TED Conversations

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    Jul 7 2012: Rapidly rising pace of change requires a level of self-sustainability not yet included in development. Full disclosure of toxins and long-term consequences of current fossil fuel production could energize R & D for renewables. Each building constructed, if required to be completely self-sustaining for energy, might make cities growth less stressful for the systems required to contain and support them. If the same standard were applied to water, food, waste with each building, then these become like interchangeable LEGOS, basic building blocks with endless possibilities. Currently our building are designed mostly as shells into which energy/waste/food/water flow in and out, but are not produced within. When buildings are designed as structures of living support, rather than inanimate structures for the living, cities will truly come alive.
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    Jul 6 2012: There are two major issues in a city. Water and Water. Clean water must be brought in at a constant high volume rate for use in plumbing, cleaning, and drinking. On the other side of the coin is drainage. These two aspects of civil engineering will make or break a city.

    If you harness the kinetic power of water flowing into and out of a city would the amount of energy harnessed be worth the initial investment?
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      Jul 6 2012: Adam, thanks. Completely agree.

      Having lived in 2 close but very different Asian cities (Bangkok and Singapore) I can recognise the challenge -even before the recent terrible experience in Bangkok.

      Singapore has a drainage system that is usually able to manage dispersion of significant amounts of water, whereas Bangkok is more succeptible to flash floods. Hwoever, even with the civil engineering capability of Singapore, flash floods are a challenge - as experienced in 2010, 2011, 2012.

      A key question for many cities looking forward is...when the stress test their drainage systems for increased volatility of rainfall, can they cope?

      I like the systems thinking of harnessing the kinetic energy potential of the flows of water - potentially turning the challenge into a strength. Do you have any practical examples?
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        Jul 6 2012: First, install turbines at every drainage choke point. These would be used for power during monsoon season and heavy rainfall. Second, build a "flood system". This would be a centralized and elevated reservoir to be used as a cipher point. During flooding conditions turbines power pumps to begin a static flow of water out of the city. Once the process is begun it does the work itself. NY uses this same system to bring water IN to the city, I suggest using it to pump water out.

        As for stress put on to the system I know that this system is capable.
  • Jul 2 2012: It would be interesting to see if any of the better answers could be applied to larger cities in the past. You mentioned Mayans, but there are many more. Cities tend to have these problems throughout history. Technological advancement allows for greater carrying capacity (larger population), then the carrying capacity overwhelms the advancement once again causing a systemic breakdown and possible collapse, or another advancement comes along to extend capacity. It's definitely a tough problem to address. Please tell me there will be there will be an Indian history scholar (or Sino or Meso-American, or heck even Greco-Roman scholar) on the discussion panel. Engineers are great for solving problems by utilizing current knowledge of science to actually produce/manufacture the advances but theirs is sometimes a limitec perspective. Take batteries in vehicles. Caterpillar has been using them in heavy machinery to assist their diesel engines in power production for quite some time now, but their tech isn't filling our streets, powering our vehicles and adding capacity to our power grids when not in transit because....?

    ps,
    If I had my way, gas stations would be done away with. Fuel distribution would be done by vehicle to vehicle transfer with vehicle to vehicle internet networking keeping track of where every drop of fuel goes. You could pull into a designated area of a shopping center parking lot and search via wifi for vehicles in the area with fuel ready to share, then you pull up alongside them and make the transfer. Distribution costs would be lowerec and as an incentive for being a fuel carrier/distributor a small share of the sale could be creditted to the person's bank account who's doing the sharing.
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    Jun 29 2012: Nick, The assumption here is that cities are in control of their destinies. I do not believe that. Currently the US Federal government is dictating our direction. First all of the failed "green" ventures, at tax payers expense. Second the attempt to legislate Cap and Trade failed in Congress but was implemented through Executive Order through DO Energy. The administrations ability to by pass Congress will continue to drive all lower level decisions as the federal funds are made bribery chips in getting things the federal way from education to energy.

    Projects at "city" levels require funding and that means grants from the government in most cases. All cities are budget driven and will continue to be so.

    Metro areas continue to expand without thought to water resources, food supply, waste disposal, etc ... Phoenix Arizona is suing for water from any resources available because they have exceeded their resources. Poor planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

    The key, as always, is responsible government, concerned citizens, and advanced planning. The potential of cities rests with involvement at all levels. We can remain part of the problem or we can become part of the solution. We have currently lost faith in government and we need to restore that by holding office holders accountable.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Jun 30 2012: Bob, as a friend of mine would say - fair shout.

