TED Conversations

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      Jul 13 2011: The following comment from TED's Chris Anderson is relevant here:

      Some have an instinctive dislike of corporations -- but if you care about a better future, then corporations have to be part of that conversation. One way or another, they have a giant impact on the world. At our conferences we engage with some of the world's biggest corporations in a constructive way. We'd like ongoing engagement on our website too -- and we'd like you to be a part of it.
      • Aug 2 2011: Emily, I agree with you that corporations will be key in solving the many problems we face today. I have not found evidence that our future eco-cities like, IBM’s smart city, MIT & MASDAR’s Abu Dhabi, and Koreas Incheon and Songdo city’s, are doing anything about agriculture and feeding their residents. We have developed a suburban/urban “Model Farm” concept that could be operational in one year. It uses no Petrochemicals, creates it's own energy and is based in conservation and recycling. I would like to introduce this concept to TED and Shell. What would be the proper way for me to accomplish this?
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  • Aug 3 2011: Since Shell is a modern corporation, that should mean that there is no fundamental allegiance to a fossil fuel based economy; whatever substitute energy sources that can be found can still be a successful business platform. So my question is, why are Thorium based LFTR nuclear fission plants not on the MAIN burner? These plants, developed, demonstrated and abandoned 50 years ago for various political reasons, were paid for by the taxpayers, and there doesn't seem to be any reason why they could not solve the energy problem ijn short order, as well as many other fringe benefits, such as gettting rid of all the accumulated toxic nuclear waste from the LWR plants. It is a tragedy that this technology has been forgiotten or neglected, while we're wasting billions on boondoggles such as the Ethanol Scam.( FYI : I mean a liquid fueled system, not the usual types that can blow up, meltdown , or release great quantities of toxic material).
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      Aug 3 2011: Thorium sounds like the stuff which will make even Star Trek a reality; a. bringing stability on earth AND b. we can go into the space adventure. ;)

      So the challenge is; who is going to show the megacity/nationstate number crunchers that this is the solution, better alternative. For sure - from Sorenson his ted talk, environmentally it looks for the better alternative. Though number crunchers first look economically, than socially, than environmentally (still).
  • Jul 24 2011: This is going to be a hard one.

    First off, nothing currently coming down the line will give us all the energy we currently abuse in a sustainable and safe manner. Coal, natural gas, and oil directly contribute to global warming, and will eventually run out. Nuclear has serious waste storage problems, and significant safety issues. Solar and wind are up and coming, but every indication is that they won't be efficient enough to meet current demand.

    Conservation therefore becomes the key - if we reduce energy demand through lifestyle changes and greater efficiency, we can get our usage down to where sustainable solutions become viable. If we don't, we face one of three major scenarios wiping out a significant portion of humanity:
    1) Oil runs out, economy falls apart. Massive food shortages. Wars. People starve or are killed fighting over food and energy.
    2) Oil runs out, but this time we go into the really dirty sources for the last little bits we can possibly wring out of the ground. Same as above, but we're fighting and dying over water too.
    3) Global warming makes large amounts of earth uninhabitable, adversely affects food supplies. People starve. People fight. People die.

    None of these are good scenarios, but they are the direction we are headed. Conservation and vastly more sustainable energy, agricultural, and other practices are the only way we will avoid this apocalypse of our own making.

    Oil, natural gas, and coal do have an ongoing purpose though - they need to transition to emergency fuels - energy sources of last resort.
    Nuclear fission and fusion also may have to be transitional energy sources, but they are sources we have to be very wary of.
    Wind, water, and solar need to quickly become our primary energy sources, but as I said, they can't meet our needs unless we adapt to using less - a lot less. Whether we can even keep the same standards of living is questionable, but even if so, it will take remarkable gains in efficiency.
  • Jul 15 2011: Even though I have previously responded to the question you are asking, upon reflection I have to say the real issue is not how to cope with that scenario, it is how to change it.

    I simply cannot imagine how bad the quality of life will be for the overwhelming majority of people in the megalopolises you are speaking of.

    I believe we need to move to highly sustainable local communities, to follow the Cuban model. That is, local commmunities with enough space to grow nearly all food, generate nearly all power, catch their own water, deal with sewage and provide employment and empowerment in the provision of these services.

    There are many challenges, family planning not least among them.

    Do we really want cities with hundreds of millions of people living in high density accommodation, most of them in slums?
    • Jul 15 2011: ok i agree that that may be the most efficient model and there have been studies saying that it is the most eficeint way at least with food... and how big are these communities going to be? you no what this reminds me of is that book The Giver... everything set and no freedom...
      • Jul 16 2011: Kevin,

        the only experiential evidence I know of is Cuba, where they did it for their entire population because they had no choice. So it can definitely scale to that level. The Cubans had to overcome many difficulties and each region or area will have their own challenges.

