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 25 2013: A finite planet verses, unlimited growth, extraction and population, increasing consumption and waste and you believe we're not heading for a fall? Follow the trends....
    1804 - 1 Billion people
    1950 - 3 Billion people
    2013 - over 7 Billion.... and counting...
    Then look at the overshoot regarding extraction on every front.

    The future will be very different than the past.... just how much is the question... The gilded age is over...
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      Sep 25 2013: Could not agree more Craig. We owe it to our kids to try to 'manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.'
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      Sep 25 2013: I doubt there might be an easy and fast solution for overpopulation... I'm afraid.

      I find interesting all these reasonable solutions proposed by Stephen (walkable/bike-able, local food production, less Suburban sprawl, renewable sources, less energy intensive farming...). Check this thread, where we're specifically analyzing the sprawling of industrial parks and factories and trying to find solutions to integrate them into compact cities (as we've all already assumed residential buildings should be dense) http://www.ted.com/conversations/20134/can_we_think_of_factories_and.html

      All those things would perfectly work in developed countries and would definitely help to improve and optimize the life in wealthier countries. But what about the rest? What Craig mentions needs other type of solutions, as the projected over-population will mainly come from needy countries and we're probably not thinking fast enough.

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