In the show, a band of special-effects pros tested out myths from TV shows or popular knowledge, like: Can a snowplow flip a car over? Can you fly using fireworks? Are elephants really afraid of mice? The team tried to figure out the answers in a process that often involved explosions and frequently enlisted the help of a crash test dummy they called Buster.
My process today as a journalist looks a little different, but I think dozens of rounds of the MythBusters cycle—ask, search, answer—definitely left an impression on me.
The MythBusters pilot came out 20 years ago last week, so in honor of the occasion, we’re going to be busting some myths on one of my favorite topics: the materials we need to fight climate change.
Myth #1: We don’t have enough materials to build what we need to fight climate change.
This one comes up a lot, and there’s a pretty good reason. We’re going to need a lot of stuff to set up a new, zero-emissions world.
To keep things relatively simple, I’m going to focus on the two industries with the highest emissions today: electricity generation and transportation. Together, they make up nearly three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
In order to cut emissions in these sectors, we need to build a lot of new infrastructure, especially new ways of generating electricity and batteries that can store it. So how much material are we looking at here?
Pretty much any construction requires some combination of steel, aluminum, and probably copper. According to a new study, in order to meet climate goals we’ll need a lot of each of those just to build infrastructure to generate electricity. Between now and 2050, demand could total up to 1.96 billion metric tons of steel, 241 million metric tons of aluminum, and 82 million metric tons of copper.
That sounds like a lot, and it is. But if you compare those numbers with the known reserves on the planet that we can access economically, it’s a small fraction. And annual production won’t have to grow by more than 20% for supply of any of these materials to meet demand.