        I haven't read the Giver. There are videos and books about Cuba.
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      Jul 15 2011: Ken - rather than copy paste the same response perhaps you could have a look at my comments to Richard Moody Jr below.

      I think we may have our analysis of slums all wrong. I am not trying to say that the current model is perfect - least of all in human health terms. But I would argue that many of the things which are needed in sustainable cities of the future particularly in behavioural terms - like conservation of resources, recycling, density of development, are the basis for many slum dwellings.
      • Jul 16 2011: The slums I have seen are unhealthy environments in every sense. Perhaps we need some new terminology to describe different levels of amenity?

        I continue to refer to the Cuban model because it's real and because an entire society was able to make it work, because the input of resources to realign an entire culture was very low, and because both the process and the results were/are empowering to people and their communities.

        Adam, I think the difference between our sense of things may be that you are speaking from a perspective of enhancing slums and I am speaking from a desire to design a future in which there are no slums, just empowered self-sufficient communities.

        I don't think we're worlds apart when it comes to ways and means of operating in a low energy low resource environment.
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          Jul 16 2011: I think you are right, you and Adam are on common ground.

          As long we talk about us and them there will be two different mindsets on two groups of people ( the haves and have not's). This is what children learn in school. At the same time we talk about a number 6.6 million city dwellers.

          The projections are - what I read - based on the assumption 'continents' like India and China will go through the same industrial process of labour and so urbanization as the 'West'. At the same time, like the Cuba example, there are other/better ways for personal/communal prosperity. Computers and internet connectivity also help a lot for a huge amount of people do not physically need to be downtown for basic earnings.

          As simple as in Romania where I am at, all villages slowly run dry, youth moving to the city. The first reason for that is that parents tell them to do so, it is simply the thing to do. No serious thought given on possible (collective) countryside futures.

          To create these more spatial communities, I think we need to get around with youth from 5-15 the sooner the better;

          phase 1 : advocate the real differences between 'cityside' and 'countryside' in primary schools, so children can have a open minded mindset on both. (Now it is shiny buildings/brands vs exhausted farmer family)
          phase 2 : at least half of secondary school education should be solutionist education. (Zoe Weil at a Tedx :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5HEV96dIuY )
          phase 3 : In 10-15 years from now when the first 'fresh' kids are working on solutions in the classroom, a ring of support can be in place to show interesting local/regional community ideas/companies/innovations get the support to sprout and flourish.

          Larry Page once said something like this; "In the past people only had to work hard in the summer on the fields. We invented machines for doing this work, yet today everybody is working on yearly basis more than ever. Where did we go wrong?"
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    Aug 2 2011: Paul;
    Good question about the incentivising of managers you raise! This can only be addressed if the make up of the boardroom is changed and a 'social' element is introduced. In the German model of boardroom representation the workers of the company are represented - so why not having some other representation to assure the interest of the public ... Only when such influence is leveraged, it gets done in a company! but that seems to be harder then to find the technical solutions ...
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      Aug 3 2011: In other Tedconversations successful regional co-operatives have been mentioned. "Self-organizing" on a regional scale. I guess this model should be looked at for mega cities as well.

      Decision makers : people living in the region, the buyers; social+environmental incentive is quite strong.
      Board room/field : netcentric, due to transparency overview is not in a handful of people.
      Share holders : Are the people in the region as well; non-financial reward / quality of life plays a role in being happy with less gold in the bank.

      All this was not possible on city level due to the amount of people 'involved' and complexity of interactions, cause and effect. Maybe because of communication and gaming/collaboration technology it is possible these days..
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    Aug 2 2011: Fills like Hypocrisy from Shell ….. presenting Intention to help billions people lives in slums in poor/non-develop world and …“ how can every city have reliable energy, clean water and enough to eat “
    ….and quietly using poor/non develop countries national resources to maximize company profitability !

    Question from Shell which fit better is probably: What was the biggest environmental disaster cause from Shell and can innovations prevent this to happen again ?
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      Aug 2 2011: Hi Bruno,

      It is an interesting phenomena if a corporate logo is next to a person, we are talking to the legacy of a corporation.Ifit is just a person posting a question, we talk about his/her dreams.

      on your point;
      I am not defending Shell here, or any corporation, though is this way of thinking about a corporation/this thread not the same as saying every christian is a crusader?

      Probably you know, the problem in the energy domain is free market economics, megasaurus against megasaurus. It is like playing Simcity/Civilisation the numbers matter not the smiles on peoples faces. If Shell and the like would be offered a better model to do their job in, wouldn't they do it?

      Where lies the potential for a better model? Any suggestion?

      ( P.S. of course it is a poverty to exploit for profit, but that is another conversation as you mention)

      Thanks for sharing!
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    Aug 2 2011: Reduce the global oil consumption by encouraging public transportation. You do it without rising your prices and then we may take you serious about a better world.
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      Aug 2 2011: This would be all great! Who is taking the first step? Or did they and now are 'forced' to take a step back again?

