on natural gas, it should be mostly reserved for heat and demand variability. We probably shouldn't waste too much on baseload.

McAfee will get all three correct and the second two are not hard to predict. It's possible he will just miss the first one, though, as total U.S. energy consumption is the same today as it was in 1998.

"In 2029, the US will consume less total energy than it did in 2019."

That's a tough call. There's been no halt to immigration in the US. So the population will grow. Furthermore, the amount of renewables (solar and wind) are increasing which is going to increase the demand for energy storage. Energy storage of electricity is always at a high loss in conversion efficiency. On the other hand, electric motors are vastly more efficient than fuel powered motors, producing far less heat.

"In 2029, the US will produce less total CO2 emissions than it did in 2019, even after taking offshoring into account."

That's a rather trivial prediction. US CO2 per capita emissions are down sharply over the last 20 years. And even factoring in population growth total emissions are down.

This is one of the silliness that is the current state of news reporting. The US has substantially reduced it's CO2 production. And yet this is never reported and I'd bet your average citizen opinion is exactly the opposite of reality. Of course, this misinformation is largely intentional.

Total energy use includes energy from renewable sources. For that prediction to work conservation and efficiency have to prevail over population increase. For example, if high resolution virtual reality substitutes for a conference that would normally require 100 people to fly to Vegas and stay at a convention center/hotel then total energy use may be less. Nonetheless it doesn't matter if all the energy use of the future is coming from solar panels and windmills.

"Total energy use includes energy from renewable sources. "

Sure, my assumption was that increases in renewables would largely be replacing existing fossil fuel consumption. Which wouldn't change the Net energy usage. However, having to convert the surplus to power storage does result in a need for higher production

"For that prediction to work conservation and efficiency have to prevail over population increase."

+1, that's the crux

Which is not impossible. There's a fundamental limit on consumption due to biology.

Long ago we had a roommate. My wife complained that her socks and hers were getting mixed up in the laundry. I pointed out since you can only wear on pair of socks at a time, it made sense to put all the socks in a single place in the hallway so all could just grab a pair. That didn't go down, but the concept remains.

You have senses and ultimately you're consuming to feed those senses. Since there's only so much input your body can take, there's a limit on consumption. Hence if you don't need 100 people to fly to Las Vegas, that's a huge amount of saved energy even if the solar panels have to produce 1.5x the energy used because the giant building sized Tesla batteries need to be kept charged.

We will bring in Mexican migrants to help solve the climate crisis. They till the fields in Mexico now; their Dreamer children will invent the Green Energy Solutions of tomorrow!

So that is what elistists want: the collapse of America.

Here in the Wastebasket of South America, Brazil, we will burn cattle dung to cure our leathers for another 100 years at least! God Bless Chief Inspector Bolsonaro and a pox on his disloyal enemies, the democrats!

I think that is an anti-Brazilian impersonator. Brazil's leader is a president (Brazil's is a presidential system) and captain (commended by heroism beyond the call of duty by the Army), not a Chief Inspector.
Brazil is actually widely known to have a very efficient and clean energy mix based on juclear energy, hydroelectricity and some thermoelectric power. If Democ-rates were really interested in protecting Nature, they would consider taking a leaf from Brazil's leader's book.

Yes, burn it down!

No. To implement it to give America superior energy options.

Don't listem him. I think he is an impersonator. Brazil is headed by a president, not by a Chief Inspector. Brazil's leader is a president who is also an Army captain know for being a hero. He was awarded an Army medal.

I think the first one is crazy - I'd take that all day long (unless you think there will be a dramatic/cataclysmic drop in population). I wouldn't take the second one - likely there will be "better" - cleaner/cheaper sources of energy, so more will get used. I have a hard time even coming up with an explanation for the first one, unless you think we will all become couch potatoes watching digital screens and never leaving the house.

All these commenters saying the first one is crazy when the USA has consumed the same amount of energy for the last 20 years.

Ehrlich vs. Simon might be a more famous Long Bet.

An optimist in a sea of doomsayers, hurray!

Conditional on a revenue neutral tax on net CO2 emissions or not? Even with a "carbon tax" I'd be surprised if we got 1) without really slowing down growth.

McAfee was on Sam Harris' podcast and it was overall good, but he said he is a scientist when his degrees are in business and mechanical engineering, so that was odd. Halfway through, McAfee said that "It really took Earth Day (in 1970) and the environmental movement for us to even start thinking about limiting pollution." That isn't correct as the environmental movement began in the early 1960s.

McAfee talks about next generation nuclear reactors that are "massively superior" and "much, much safer" and than current ones, but they aren't as those already have an excellent safety record.

1. Total energy counts the thermal energy of coal before it is used to generate electricity and the thermal energy of gasoline before it is used to generate movement of vehicles. So a kilowatt-hour of electricity from a solar farm represents around one-third the total energy of a kilowatt-hour from a coal power station. A kilometer driven in an electric car represents considerably less total energy than a kilometer driven in a similar sized internal combustion engine car. So, yes, total US energy use will definitely be lower in 10 years time.

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