      There is clearly a strong relationship between the development of a city, and the actions of its Federal government. What interests me are the examples where they are to a great extent in sync, at least at the strategy/intent level.

      If you look a China, the Federal government knows that the success of its 5 Year Plan is to a great extent in the hands of its cities, as this is where much of the delivery will happen. This is true for the current 12th 5 Year Plan.

      The Federal government set the priorities, overall targets and the menu of delivery options that can deliver these. Then targets are passed on to the municipal leaders, and they are then responsible for defining the priority initiatives for their city that will help deliver these targets.

      Looking outside China there are also cases where the municipal leader is strong enough, and has sufficient budget to operate with a level of independence.

      In summary, regulation that can enable the right solutions, and the availability of funding to deliver these solutions are so important. The two are linked - as regulation so often enables the creation of the market environment that promotes private funding, and a fully functioning Cap &Trade scheme is a good example f this.

      Finally, the food-water-energy-waste point you make is bang on. As Norbert pointed out in an earlier entry, understanding these stresses in key locations is critical, as is the creation of solutions that start to optimise around these, as I mentioned earlier this week.

      Tough stuff...
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        Jun 30 2012: Does shell put ANY research into nuclear fusion what so ever? I mean, come on, if you don't, thats pretty ridiculous. Just imagine clean, powerful, and unlimited nuclear energy that produces only helium as a harmless waste product.
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    Jun 27 2012: We've just finished a lunch discussion at TEDGlobal about 'mobility for an urbanised world', involving folks from architects, tech labs, idea foundations, a range of industries, new business ventures, to name a few. The group discussed 3 things - the challenges, potential solutions, and what it would take to make these happen.

    It would be impossible to do justice to everything that was discussed...but here's a quick summary of the ideas that came out:

    a) individual behaviour is deeply ingrained and we need to understand this better

    b) understanding individual freedom of choice is key, amd especially how this fits with delivering an overall social benefit

    c) urban planning is a big subject and one consideration is the development of smaller self contained cities within cities

    d) in designing solutions we need to learn from how the Internet developed - creat the platform/standards to create Peer-to-peer connections/collaborations

    e) we need to take advantage of the rapid growth In neuropsychology and behavioural economics to help better understand how people make choices in city transportation

    f) cities are diverse and their needs/requirements are so contextually driven that the combination of solutions will be unique to each city (the needs of developing/developed markets are very different)

    g) electric vehicles will play a role in some cities along with other solutions - need to be pragmatic in designing the infrastructure

    h) the role of data and information technology to transform what's possible is potentially immense

    I) players need to be open for collaborations - because collaboration will be critical to successful solutions

    J) a radical idea of governments designing a system that lives within identified limits (ie: resources) then working out how we live/operate within that

    h) moving goods can be redesigned/optimised...

    Clearly, there are conflicts/contradictions here...but there sits the challenge...and the opportunity...
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      R H 30+

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      Jun 27 2012: Thank you for the update. What a great start! I get the sense that it's understood that people 'management' would be insufficient, but that new research regarding essential human dynamics, both individually and collectively, need to be part of the consideration. This seems to lead to an atmsophere of 'enhancement' rather than just utility and crisis avoidance. Bravo! Let's see where it goes.
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      Jun 28 2012: Nick - that is really interesting. Clearly a lot of work needs to be done to better understand the human dimensions of cities. The question is who will pay for this work to be done? If left to academic institutions who are strapped for cash, the work will take a long time. Governments are also watching their budgets and this seems less of a priority than (although closely related to) health and education. Not for profit organisations I also fear do not have the money to arrive at solutions quickly. Will big business pay? I know Shell has done some good work in this area in the past - but generally other big companies have done little. So perhaps it is left to startup entrepreneurs, a source of much of the innovation of the last couple of decades, but I worry that they do not have the time or breadth of knowledge to tackle such big issues.

      Is the problem just too big and broad to be funded?
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        Jun 28 2012: Greg, clearly more research is required. We undertook a piece of work in 2010 to look at all of the studies around the world on how to change behaviour around the use of transportation. We learnt some interesting insights that allowed us to draw initial conclusions - conflicting individual goals hold back change, change is most achievable when individuals have a change in life stage - move house, move job, have children, and look for complimentary goals. We also learnt that in this small area of human behaviour in cities, there is limited amount of imperial evidence.

        My learning is that advancement will come through collaboration between the groups you mention - and a 'market place'/platform will help with this.
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        Jun 30 2012: Who will pay for this work to be done ? Well, who paid for what we already use now ?

        We (the people) are slowly understanding that no one really pays..