      Naive as I might be; Tesla also had some good ideas but the global crisis is not big enough yet to adopt them.

      I believe the crisis is getting big enough for companies like Shell-like collaborations take the great ideas from their shelves and calculate investment potential on them. As for starters, this thread, energizing the future cities with oil, food and water.

      Yes, marketing budgets and profit reinvestment budgets should be used, and are more and more used for 'authentic' projects. It is still small, but we are slowly getting somewhere :)
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    Aug 2 2011: O Yes , there is a definitely solution to achieve this goals . Shell and Shell like companies should be leading and contribute to the solution with :
    • Stop abused a local countries tax regulations
    • Accepts responsibility for the disastrous oil spills and environmental issues .
    • Do not treat countries , countries resources and people as your own property
    • Stop spending cash on marketing to improve corporate reputation but use this cash to contribute as much as possible …….that every city has reliable energy, clean water and enough to eat !
  • abc abc

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    Aug 2 2011: The first step is to ensure the sufficiency of urban energy supply; moreover, this means that there is a need of investment in smart, and secure, electric grids, which are going to support a transition from vertically distributed fossil fuel, to systems of renewable energy.

    Then, the second step is investment on urban argriculture, which is a method who is currently being tested, in countries such as Singapore, and which can minimize the cost of food by eliminating the need for distant transportation; in adiition to that, genetically engineered food, and specifically meat, can make the production of protein based food, conceivable, in an urban environment.

    Finally, water sufficiency can come from two places, and non of them are rain water, because it is clealy insufficient to support the populations of modern megacities. Therefore, cities are going to have to use recycling technologies, to clean, and recycle, the water which has being consumed, and then they need to invest on desalination plans, which are going to allow us to access, the virtually abudant reserves of the oceans of the planet.

    Therefore, in conclusion, the conjunction between smart grids and renewable energy, urban argiculture, disalination, and recylcing, are going to create the cities of the future.
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      Aug 2 2011: Yes! So you are saying enough people are working on solutions and we will all be just fine? I go to learn surfing and chess than.
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      Aug 2 2011: I dont think George's point is that this list of solutions can be achieved easily. But it does point back to this issue if assessing the infrastructure needs of new cities and working better to plan them at the front end of development. To what extent all of the issues raised here can be managed at scale - i am not well placed to judge.

      On the waste point we haven't explored the many and various ways in which that can be managed. It's clear that different categories of waste water can be reused in many different ways - only some of which are currently happening in a few places. Ditto the by-products of refuse - both gas and liquids - which have a role in providing sources for power in models for modern co-generation.
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        Aug 2 2011: Agreed it will not be easy to do,

        I simply wonder on what Lary Page from google once said;

        "If enough people are working on a challenge, the solution will arise".

        Are enough people and companies working effectively on the future of megacities? I read in one of your replies today not enough stakeholders are working together yet so there is the answer.
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    Aug 2 2011: O Yes , there is a definitely solution to achieve this goals . Shell and Shell like companies should be leading and contribute to the solution with :
    • Stop abused a local countries tax regulations
    • Accepts responsibility for the disastrous oil spills and environmental issues .
    • Do not treat countries , countries resources and people as your own property
    • Stop spending cash on marketing to improve corporate reputation but use this cash to contribute as much as possible …….that every city has reliable energy, clean water and enough to eat !

    Bruno Kapetanovic
  • Aug 2 2011: This may not be a popular view, but I believe it to be a necessary one.

    If a species, any species, grows too fast then it exceeds its resources, sickens and dies out. This applies to us too.

    At some point we cannot continue to grow in population. The earth is a limited resource. We can either start choosing to limit our population over the next 40 years or we can do it after that, after the creation of these nightmarish megalopolises and the attendant degradation of the earth.

    I suggest we need to accept that we are in fact part of the natural order and not exempt from it. I suggest we need to set a reasonable limit on human population based very much on the society we choose to have, and then work to bring this to the consciousness of all people.

    We must change our growth imperative or it will kill us all. Let us do it now rather than when it is far too late.
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      Aug 2 2011: I agree with you Ken,

      "change growth imperative". Without the feeling we need to give up on something consciously, as we will not do that if the neighbor will not do it first.

      Therefore I think we should start with understanding global public health, first step what do we need to 'live'

      If we see planet earth as Buckminster's spaceship earth - and we should as 'wild-wild' nature does not really exist anymore according to some - we should organize it as space travel.

      A collaboration like Shell can bring forward the logic on how to handle spaceship earth it's energy flow. What is needed where to survive the day in central new york and the outskirts of mexico city.

      'Pioneer' could tell this globally of food survival
      'Coca Cola' on water needs.

      This way the general public and the standing self-supporting collaborations can image andmake this spaceship function in spaceflight.

