TED Conversations

Stephen G. Davis

CEO, KnGrid


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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 14 2013: Reorganized political structures --> technocratic, science oriented global governance (locally managed, but operating from analytically deduced set of axioms minimizing room for dogma and subjectivity)
    1. Impose birth control (earn the right to reproduce)
    2. Redistribution of resources
    3. Reallocation of labour and specialism per area in the world (based on logical analysis of local potential)
    4. Reinventing the meaning and purpose of homo sapiens anno 2013 (focus on longterm survival, not personal gain)
    5. Adopt economic model based on actual value, not (blind) growth

    I agree this looks more like a bad proposal for a sci-fi film than it looks like a realistic possibility. Current dynamics are too strong and embedded in our psyche and through our psyche manifested in solid social, political and economic structures. The above could only be achieved by force (not likely since those with excessive wealth happen to control methods of force and largely want to keep things as they are) or resurrection after global catastrophe. Personally I think our (free market/individualized) civilisation will collapse (result of war both civil and international/economic stagnation/socio-cultural fragmentation) within let's say 100-200 years giving opportunity to the rise of new systems based on new principles (better or worse).

    Maybe for some I sound too radical and dramatic. But if my observations correspond with reality, windmills, electric cars, gay marriage and micro financing are just not going to improve the ever increasingly fragile position were in at the moment. But rest assured, history teaches we are not the first civilization to encounter serious issues regarding survival.

    Important note: I do not claim we should not take initiative and just lean back and watch the show. I think there are a lot of inspired people who could make great changes. However I am pessimistic about the timeframe vs. counterforces

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