        All buildings, from big infrastructure to the small tool are paid with the complex-looking financial system, which is just a simple virtual-cash machine :

        World dept was $216 billion in 2011, but world GDP was only $79 billions...
        World growth was 3.6%, but deficit 4.2%..
        [source:CIA:https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html]

        This is no magic : the banking system is allowed to create money, not the actual coins and bills (the M1 monetary mass is just $26 billions), but any virtual money you want if they trust you will pay them back. In fact they don't even need you to pay back, because if you can't, they can resell what you've bought/create with that "money".

        The same system drive the business system, where the only thing that is relevant is IP (intellectual property). It doesn't mater if you have a good or stupid idea, until it do produce "money". And because 90% of money is dept, any idea that could make dept obsolete has very few support from institutions.

        And this system, which is an insult to the human genious, is what drive the industry.. If we continue to trust that system, we're doomed.

        But we can be very optimistic because that system is producing en exponential dept, and this is impossible because it means dept will soon be infinite ;-)

        I don't know what system is emerging now, but ressource based economy looks promising, only if it is truely open to anyone, anywhere, at anytime..

        The only thing that made it impossible is until now is imaginary. This thing has very ancient root, in religions mostly, and it is, I think, the belief that believing is mandatory for something to be true.

        Somehow, humanity as a whole is just like someone plague with neurosis, doing all life long something that makes him suffer, without have a single clue of WHY.. Is sad or comical ?
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    Jun 27 2012: Cities embody the beliefs of their inhabirtants. If inhabitants are wasteful - it becomes culmulatively catestrophic. Waste not wnat not should become our motto again but it should be merged with the idea that you run away to fight another day- or save those resources for something more collectively valuable- like food resources or something- to be more enlightened.
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    Jun 26 2012: A couple of very interesting TEDGlobal talks this afternoon that triggered some ideas/inspirations related to the cities challenge.

    First, Catarina Mota's talk on 'open materials' - considering the importance of buildings and infrastructure for city development, where are the untapped opportunities for 'smart materials', and specifically Inks that conduct electricity and Walls that change colour as they heat up.

    Second, Massimo Banzi's talk on radical openness, the 'makers forum/community', and specifically the power of the Arduino micro controller to enable more intelligent and intuitive cities.

    For both, it begs the question, how do different stakeholders collaborate to understand the potential of these technologies?
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      R H 30+

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      Jun 28 2012: I'm sorry Nick, but regarding the 'potential of these technologies', I will refer to your original question. You mention there are 7B people now, soon to be 9B. Of the 7B now, nearly 3B live on $75 per month and cannot participate in the world economy. Simple math shows that remaining on the current economic allocation model, 9B people will have nearly 4B living on roughly $100 per month. Since by your estimate 1/2 of the population live in cities, how will these new technologies address this burgeoning issue of such a significant number of people unable to participate in the support of cities? How will the resulting increases in welfare, and related, costs be distributed? Will we raise taxes on those who can and do participate in the economy? Or is 'urban blight' inevitable, even in our shiny new cities of the future? Will we 'accept' this inevitability for our new cities? I'm not trying to be pessimistic. I believe in the power of our technological abilities and applaud your efforts. But this is a facet of this discussion that I would request you, or any of the other respondents, please comment on because I don't see how it can be ignored.
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        Jun 28 2012: R H, good question. I fully agree that a real challenge is/will be the urban base of the pyramid, that technologies/solutions are required to address these social challenges, and that policies will be critical for success.

        I don't have a clever answer to the question, but here's a thought which came out of a lunchtime TED discussion on Monday on the integrated challenge of food-water-energy.

        A potential starting point is for society/individuals to agree a sense of "...what is a good life". Sounds like a nebulous concept but it has the potential to give governments (local, national etc) the necessary permission to redistribute value and hence implement some of the rebalancing that you raise. I'm not saying that this is a pre-requisite but it may certainly help.

        Other views?
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          R H 30+

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          Jun 29 2012: First of all, I can't tell you how grateful I am that the No. 2 company in the world has come to a forum like TED for discussion regarding its impact on society. This is very significant to me and idicative of a 'new beginning for the future'. Results, of course, will show its true value. Regarding 'other views', I had a lengthy offering, but deleted it. I considered that a change in the view of ourselves as a group was necessary, but upon reflection determined the approach I suggested unattainable. Thank you for asking, but I have no further comment.
  • Jun 26 2012: ...... As businesses we have a responsibility to do some of the heavy lifting towards new forms of partnership and collaboration. That's not a comfortable proposition. It requires that we think radically about our business models and how we make money out of them..... If we can crack that and find new ways to build productive a partnerships with other businesses, government and city leaders, the opportunity is phenomenal...