      After that we can dream again about luxury and leisure as we enjoy a lot to be lazy.
  • Jul 26 2011: I think we should shun mega corporations like Shell that use threads like this as a new form of veiled advertising. Shell has no real concern for the problem at hand, and moreover are not just major polluters, but some of the biggest polluters in the world. Just Wikipedia Shell or GE, and of course you'll have to scroll down towards the end of the page to see their pollution and world relations record. I just find this whole thing absurd. TED is probably making money by allowing corporate sponsors, like Shell or GE, to start these threads in hopes to manipulate people into thinking that Shell is doing their part or something. Wake up people.
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    Jul 23 2011: Amici tutti its a joy to find an intelligent conversation with intelligent people. I think the first rule is to avoid opinions in this extremly important topic. Adam miei complimenti per lei.

    The city is becoming usless. The concept of the city is utopic, but the reality is sometimes catastrophic. This dicotomy pulls the string till break the equilibrium. The city has to be redefined to find a new way to comprehend the citizenship.

    Its nice to see you again Michael and Paul.
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    Jul 21 2011: I dont know if this is appropriate, but my company "Higher Mind Technologies" is bringing the SOLVATTEN unit to South Sudan and all of Africa. This unit takes the turbid, unsanitary water that the people have access to, and uses the UV rays from the sun to disinfect and pasteurize the water. This technology alone can help provide thousands of gallons of clean water a day to people of third world countries. Anyone who would like more info on our project or ways to help, please email me at justin.highermind@gmail.com. I apologize if this is inappropriate, but I thought a thread like this would be an ample spot to try and get the word out.
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      Jul 24 2011: Justin

      This sounds interesting and something perhaps I can pick up with you off Lin in the coming days and weeks. What do you see as the applicability of the technology you are talking about at scale in slum urban environments?

      Look forward to speaking again....

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    Jul 19 2011: The automobile is a big drag on our culture. It kills and mames many of us, it squanders resources, and it wastes a large fraction of our attention on driving that could be better employed in other pursuits as we ride in shared, safer vehicles.

    A better transportation system than the automobile would require a number of elements. The automobile is attractive because you can get in it in your garage and drive to your destination on your own schedule. A system to replace the automobile must allow the same flexibility. Transportation on the thoroughfares is made more efficient with mass transit, but mass transit as it exists forces its own schedule on us and requires both transportation from our point of orign to the mass transit origin and transporation from the mass transit terminal to our destination. To compete with the automobile, (1) cost competitive mass transit must become used so heavily that it leaves the station every few minutes, (2) there must be readily available, cost competitive transit to and from the transit stops to our homes and destinations.

    To replace the automobile, a new transporations system must also become so reliable and efficient that we can stop investing in automobiles. Our addiction to the car is based on the fact that one cannot afford not to buy one (or two) since it is the only consistently dependable way of efficeintly getting where one needs to go. But once one has one, one cannot afford to spend much on other forms of transporation. The car is the crack cocaine of transporation.
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      Jul 20 2011: You're right to point out that the city scape is shaped by the underlying transport infrastructure that serves - and in some cases dominates - it!

      When you look, in particular at cities in North America, the underlying assumptions made about the long term costs of gas at the time of urban developments pushed a model of urban development supported principally by the motor car. It's resulted in large sprawling cities which are incredibly difficult and costly retrofit for mass public transportation.

      I have referred to the issue of density in other threads to this conversation and it's clear from the model of cities like Singapore and Hong Kong that dense development and integrated transportation systems that th energy benefits are locked in.

      This has to be a priority in emerging economies, notably China but also India and other parts of developing Asia.

      Thanks for your contributions.
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    Jul 18 2011: By planning for the future, we create a city infrastructure that is easily update-able. This would include transportation such as roads, railroads, public and private transportation, and air travel. Water and power sources are two necessities that must be able to handle an ever growing population, and the only way is to plan water and power sources for future expansion instead of the for the next tens of years. We need to create a water system that does not shutdown roads to repair or update, we need reliable power sources that can with stand severe weather and even solar flares.

    The first step before starting a project should be how will be able to update this or tear it down for something better, that is planning for the future. If we cannot create an adaptable infrastructure for the most adaptable species on the planet, I fear we will experience a global catastrophe the likes of which I hope I'm not around to see.
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      Jul 19 2011: That's exactly where I am on the issues. But how we get that collaboration working wit policymakers, business and society is key.... We shouldn't undestate the extent of early investment that this approach would require....
      • Jul 19 2011: EDITED
        That is why I think it so key to think not only about the mega-cities and their slums, but the emerging cities that are all around. It seems to me that in those places, there may be enough wiggle room to actually make changes. Obviously some governments (national and local) are going to be more open to this type of planning.

