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: Why are we trying to work out how we are going to fit another 4 billion people? When is enough enough? To me the first thing that comes to mind is capping, even reducing human population globally.
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      Sep 25 2013: I've seen good research on how to slow population growth in countries where its happening the fastest. The solutions? Education, particularly of young women. Providing adequate nutrition. Healthcare. Rising incomes and education result in declining birth rates. Empowerment and education of women means they begin to hope for more for themselves. They seek and use birth control. They see opportunities (in many cases, through micro-lending) to create a more prosperous life. It's worked everywhere it's been tried.
      • Sep 25 2013: Yes, I too have heard the statistics on these things & I don't doubt them. The problem is, its not like the countries still having large families are poor & uneducated by choice... So whilst we should always strive towards bringing education & equality throughout the world, its not going to happen fast enough. In the mean time they're spilling out of their own borders and migrating to western countries. And so the global population continues to swell.

        I wonder if wealth, equality & education leads to smaller families... Would forcing smaller families on the poorer countries result in a reversed effect? Surely a reduced strain on space & natural resources would lead to a time of plenty... And with that, time to focus on education & building wealth?

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