    First China, then India, the across Asia and Africa...... The consequence of not acting quickly could be, I fear, to compound an already growing problem, the consequences of which in adaptation to climatic and environmental changes (not least in stressed cities) could be huge......
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    Jun 25 2012: Invert the transportation model. No-one should ever be driving into and then back out of the cities. Offices, performing arts centers, the whole group should be driving out to pick up customers. Yes, we lose some tiny portion of our scheduling freedom. The trade off gained by the ability to run optimization modeling in the driving times and distances is more than enough to compensate for it. Instead of 10 people driving the full distance to point x in the city and then back (20x), the pick-up van/bus can come out and make one modified loop traveling a significantly smaller distance. If we multiply that by the 1000's of commuter trips every day, there is a dramatic change. Now none of us want to relive the days of the school bus, but even if we cap it to small , cushy buses of 10-15 commuters each (to erase pick-up time differentials), we're still talking about meaningful savings. The use of privately owned buses also allows us to overcome certain negative externalities of most public transit systems.

    Bring on the bridges of Konigsburg problem, baby! :-D
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      Jun 26 2012: Erik, why not? At the end of the day, the only reason why the prevailing mindset has been that we transport ourselves to provide accesibility to work, goods, social interactions, education etc is because we can (we have the vehicles and we like the convenience). We are starting to see that model turned on its head and the organisers of these activity start to do the heavy lifting. In a highly wired and connected world, some of these things already come to us (ie: internet shopping, on line education). However, we're naturally social animals hence this model is unlikely to be appropriate for all our needs. Hence a potential permutation of this model is a highly efficient "round robin" optimised customer collection approach that you describe. I guess one of the dependencies would be a city's spacial design - the extent to which a city is spread out vs. being more compact...but this could be addressed if folks were flexible in scheduling times.
    • Jun 26 2012: This is may be the best short term solution, but when we will be 9 billion and after we reach the "peak oil" this won't work anymore. For one reason, whatever you do the oil won't be affordable anymore.. the production will simply decrease and the needs to energy will increase. I don't think Shell can do something about that except providing us with another source of energy. We can't evolve without doing that. We must stop using fossil fuel. Another solution is to use the green algae. there are many research done concerning the use of green algae as a fuel. The advantage is that we don't need to change the infrastructures and it's easy to produce.
  • Jul 8 2012: Thorium Reactors.. Cheaper, Safer and Portable (Yes that's right.. Portable!!).. You can build it to any size, to power an industry or to power a super city! The energy can also be diverted to extract potable water from sea water.Employ composite reinforced conductors, instead of steel reinforced. This will reduce the transmission losses from Power station to consumer. You are generating more power and cutting down losses simultaneously.
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      Jul 9 2012: Griffin, another case of inventive systems thinking. A number of insights thread through this conversation in the past two weeks. 2 are triggered by your comment:

      - looking to optimise the whole (or a great part of) the system rather than only a single part/individual elements of it
      - solutions come out of the imposition of new constraints - nothing focusses the mind more than significant constraints

      One example ive picked up recently is how the Japanese are looking to address their significant electricity supply constraint through optimising the home/car axis.

      All require new behaviours/habits, which sometimes constrain the ability to grasp the potential for new solutions like these, but stranger things happen.



      -
  • MR T

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    Jul 7 2012: A manhattan style project for new renewable energy sources or improvement of existing ones. Climate change is the greatest impingement to survival of species (including ours) on the planet and the majority of warming is caused by the fossil fuel's, its almost blindingly obvious what needs to be done, but no one with the capability is doing it/fast enough. So I encourage you to do what you can.

    Energy is needed for cities, and where is it going to come from in 50 years?
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    Jul 6 2012: If we reduce the density coefficient for key areas, the cooling costs would drop substantially. The combination of building proximity and heat absorbing materials like pavement and steel create heat centers. Think of how much we could impact that by overlaying a grid of greenspace on those key areas. Not lots, strips. Maybe we even take up every nth street (where n is both an x coordinate and a y coordinate) and replace it with trees and native grasses.
  • Jul 5 2012: The true potential of cities is people. We could still be living in dark caves and yet realize our full potential as human beings. Energy is a commodity that has become a necessity that too often defines the focus of our endeavours. A well lit room doesn't bring enlightenment... but it seems to drive economies. The complexity of the energy issue has supplanted the simplicity of life. We have long since learned how to meet our needs, but now we struggle with our voracious wants. It's not about energy, it's about distribution...but it isn't really about that either, it's about so many other base instincts that grip us with a primal fear.