        Frankly, for many in Latin America it is hard to think "long-term", when there are so many pressing needs now. It doesn't work well in Latin culture many times. Long term planning is very linear. Their worldview is much more cyclical, like many from around the world. In order to get a big project through, it should be broken up into several mid range (no more than six-twelve) month plans. It is hard for us, with the western rational cause and effect mindset to see this. Since it is cyclical, turning things around in stages and making those stages work is terrific. If we are going to move like Conner suggested, I believe this is a better way to move.

        There is a need I think to develop some quality (not quick fix) medium-term changes that they can see in place. Developing those good, cost effective changes could have large effects later on in the growing cities. It is a question of looking for the leverage point.
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          Jul 19 2011: I love this practical approach. It echoes real life. We make a difference where we can, allow the ideas and concepts and results to prove themselves and then it is a matter of natural diffusion of ideas.
    • Jul 19 2011: Conor,

      Agree wholeheartedly -- improved planning up front can dramatically change the lifecycle cost and impact of cities (up to 70-80% of cost is locked in by the design, by some estimates).

      In this planning, we have to be thinking about a number of key themes:
      - lifecycle costs vs. up front costs
      - how to incorporate new technologies as they arise (esp. with things like waste to energy, biogas etc.)
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        Jul 19 2011: What about financing the sort of up front investments your talking abou Nick... The case you make in the WWF work suggests that there could be significant early mover advantage..... How do we start to structure those kinds of investments.

        Perhaps you can also explain for folk in the discussion, the assessment that infrastructure development costs could be in the region of $300 trillion....?

        • Jul 19 2011: Thanks Adam.

          By way of background for other folks in the conversation, we did some work with WWF in 2010 looking at the challenge of urbanisation, the concentration of energy usage/CO2 emissions in cities and whether that provides a new way of thinking about approaches to mitigating/managing emissions (link elsewhere in this thread). There is also a follow up article in Strategy & Business, also written with WWF (link to be provided) on how certain cities have taken practical steps.

          The headline $ figure that Adam references above is the anticipated cumulative investment costs + operating costs for the next 30 years, for the urban environment, globally (transport, buildings, infrastructure etc.), based on conservative economic growth assumptions and understanding how urban infrastructure typically grows with economic growth -- clearly these numbers are open to different modelling assumptions, but whichever way you look at it, the number is in the hundreds of trillions, cumulatively, to build and operate cities in the coming years.

          The next question then becomes, can I be smarter about how I spend that money? -- as per discussions elsewhere in this conversation, good design is imperative, lifetime costs and emissions tend to get locked in at the design stage. The analysis suggests that, yes, using latest technologies would increase up front costs by $22trillion, but reduce lifetime costs (mainly usage costs) by $77trillion. Similarly, up-front emissions (embedded) increase very slightly, but lifetime emissions reduce dramatically (by ~40%, or ~200Gt) over the next 50 years.

          This level of investment is not available in the public sector, so private sector investment is inevitable. Also, the various international funds set up over recent years as a result of international negotiations are only a fraction of this amount, so will have to be used as seed funding to attract more private sector investment
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    Jul 16 2011: "We" can create a utopia (that is basically what you are describing) only if a plurality of us become utopians. Definition; A Utopian is a human who has reached their full potential such that they support themselves and at least two others, can solve most problems and know how to get support for those that they can't. A peacemaker and an effective communicator with impeccable emotional maturity and balance. Creating utopians can not be decreed by a dictator nor brought about by violent revolution. A democracy will never vote for it and it is certain that our congress will never agree on a coherent program that might lead to its creation. Utopians can only evolve with the cooperation and full commitment of each candidate. Since such characteristics are not inborn then it must be brought about by education but not education as it now exists, that is clear. It must be such an obviously better mousetrap that it will draw support from all sides. An ideal system would not only need to be more efficient to compete it would need to be self sustaining and virtually free or affordable to all motivated students (ie..work study). How to achieve this? Such a school must be incredibly flexible and adaptive to the precise needs of each student. That will require that each student be given a great deal of freedom and an equal amount of responsibility. The recipe would include the following ingredients in order of emphasis. Highly experiential, fully modeled and mentored, real life entrepreneurship in the laboratory, theory and lecturing kept to a minimum and only when needed' then immediately grounded by practice. For example Chemistry would begin with cooking. There have been enormous scientific strides in our understanding of how the brain learns in the last decades but no one school (that I know of) is using more than a fraction of these advances. If used holistically in a synergistic manner these advances could, I believe, save 50% in time and money over any current system.
  • Jul 14 2011: I think that as long we choose economic growth to be more important than keep the balance with the nature, then nothing will help. Already now - with the population of 6,8 billion - there is nearly no lakes or rivers you can drink the water from without getting sick. The problem is our self. Sure there is place for more people - but the balance with the nature is not working at all. There will come a day where 1 child per family is the only way out of this global problem. All people know it - and will probably go for it - but first when its to late. We should start already now. When we all agree on this - then we can start take care all the problems. But when we continue to be more and more, and at the same time not have the technologi to stop pollution, take care the poor etc. then we can only watch the earth faster than ever end its life. Sorry my english is no good.
  • Jul 13 2011: Having lived in a large city (Mexico City) I am very interested in this sort of discussion. How, in a country like Mexico, where there is infrastructure but oftentimes a fault of implementation, how do the scenarios talk about dealing with that sort of thing? Also, with the many "non-regular" communities, how do you get energy resources to them without somehow legitimizing them? Having worked in hunger and ag development projects and seeing the growing trends in cities outside of the giant ones, how do you help the growing smaller urban areas now rather than later? The rural municipal capitals are often growing very quickly. I would love to see how the systems thinking of "Eric Berlow from Berkley on using systems modelling to handle complexity around the relationships between energy, food and water," could speak to these issues. I do believe that the systems thinking approach to that sort of complexity is the only way we can find the leverage.
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      Jul 14 2011: Michael can I say this is a really smart and concise crystallisation of many of the issues w are feeding into our next scenarios which consider a range of new lenses through which the changes we expect in the world - political, economic and social/environmental can be viewed.

