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 21 2013: Starting with the assumption that cheap energy is what has enabled our present (for many) comfortable level of Civilization, it would seem that a cheap, safe , widely available non fossil fueled economy might just solve the problems you mention. Luckily, and fortuitously, such a source is available. The Thorium LFTR nuclear fission reactor has all the virtues one would want, and negligeble downsides, since it does not have any solid fuel rods, water, steam, high presssures, or hydrogen explosions. The whole subject has been quite neglected for 40 years, for dubious reasons.
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      Sep 24 2013: Shawn: I concur about LFTR. Oak Ridge National Lab built a prototype in the 70's. What I've read today is that only Idaho National Lab is looking at LFTR today and they're saying 25 years to commercialization. It just strikes me as odd. Why no push? Why no urgency? It resolves carbon, fuel cycle, safety and proliferation issues. I have no idea about costs/kWh. That may be the problem, which has always dogged nuclear. Still, I think you're right on and have thought this for some time. Bill Gates pushes the 'traveling wave' reactor technology. Again, quite a while before commercialization. In the meantime, there are considerable options for zero carbon energy and conservation. Conservation, of course, is the cheapest solution of them all.

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