    Of course at this moment in history, to suggest energy is not a need, is considered lunacy. And perhaps it is... but it isn't crazy to suggest we need to consider the fallacy of the moral and ethical implications of that manufactured need
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    Jul 3 2012: Ted is obsessed with cities but we must remember that cities can't exist without resources the rural parts of the world provide them.

    What we need most is renewable energy. I am in the process of changing careers to be an engineering technologist, in an effort to be part of this future economy. However, all the jobs are in oil and gas (I'm from western Canada). We have a serious chicken and egg problem when it comes to the expertise required to make renewable energy a reality. Its hard to create a green economy without the skilled people required to build it, and its hard to attain those skills when that economic activity isn't present.

    The Oil based economy isn't going to change overnight, we would literally starve without it. Furthermore, it takes oil to build windmills and solar panels, to mine the lithium for electric cars or the uranium for a nuclear economy. We have to use the oil that is left to built its replacement and the wealth generated by fossil fuels to finance the transition. Part of that is creating the training programs and career opportunities for engineers, technologists and skilled labourers to transfer their skills into the future economy.
  • Tone F

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    Jul 2 2012: Why isn't the use of solar technology more widespread?
    And why aren't some of Shell's £2 million an hour profits channelled into providing this technology to communities that need it most?
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      Jul 6 2012: Tone, many thanks. Clearly solar is a renewables technology that is starting to be widely deployed, and a space that the Chinese are very active in, among others

      At Shell, we do not have direct involvement in solar, however Show Shell in Japan (of which we have a shareholding) does. Our involvement in renewables focuses on managing wind farms and more specifically significant focus on biofuels, and particularly advanced biofuels.
  • Jul 1 2012: What will the planet look like if Shell and its cohorts continue with exploration and devastation in areas such as the Arctic and the Alberta tar sands, XL pipeline etc.

    I cannot just believe that you are 'evil' but these actions are evil so please help me, and many others, to understand this from your perspective.

    We all understand the requirements for energy, but how will those billions of people live when Shell and co have destroyed the planet? Or at least the quality of life the planet can afford us.

    Just watched the tar sands 'The True Cost of Oil' Ted talk - as part of the machine that is actively creating and continuing this ecological and humanitarian disaster - what are your reactions / the justifications you use to make it ok?

    If for instance your children watched that talk how would you explain to them why you plan to not cease this but rather to ramp it up and magnify it? Or to the people who will be most immediately affected - the local tribes etc. When we see the images of what has already taken place and it wrenches our hearts - what do you see? Dollars? When we recycle at home and buy eco cars and ride our bikes to work and turn our eco bulbs out when we leave the room and wear jumpers so we can keep the heaters down low to preserve energy... then we see this - how are we not to feel, marginalised, futile and condescended to?

    Your response is apreciated.

    David (from NZ where our PM John Key is planning to exploit our oil reserves with no thought for the potential repercussions - even so soon after the Gulf Catastrophe.)
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      Jul 2 2012: David, thanks for the question – you’re right to be concerned. I have kids and think about the future world they’ll be living in. I can give you some answers to our points, but we DO face a huge multifaceted problem – rising energy demand and an evolving world energy system with economic/environmental/political impacts of any decisions made.

      We are on our way to 9 billion. In the decades to come, major economies will continue to consume energy to grow. In developing countries many people will become more prosperous, able to enjoy the benefits we in the West take for granted. In short, the world will need more energy. What is important is the source of that energy. Fossil fuels will still provide the bulk of this energy with, we believe, a greater role to play for cleaner-burning natural gas. Renewable energy, including low-carbon biofuels for transport, are important and will also increase steadily.

      At Shell we believe responsibly delivering cleaner/more reliable/affordable energy is the best contribution we can make to a more stable world where economies can thrive. To do this we work with communities/ companies/governments/consumers/NGOs and we know there is much work to do to meet the challenges of building a sustainable energy future.

      After the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the energy industry rightly came under intense scrutiny. For Shell, safety remains our top priority. Our standards are rigorous. If things do not go as planned we respond decisively, and we investigate all incidents to learn and improve performance.

      We prepare thoroughly to prevent incidents. This summer, we intend to start exploration drilling in waters off Alaska. We have worked closely with communities/coastguards /regulatory authorities to put the necessary safeguards in place. This collaborative effort has been invaluable. Shell was also a founding member of the UN Global Compact and we support its principles in human rights/labour/environment/anti corruption.

      Hope this helps
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    Jun 29 2012: About energy :

    We produce high voltage electricity, not because we need it, but to be able to transport it.
    Nearly all of our devices use 12V and must use a transformer tu use 110V or 220V.
    A family boat or a camping car use a 12V battery.