      Really interesting that you raise Eric's work. I have been lucky enough this year to work with Eric on a project around the complex interrelationships and dependencies between food, water and energy. Both from society's perspective as we go from 6 to 9 billion but also for an organisation like ours, it really seems to be a nexus of our times.

      Using systems mapping to understand the key pressures and linkages in that system to consider where the most effective action should be, and guess what you find? The design and operation of cities are amongst the most important factors for managing the entire system....

      Eric is great and we are looking forward to continuing with that project in due course.

      • Jul 14 2011: Adam
        Thanks for your response. I do feel that systems thinking tools are a great help. I believe that perhaps one of the major considerations should be an emphasis on quality of life not just quantity. Food, water and energy (I'll give Shell its due here) are fine. I think perhaps however basic health care should also be a factor.

        Frankly it shouldn't be just looking at the megacities, but the large urban cities (once considered rural) that are springing up. Those cities are at the perfect place to be helped with their planning. They are now large enough to have problems, but many do not have valid infrastructure to reach a new level.
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    Jul 13 2011: I think that the answer to all these dilemas is through research and development.
    There will be no limit in what we achieve if there is no limit in what we spend to achieve it!
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      Jul 13 2011: You are without doubt right... The interesting thing as I see it with cities however is that they don't work like other big infrastructure projects - building a freeway, or a soccer stadium. The range of different players you would need to consort with to build a big city don't typically work together (at least not yet). We're looking at how the magic mix of partners could come together to manage all the different pieces - planning, design, energy, mobility, water and waste....

      There also needs to be detailed discussions on what funding models would work and how policy would need to change to support this type of integrated approach
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    Jul 13 2011: Stop having conversations with Shell if there only interests is to sequester more and more oil.

    Two: The cities are not jungle enough.
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      Jul 13 2011: What do you think about natural gas though? It's playing a bigger and bigger role in cities.... We're over fifty percent gas now and that's growing. Cheaper electricity from more widely available gas that is over half as CO2 intense as coal.....
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        Jul 13 2011: The reality is that we live in societies that use oil/natural gas now. That is simply the reality. we all depend on them whether it is ideal or not.

        I will support any effort to do it better with the ultimate object of getting to the healthiest possible system for the whole planet. That will require working with what we have and the facts. No one is going to suddenly abandon coal, oil, gas unless we provide a workable alternative. So I think the constructive plan and the viable route to a solution can be found in the sort of discussions and inclusivity that Shell scenarios have pioneered.

        Brainstorming is the first step. Bringing together the ideas so that we can make better choices is progress. Being responsible to choose the best ideas is what we must all commit to shepherding and demanding. Being at the table enables that.
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        Jul 13 2011: Adam,

        If it is biogas (not fossil methane fuel), then yes, I could see condoning it. I can't argue with you that natural gas is to some extent pretty efficient stuff. When compared to oil and coal it is obviously a no brainer.
        Why we are and have not been using our natural gas pipelines and risking our efforts for oil, is, to me, false.
        Moreover, overall, with that said, I am not interesting in non-renewables as they belong in fiction and to an infinite growth paradigm, which we do not necessarily have at the moment.
        I also think all nuclear reactors should be torn down. I can't see the counter argument for why we shouldn't. Until the world is at ease and has come to terms with all of its internal oppositions then maybe we could use this highly powerful source and discover space together, but as of right now, I cannot see that happening and nor do I see it as an economical reality.

        • Jul 13 2011: In Japan we had old nuclear plants, underdesigned for known historic tsunamis and earthquakes with inadequate back up systems yet after over a month later no one has died. It is highly likely that more lives will be saved as a direct result of the release of radiation i.e. Tokyoites exposed to radiation we can predict from experience will have lower incidence of cancer, better immune systems and live longer than fesidents not exposed to the radiation (hormesis, or as one radiation expert told me from a recent conference "adaptive response")

          One scientists suggested for regions with ultralow radon levels that we build into the insulatation and concrete low-level radiation to get its therapeutic effect.

