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 24 2013: Hi Stephen,

    What a fabulous conversation and related Talks.
    I also love the way Ron's talk/ movement is transforming problems into solutions.
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      Sep 24 2013: Thanks Juliette! As I got deeper and deeper into this five years ago, my whole world changed. My entire career was taken over by this work. I now am involved in the electric power industry. (I was in international telecommunications before.) My company works on policy issues with state and federal government agencies and automakers (Electric Vehicles). This is so far afield of where I was. When I reflect on the immense scope of the challenge (retrofitting the entire global economy to be more sustainable) I used to get deflated about it, but things are changing. Will they change fast enough? We'll see, but we've no choice but to try once we grasp what's at stake.

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