    99% or our energy "need" is a waste : it is used to make the whole energetic system possible = Pure tautology.

    We work to sustain the work. That's nonsens. (or maybe I'm an idiot?)
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    Jun 29 2012: Somehow, I think a smarter use of energy and technology will, or at least could, make cities obsolete.

    Think of it : machines are smaller now, we may not need gigantic centralized production anymore.. We may not need to transport all this energy, food, goods etc..

    I'd rather imagine a world where a city is a transitory project, when needed.
    I'd rather imagine a world where where any human can move and live where he wants, having all the tools he needs to make electricity, desalinate water, farm, print objects, etc..
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      Jun 30 2012: Wow, a provocative thought Thomas. Whilst I'm not completely on the same wavelength concerning your ultimate prognosis for cities (although there may be some Mayan gods looking down who may disagree), there is some logic in the direction of your thinking,

      Decentralised energy and the ability to access some important requirements without now having to leave our homes (goods, work, education) means that we are less tied to the old structures of cities. Projecting forward (and probably a long way forward), the promise of the 3D printer may liberate us in so many other ways, and make us self sufficient in ways we can only now imagne.

      This may lead to looser communities and migration out of cities by certain groups, however they'll still almost certainly pass at the city limits folks coming the other way, attracted by the things that in their personal circumstances are not available in rural communities.

      As i fnish this, I am reminded of Logan's Run...but there I go showing my age!
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        Jun 30 2012: You are right Nick, there should be a balance between nomadism/ruralism and sedentary/urban lifestyle.

        My slightly provocative words are here because there is a huge unbalance in favor of cities now. I see many ideas that are technically inspiring, but given the actual political world we're in, I now they will just add to the unbalance..

        Ex: I was watching a documentary the other day where an NGO was trying to learn to the slum people how to grow some vegetable for them to be able to eat.. That made me sick : all these people where autonomous before going to the city !

        That is a constant in today's human construction : forgetting the "why?"..

        Ex: mechanical transportation of people (cars, plane, boat, etc.). Those machines are here to let a human move faster, go farther.. But, only if this very human has the right to. Boundaries wont let him go where he wants, $€£¥ is mandatory, patent won't let him build his own car, driver license, insurance, etc.

        The result is that if we were to compare to global speed of humanity now and a few centuries earlier, it has been reduced to nil! This is what we see now in Japan : many, if not all japanese people should just move away their land.. but they can't.

        So, although I have been a science and techno enthusiast all my life, I think now it is time to focus on political and legal issue, before going farther..

        3D printing is another exemple of this issue, which is imaginary BTW. The original FDM patent is 1983 I think. Without this patent, this technology, at least the cheap FDM could have been mainstream since 1990.. But we had to wait for the patent to become public domain in 2006. 22 years lost !

        The bottom line is that if the human specie keeps the abstract system that holds all its real innovations, it will find itself stuck in a bottle neck, or a dead end..ø

        You know that your projects, even some utopian ones, could be realized in a few years if you didn't have to "sell" them for a few $ ?

        We daydream too much ø:)
  • Jun 28 2012: It's not just about getting the energy challenge right. We also face urgent stresses with regard to food, water, metals, land. So we have to understand the interrelationship between the various resource stresses and environmental stresses in the global system, or we risk pushing the wrong buttons in the nexus. For instance, can we develop and deploy technologies that increase energy efficiency and water efficiency at the same time? From the work that Shell and TED fellow Eric Berlow have jointly undertaken, it emerges that carbon regulation/pricing and sustainable urban design are the two crucial levers in the system that we need to pull.
  • Jun 26 2012: Another challenge to add to the mix is that much of a city's energy/resource usage (70% or more, by some accounts) is baked in during the design of the city. Ensuring that we design emerging cities in Asia, Africa etc. right, first time round will be a big driver of the growth of energy/resource usage in cities, going forwards. I would be interested to explore new business models for ensuring better city design as part of this discussion. Does anyone have any good examples or ideas in this space.
  • Jun 26 2012: China has embarked on the most aggressive wave of urban development ever seen on the planet. As the country moves from behind the global average to a majority urbanised society the risks and opportunities associated with the development that will take place between now and 2030 will define for the century which follows whether Chinas cities leapfrog the European and North American malaise of inefficient infrastructure and unconnected mobility, water, waste and information systems and embrace a new approach to development. At the heart of the opportunity is better policy and collaboration.