          Modern plants can't melt down and consume their own wastes. The track record of nuclear power is better in terms of lives lost than even roof top solar facilities (Check out "Death per terawatt hour by energy source".

          Even the cofounder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, realized that the zealots trying to stop nuclear power development everywhere were dead wrong. He recognized that only nuclear power had any real hope of stopping green house gasses from base-load power generation.
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          Jul 14 2011: Matt, thanks. I can imagine your view of the energy system being popular and appealing to a large number of people.

          But whether we're talking just in terms of cities or in a broader sense, the transition time for the energy system to move from one dominant energy source to another can be decades (a coal fire power station commissioned today without technology to capture and store CO2 may have an operational life of 20-30 years).

          We also need to face the reality that the time for newer technologies to become cost competitive will not be overnight.
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        Jul 13 2011: Richard,

        (To all) First of all oil and electricity have nothing to do with each other. Less than 2% of our electricity is made from oil and less than 2% of oil makes electricity.

        What nuclear could do is displace coal. But expanding and maintaing nuclear makes our climate worse. Nuclear is incredibly expensive. If you buy more nuclear plants you are going to get about 2 to:10 times less climate solution per dollar.
        Anything less said is a carefully fabricated illusion, in terms of the supposed nuclear revolution.
        You have a 100 plus % subsidies and wall street is still not interested in buying with private capital. Three times as much as wind power, which is booming. Why would anyone move in any other direction?
        My argument is not about Japan alone (species factor), although that is one more case that supports my vision.
        My core case is that it is not economical. If you disagree with this, I am sorry to say, you are highly uninformed. Between hydro, electric (solar), wind, geothermal, tidal, biogas, and so on; you have a solution for oil, natural gas, and nuclear. Case solved! :-)

        Welcome to the Micropower revolution.
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        Jul 13 2011: I would also like to add that if the world were to, somehow, dismantle and make illegal the production and maintenance of large scale nuclear power plants through UN treaties — the amount of efforts spent monitoring our plants and worrying about others such as: South Africa, Iran, and so on - would be drastically reduced and save all of us money and increase foreign relationships. This large scale disarmament would be the most significant step towards economic, ecological, and human justice.
        If the UN could make it illegal to produce large scale nuclear power around the world, this subsequently, would obviously lead to the production of weapons that use this technology illegal as well. I would like to see that happen, how about you?
        I do not have any intimate proclivity for large scale nuclear power. I could give a hoot in fact.
        Like I said earlier, if one day we are capable of cooperating and using such power appropriately than those laws could be reformed and I would condone it.
        Make no mistake about it, most environmentalist are against nuclear power, or at least the ones who have thought about it through and through.
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        Jul 14 2011: Adam,

        "(a coal fire power station commissioned today without technology to capture and store CO2 may have an operational life of 20-30 years).

        We also need to face the reality that the time for newer technologies to become cost competitive will not be overnight."

        These are not laws of nature. It is not like, the wind. I do understand what you are saying. Your metaphysics, may I be frank, are of the school of pragmatics. I am bit more airy, I know. But in fact, the transition to what is truly the way of efficiency can only make sense to a true pragmatists, so in some sense, there is an internal contradiction to the refusal of accepting the very reality of the ease of the transition. To re-tool is not the problem and we both know that. The issue that runs through the heart of all of this is actually much more enigmatic and insidious than many care to admit as those who would are very much outcasted.

        But I also mentioned nothing about switching from one dominant energy source to another. I simply mentioned switching from one dominant source to a matrix of many distributive sources, which would be modeled into the fabric of the natural landscape, i.e, following nature as to where and what to use. For example, we are not going to use tidal in the Sahara, we are, I would hope, going to use solar.

        I always liked to refer to the ideals of Bucky Fuller on this kind of topic.
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    Jul 13 2011: it is good to see that the ever-whiners are wrong, and big companies like shell indeed invest in and think about the future. the focus on cities is apt. nations and states are slow to move and are wasteful. cities, or even smaller entities, quarters, neighborhoods can make much better decisions in line with their own needs. it is a primary goal is to promote freedom, and oppose the ever-increasing, creativity-choking, centralizing power of the state. this is, however, kind of a slippery slope for a private organization, so i understand if you would rather skip that part.

    as i see shell's and other big corporations' main role in this is scientific/technological invention. develop and provide solutions, and you will find your customers. cheap, clean and abundant energy is a key to a better future. double the R&D budget, and if you've doubled it already, double it again.

    it is also important to focus on developing areas of the world: india, china, sub-saharan africa. if your technologies are successful there, more monolithic political entities like the US or the EU will have no other choice but follow. you have a better chance to power up the dharavi slum in mumbai, than convince mrs merkel to liberalize the energy sector.

    it would also be of high importance to invent out of fossils. it might sound strange to ask an oil company to bring us to the post-oil era. but it makes sense, since there is a strong incentive for oil companies to pave their road to a future without fossils. or else they will inevitably face their doom sooner or later.

    i recommend you to take a quick look at what the acumen fund does. they operate in the water-sanitation-agriculture area. you could do a similar approach in the energy sector.
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      Jul 13 2011: Thanks for your comments. I am going to feed these into the team. When we have had a chance to digest what you're proposing here I will write back again.... Thanks Krisztian
  • Jul 13 2011: In many big cities, because of the space limitations, people go to gyms for recreation and weight-loss.

