Thirty years ago this summer, AT&T ran a series of ads that portrayed the possibilities of digital technology.
Actor Tom Selleck voiced them with questions like: "Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down? Watched a movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted to?" And then he promised, "You will."
It took about 20 years, but we did do everything AT&T said we would.
Today, there are two industries with the exciting air of possibility that digital tech had back then — health care and energy — but no one will say "You will" about them.
In health care, that's not surprising. Not even the best doctors make promises.
But no one is going to do it in energy because the discussion about the industry's future has been subsumed into America's cultural and political fights.
As a result, not enough people recognize the amazing innovation that's now happening in energy. They're also not thinking about the challenging trade-offs that are ahead.
These thoughts came to mind as the Minnesota Legislature passed the carbon-free-by-2040 law this month with support from utilities, labor and other businesses, but no votes from Republicans.
The new state law and the federal Inflation Reduction Act passed last year leverage economic incentives to push more development and use of renewable energy sources.
There are good reasons to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Cutting back on oil and gas boosts economic competition, improves human health and reduces greenhouse gases and other pollution.
And yet we will continue to need them in the future. Fossil fuels remain an efficient way to power things and they yield important byproducts, like fertilizers that help keep us fed and plastic resins used to build airplanes and giant wind turbines.
To slow the earth's warming, the goal is to knock down greenhouse gas emissions completely, or nearly so. The target is net zero, or net neutral, where the total contribution of human carbon dioxide emissions is equaled by removals and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The formula? Make as much electricity as possible with cleaner sources, make more things run on electricity (like cars and trucks) and improvise on the things that can't easily run on it. Synthetic fuels are in the works for things like planes and ships, for instance.
Big transformations only work if the economics do. Amazingly, advances in materials science helped lower the cost of solar panels and lithium ion batteries by around 90% over the last decade.
Even for the most die-hard skeptics about climate change and the biggest backers of the oil industry, it's getting harder to ignore the wealth possibilities that are emerging in cleaner energy.
"The nature of the new technologies is that it is more likely they will get cheaper and be more available to everyone," said Allen Gleckner, an executive at Fresh Energy, the St. Paul advocacy group that has influenced Minnesota's energy policy for three decades.
There may be innovations, such as synthetic fuel, that don't fall in cost quickly, he added. "If we're maximizing the cheap stuff and minimizing the expensive stuff, the net should be manageable," Gleckner said.
The argument from Minnesota's GOP lawmakers and others who want to slow down the energy transition boils down to "Gee, that's a lot of windmills to build." They are right about that, though they neglect that it also takes a lot of pipes, sand and water to get oil and gas out of the ground.
The nation's electric grid will need to double or triple in size, according to the Net-Zero America Project at Princeton University, to reach "net zero" by 2050. In Minnesota, according to the project's maximum estimates, utility-scale wind farms by then will occupy between 5,000 and 18,000 square miles. That's 6% to 23% of the state's land area of 79,600 square miles.
The demand for minerals such as lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel used in batteries and transmission wires will also soar.
Environmentally minded Minnesotans may soon face a crisis of conscience. Do they continue to block new mines in the state, knowing the clean energy transition needs them?
The energy and mining industries have long histories of treating workers and communities poorly. How will people in the smaller towns on the windy prairie feel when the number of turbines around them grows by multiples of what exists today?
"You're right, there are compromises" ahead, Gleckner said. "Hopefully we have an opportunity to do a much better job in this era than we did in the fossil fuel era."