    None of the technologies needed to manage that transformation require ingenious innovation. We have them all, whether it's anaerobic digestion for managing city waste and using it to feed power generation, or the smart systems which create huge operating efficiencies in mobility or communication.
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    Jun 26 2012: Energy efficiency is a subject that has never really been fashionable. There is a well documented set of reasons why energy efficiency has never really caught on - most of them relate to energy users not being bothered making changes or not knowing about the opportunities and technologies for savings.

    But the potential is huge. While most companies rest on their laurels with a 10% saving, Toyota has achieved 70% reduction in its energy use (at good financial returns) and is striving for more.

    It is disappointing that large energy companies and investors spend so much time and money on nifty renewable energy technologies while the potential of energy efficiency remains largely untapped - and it is the lowest cost and least environmentally impactful form of emissions reduction.

    Imagine holding patents to technologies that can reduce vehicle fuel efficiency by 20%. That is equivalent (once the technologies are fully adopted) to providing 20% of the world's oil. Income would be from licence fees instead of selling oil - and there is no danger of spills, explosions or exhaustion of reserves.

    That is what I call a sustainable business model.
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      Jun 26 2012: Greg, thanks for the comment. It reminds me of a sublimly simple quote I like (not mine) "...the smartest barrel of oil is the one you don't use". I do think industry is waking up to this opportunity, both because of the logic, the economics and the push from regulators.

      I agree there is a lot that industry can learn from the auto manufacturers. What I see is that it is being baked into their DNA - improving the efficiency of their own operations and the fuel efficiency of the vehicles they sell.
      • Jun 26 2012: I don't know why we should talk about fuel efficiency while "the smartest barrel of oil is the one you don't use". Why don't we make every existing barrel the smartest one? is it impossible? I believe we will have to. We must cope with this addiction of fossil fuels. I always have the peak oil in mind. What are we going to do about that? Until when we will improve the fuel efficiency?
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    Jun 26 2012: There is a fundamental fallacy built into Geoffrey West's model, though, as he explained it. He says that:
    a) large cities have economies of scale regarding energy, so they need less energy per capita as they grow, but
    b) have the reverse with regard to waste, crime, etc.

    The only way those can both hold is if he is not counting the energy required for solving b in his calculation of a. That seems inconsistent - especially with regard to waste. Certainly in biology we would expect to count the energy cost of waste disposal expended by the organism as part of its energy needs, as would the energy cost of damage repair [solving malfunctions in the system - like crime].

    What gives?
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    Jun 26 2012: First and foremost, Shell and other oil companies need to redefine themselves to tap into larger market opportunities across the whole energy sector. This means consolidating your stake in coal, nuclear, solar electric, solar thermal, wind, geothermal, ocean thermal, etc.

    Second, in the same way that we put energy into extracting, processing, and shaping resources across the industrial spectrum, we need enough energy to close the resource utilization loop and to help these industries more efficiently use the resources we already have in circulation. Throwing away materials into landfills that could, with a little refining, otherwise be reused is the perhaps the single greatest cause of pollution in the world today. If you want to be friendly with the environmental movement (I'm in the Sierra Club), nudge the global economy towards economic sustainability by closing resource utilization loops. If we did that, we could actually increase the amount of consumption we have, accelerate economic exchange velocity, and increase wealth.

    Third, it is imperative that we address climate change. We cannot stop using oil right now, we all know that. Our agricultural and transportation system, and therefore our survival, depends on it. But fossil fuel waste is creating an unplanned terraforming project that also undermines our survival. In the short term, if Shell could figure out a carbon sequestration system we can put on motor vehicles, that would be a step in the right direction. Better still is that in the long-term, it further develops solar. There's an average of 1366 W per sq. meter. There's also an awful lot of unused space on top of buildings. If Shell took the lead, it would earn far more than it would otherwise in the oil business.

    Finally, we need taller and denser cities with buildings designed to tap into ambient energy and efficient embedded transportation systems to avoid automobiles altogether.

    Profits goes to those who grab the initiative.
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      Jun 26 2012: Philip, thanks for the ranging thoughts. Let me try to build on one of them specifically.

      I personally believe the resource utilisation loop is key to the cities challenge - and within this the mind set of "integration" - integration of industries that can increase resource efficiency.

      If I had to try to pin it down more specifically, I'd say some of the opportunities are around the smart use of energy in industrial parks through to co-location of appropriate industries, the role of waste-to-energy plants, the whole challenge of water efficiency (including waste-water treatment), and potentially cracking the food waste opportunity...but this is probably only scratching the surface.