    Why not pair stationary bicycles in gyms with generators, connect them to the electric grid, and harness their fat-burning energy for the public good? Actually paying people (even a small amount) for their kinetic energy transfer could then provide motivation for more to join the trend, and would also help to fight against obesity.

    Cities concentrate the people into an area too small for individuals to fend for themselves. The increase in city dwellers necessitates the creation of meaningful work for them, but also an escape from the "me first" ideology of individual wealth concentration. As long as power rests in the hands of a few wealthy individuals (or corporations) seeking to maximize their profits, the slum dwellers are unlikely to receive enough trickle-down to meet their needs.
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      Jul 13 2011: what about learning how to multitask
      we don't know what potentials are of the human being
      we can see this in the Olympic games record are broken every year, since (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_Games)
      this means we don't know the human body potentials
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      Jul 13 2011: Hi Chris, interesting idea. I like that you're thinking about solutions that address several challenges at once and incentives that will motivate people to take action. I agree that decentralised and local solutions have a big role to play. But you hit on a big point around how to manage intermittency issues when we can't store the electricity - what happens when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining..? Cleaner fossil fuels like natural gas could have a role in cities, especially as there is a lot more of it available than was previously thought and it can be ramped up and down relatively easily.
  • Aug 3 2011: This has been a great conversation about cities and the sustainability challenge. I wonder, though, with the debt crises in the US (arguably more of a political rather than an economic issue) as well as the ones in Europe, where will the money come from to finance all of these sustainability efforts. Are citizens willing to pay extra taxes/ fees to live in sustainable cities? If yes, how much and for how long? I feel that this would be a major obstacle in realizing many novel transportation and energy ideas.
  • Aug 3 2011: Hello, one interesting concept that I discovered through a great website called www.stumbleupon.com was the vertical farm project. Here is the link:


    Now I may not be a scientist or an architect (yet), but I believe that this idea would be very successful in a bustling world like ours, especially in our most crowded (therefore needy) cities. Thank you.
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    Aug 3 2011: Adam Newton of Shell Oil Company’s Global Strategy Team,
    I am a student of the TED talks. My opinions are my own but they have been shaped over the years by hundreds of their wonderful presentations.

    You ask, in part:
    How can early intervention and investment in cities lead to more sustainable long-term outcomes? AND How can better urban infrastructure be achieved?
    If we see our long term as humanity thriving in the centuries to come, and if we take the big picture view of the whole biosphere of our spaceship Earth, then I must say, “Houston, we have a problem.”
    Adam Newton, I believe that only by adopting a C2C strategy where “waste equals food” will we be able to put the “long” into “long-term.” (See http://www.ted.com/talks/william_mcdonough_on_cradle_to_cradle_design.html )

    What governance mechanisms might support effective city development?
    Willie Smits has one excellent example of including governance on the local level while transforming an economy and an eco-system. His point is that the local governance must be included to give people a voice and ownership of what they are doing.

    And Michelle Holliday has a good idea about the sort of patterns that green businesses ought to have. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUIStx-nZ3I

  • Aug 3 2011: I'm stepping into this conversation relatively late. The reading is about social responsibility of global corporations. Appreciated. let me give it a different twist:

    Shell considers itself an energy company (fact). Solar energy is economical viable around the equator (fact). Let me zoom in on northern Africa; there thermo solar is economcially viable (fact, see desertech.org). The size at which this can be done is material (fact, deserttech talks about 15% of total energy consumption of europe from nothern africa). ... so far everything is the green

    Issue is stability of these countries and guaranteed demand over the next 10-20 years; (thermo) solar energy requires a significant upfront investments that has to be earned back over 2 decades; debt holders of such an undertaking want to be sure they get their money back with the required interest (no nationalisations, no physical collaps of the plant, not evaporation of the demand). Shell has -almost unique- experience in dealing with instable countries with mostly good success (fact, Nigeria, Russia)

    My question: What would make Shell go for this opportunity in a big way?
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    Aug 3 2011: Bruno, you make again very valid points and I agree whole heartedly with you on these issues. But do you really believe that this discussion thred here, sponsored by an entity that pretty much runs counter every issue you raised, is even 'designed' to change corporate behavior ... if so at all then in the VERY long run only.