TED Conversations

Stephen G. Davis

CEO, KnGrid

TEDCRED 10+

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Maintaining human civilization by focusing on the key challenges of our time: energy, food and resource depletion.

While the ominous threats of a changing climate have failed to prompt America or any other large economy to wake up from our consensus trance, there are other challenges equally as frightening and urgent: The certainty of increasingly costly fossil fuels and their impact on our banking system. Rising energy prices are taking their toll on the middle class already.

At the same time, we see a scramble by emerging economies to emulate America's suburban lifestyle. The problem is that America's perpetual growth model rely's on cheap energy to validate suburban home values. It is a problem that no politician can even discuss in today's hacked operating system for privately funded elections.

We must develop clear consensus about this problem. In order to avoid economic chaos, we need to chart an orderly course to a world that does not rely on ever increasing oil production and perpetual growth in consumption of all things.

We have an entire industry with formidable political clout that does not want this problem to even be acknowledged, let alone solved.

There are solutions:

1. More walkable and bike-able communities with local food production
2. Less Suburban sprawl which leads to stranded (and destroyed) wealth as liquid fossil fuel prices inevitably trend upward when daily production rates peak.
3. More emphasis on distributed energy generation with renewable sources combined with energy storage technology.
4. Developing less energy intensive farming techniques that don't rely on oil based fertilizers and pesticides. ("Perma-culture")

This transition will require decades. To avoid chaotic economic consequences, it needs to begin now. As T. Boone Pickens once asked "when's the best time to plant a tree? The answer is 20 years ago." Another salient comment from James Howard Kunstler: "No amount of renewable energy is going to allow us to continue running what we're running the way we're running it."

If this frightens you, it should.

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    Sep 12 2013: Yes Stephen, you raise some very important points and identify a number of equally important issues and are to be commended for your ability to think outside the box.

    But the sad reality is that nothing will change until we change the structure of our decision making process. That is to say, as long as we continue with this top down hierarchy of decision making whereby a small group of self-interested or special interested individuals are able to gain control of the WHOLE of a nations decision making process - and political parties are, themselves, special interest groups promoting their own agendas and interests - then we will always be at the mercy of those who control the process.

    I suggest you explore some of the Direct Democracy and Participatory Democracy websites to see what a grassroots, bottom up decision making process could look like. Because until we take back the responsibility for the decision making process we will continue to victimized by those are able to seize control of a nation's political decision making in order to promote their own narrow minded, self- interested agendas and to impose whatever whacky and/or misguided beliefs they might hold upon the rest of us.
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      Sep 12 2013: William: I share your concerns about decision making today and agree it must change. I do believe there are pathways to sustainability with existing channels, however. One is Community Choice Aggregation for electric power. That's quite common in Illinois and is gaining ground here in California. A city (or group of cities) can offer via local ballot a choice to become, in effect, there own power company. They still pay the local utility to manage the distribution network, but they're then able to purchase electric power (and whatever renewable portfolio they want) from the wholesale power market. This is already happening. Marin County has already done it. San Francisco has announced it and will purchase 100% renewable power by 2020. This is state law. Other states are going forward with this also. Other things people can do at the local level is get involved.

      In the end, we live in a republic. If you don't like how it works, you've no choice but to get involved and start trying to change it. Nobody suggests that it will be easy, but we have to try.

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