      Thats the "what". The "how" is at least as important - through collaboration and dialogue, between companies, institutions and city planners. In addition, the approach will be different for new builds vs. retro fits.
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        Jun 26 2012: Industrial ecosystems that incorporate industrial process waste is a good start but such relationships are often short-term and unreliable given the nature of planned product obsolescence. Part of the problem with energy demand forecasting is that it's often limited to early-to-mid stage resource utilization (mining, extraction, industrial processing, and transportation), and virtually nothing is considered for end-of-life reintegration. Closing the loop requires planning and diverting the necessary amount of energy from the economy. To do an accurate calculation, we need to consider what the true market costs of the extraction industries would be without externalizing economic costs, and then to consider the energy requirements of those industries and compare the same requirements for an efficient recycling program.

        I sense that not only is it more energy efficient, there's a market opportunity to introduce disruptive technologies and capture substantial market share. Extraction industries have to mine resources out of the ground (as you probably already know it's becoming more difficult to reach), which accompanies a lot of waste rock, while you'd have the opportunity to pull resources out of landfills which may have as much as 50-100x what's available in mines and all of which have gone in some shape or form into usable products. You could also capture post-industrial/agricultural/consumer wastes at the mouths of rivers. Imagine recapturing nitrates & phosphates and then endlessly selling them back to farms? That's just the tip of the iceberg.
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    R H 30+

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    Jun 25 2012: Thank you for asking this question. For me, the question implies a solution approach of 'we see this problem has developed and is developing, therefore we can do this to fix it'. This approach leaves out a significant consideration - that we cannot continue our current social paradigms.They have exhausted themselves. We have become too great, and our paradigms too provincial. The scale of effect you describe is, as you say, unprecedented. Therefore we cannot use old rationale. We cannot use a wrench to fix a super-computer. This massive density will not be served by a system of allocation that rewards so few with such abundance, and leaves so many destitute with little hope and negligible contribution. There will be too many to serve. The current incentives of ROI are inadequate to serve those who will not be able to contribute enough return. You mention infrastructure issues, but isn't the method of allocating infrastructure resources based on the ability of the community to contribute? Therefore the elite get better infrastructure while the less 'competitive' are left wanting.. What will be the disparity of allocated infrastructure between the minority of elite and the masses of the wanting with 9 billiion under the current system? How will these ultra-dense communities be able to contribute to their infrastructure resources better than they can now under the same structures of allocation? In my opinion, we' ll need to attack this issue with socio/economic engineering along with utility engineering. Otherwise, you better include more police, security, jails, and welfare agencies along with the water, food, and energy considerations. You also mentioned 'waste'. Let's start with the current allocation model.
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    Jun 25 2012: You guys at shell should really put research into fusion technology. A fusion reactor is a nuclear reactor that doesn't produce any radioactive waste at all, and the fuel they use would be unlimited. They simply use hydrogen which can always be extracted from water and other elements anywhere on the earth. Besides, coal, natural gas and shale give of radioactive agents, that, if the Atomic Energy Commission knew about, your energy turbines would get shut down.
    • Jun 25 2012: It might be a good solution. the nuclear energy is really efficient. But what about the safety? I think in case of a meltdown we are going to have a huge amount of radioactive waste that the future generation will inherit from us. So, how can we deal with that?
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        Jun 26 2012: Nuclear power plant's today use fission which dies produce waste. Fusion however, is entirely safe and wouldn't produce any radioactive waste. A meltdown is not possible with a fusion generator. In fact, a melt down is just what it sounds like. When a fission reactor fails, the fuel gets so hot, it melts and causes a geothermal explosion. But, in the case of fusion, you can't have a meltdown because it uses harmless gasses as fuel . If something went wrong, you would just get a huge cloud of harmless Helium and Hydrogen. Fusion would be powerful, clean, safe and would have a practically inexhaustible source of fuel. Hydrogen. You can get hydrogen from water with electrolysis which, on a large scale, would be really cheap.
  • Jun 25 2012: We MUST use the other alternatives of fossil fuel, because they already exist. Fossil fuels have no future. Once we start investing on safe, cheap (or free) and reliable sources of energy, building one city every week will be a breeze. Let us imagine if we can use the full energy that comes from the sun every fraction of second just as an example. Fossil fuels have never will never be able to compete against the clean sources of energy from nature. Just in the Saint-Laurent estuary the company Hydro Quebec produces the equivalent of energy of all the oil produced by all the companies in Saudi Arabia. So, let us imagine again as well how much energy we can get from the ocean.. there are many ways to do that, where each one of these ways has advantages and disadvantages. Anyways, they are still much more reliable than using fossil fuels. The energy is overhead not downwards.. I find incomprehensible the fact that we waist energy by challenging the gravity and other forces to get dirty fossil fuels while we can get energy without doing that.