Back to the Future? Clean Energy, Clean Cars, and 7 Ways We’ve Leapt Forward from 1985 to 2015

October 20, 2015 | 10:02 am
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

At the end of the classic 1985 movie “Back to the Future”, our young heroes travel in a flying DeLorean to a distant time: October 21, 2015, to be precise. What Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker find is a world that is familiar in a lot of ways, but advanced in others.

In our own version of 2015, we’re distinctly deficient in self-tying shoes, self-drying clothes, and hoverboards (maybe). And (maybe more importantly) there’s a decided dearth of garbage-fed flux capacitors for flying cars. It turns out we still power a few too many of our cars and homes with fossil fuels (that’s so 20th century…). But when it comes to some other aspects of energy and transportation, here are seven examples of how we’ve come a long way.

Here are a few indications of the progress we’ve made since 1985:


Okay, so not having KITT around isn’t necessarily progress. But don’t worry: more autonomous (and talking?) vehicles just might be in our (near) future.

And a lot of the other progress noted above has come about in just the last few years. Way more efficient ways of moving ourselves from Point A to Point B. And way more than 1.21 “jiga-watts” of clean-electron-making machines. (As one point of reference: By the beginning of 2015 the U.S. had enough wind turbines—and enough wind—to generate enough electricity to power more than 17.5 million homes.)

And we, like a hacked DeLorean accelerating toward 88 MPH, just might be ready to take it to a whole new plane. When it comes to clean energy and clean cars, “Doc” Brown just might be proud of us. Great Scott!

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.