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Clean technology, while a huge opportunity, will not go to scale in time to prevent a global economic and social crisis.

Considering all the comments on my talk, The Earth is Full, I would sum up by saying that everyone pretty much agrees we face some serious ecological and resource limits. The debate is will these naturally be dealt with in the normal course of technological and market processes, or will they result in a serious global economic crisis. My view is strongly that a crisis is inevitable and that it will be an economic crisis - but that will then trigger a war level of mobilisation that will drive massive technological change. So relying on technology to prevent the crisis is wrong.

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    Mar 12 2012: I come from a long living family who, for one reason or another (usually a world war), had children late. Therefore, my family memory goes back further than most - my paternal grandparents were born in 1872 and 1884 while my maternal grandparents were born in 1896 and 1904.

    When I was about 7, in the mid 1970's, my family went on a walking holiday. On one walk we strolled across a meadow where lots of butterflies flew up around us - blue, orange, white, red, brown - it was wonderful - I loved it and expressed my pleasure as only a 7 year old can - by rushing around dancing in pure joy.

    My grandfather (bless him) made a comment that really made me stop and think - he said,

    "This is nothing! When I was your age, the sky was filled with butterflies at this time of year - not just a couple of dozen - thousands and thousands - clouds of them for weeks on end"

    Our experience of the world only goes back as far as our earliest memory - but our understand can reach back further if we listen to our elders.

    The past is a foreign country as the saying goes. This is clearly shown in the works of the 19 century natural history enthusiasts. Since WW2, nature films and ecological survey records have helped us to see how poor our natural world has become - but only those with the will to see, do.

    While I was studying for my masters degree in ecology, I undertook many plant surveys. One afternnoon, while I was surveying in a National Nature Reserve, something else happened to make me think. It was a hillside site and was at the time covered by native orchids. A family, mum, dad and two children aged about 7 and 9 wondered up the field from the woodland below. The girl ran up the hill towards me - when she got near the top she stopped and turned around to admire the view.

    “Look, look!” she exclaimed, pointing towards a distant object “I can see the Designer Outlet Store from here!” Her foot squashed a Bee Orchid as she danced around in excitement.
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      Mar 16 2012: Beautifully written. I am really a little shocked at how single-species focused Diamandis has been. Progress for whom? Abundance for whom? You cannot solve "humanity's grand challenges" without first acknowledging and then addressing the Earth's, no matter how much enthusiasm you add to the mix. Can-do attitude can only get you so far if you fail to frame the issue "grandly" enough.
      • Mar 16 2012: I read Diamandis book Abundance and he does acknowledge and make a great case for the species on the Earth, he most definitely isn't just talking about humans here.

        I haven't read the whole thing and it isn't near me right now but in one example, he talks about a technology called invitro meat. In vitro meat could potentially solve the problem that he acknowledges about the way we hunt and capture the fish in our sea and mentions that yes if we keep this up the fish in our sea will soon be gone. Even the things in our ocean we don't even have a name for yet are becoming extinct.

        I say the issue Diamandis is putting out is definitely "grand" enough. I would definitely recommend giving the book a consideration.
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        Mar 19 2012: I hope Peter proves to be correct, it's certainly nice to listen to such jolly good news, however, we're really 60 years too late. Scientists, politicians, financiers and industrialists have procrastinated too long, an eleventh hour dash towards e-books and cell phones is not going to prevent the lower half of the world's population suffering great hardship.

        Peter didn't touch on our massive and increasing over exploitation of non-renewable natural resources - oil, rare metals, ecological systems and habitat degradation. He focuses on how technology can improve the lives of a billion people - yet there are 7 billion people and don't forget the planet and all its other life formes! He also failed to discuss persistent pollution loading which is impacting on all terrrestural ecosystems as well as the oceans and atmosphere. This pollution is bio-accumulating in the food chain - negatively impacting on fertility and health. He misses the point that whatever the benifits of certain new technologies we are still dependent upon old oil / carbon based industries for energy, transport, heating / air-conditioning, plastics, agro-chemicals, fibers... and a change to renewables is going to take time and resources we don't have.

        Interestingly, he began his talk stating that global media focuses on bad news since it gains our attention. He seemed to dismiss this as though once stated we’d all wake up and laugh at our silly newscaster's pessimisms. I have news for Peter - the world is getting worse - by accumulation of degredation and by quantity of human population! Worryingly, the impact of “crisis loading” global news is that it increases fear, provoking politicians, stimulating "defence" industries and thus increasing the likelihood of nuclear weapon proliferation and war. The sabres are already rattling over a future Iranian / Israeli conflict… Where will it all end after massive radioactive fallout - On the Beach, by Nevil Shute.
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      Mar 22 2012: Heather, I want to thank you for your wonderful comments and insight.

      We are headed for a terrible time in human history. Will man be able to solve the problems alone?

      Time will tell.

      Interesting enough, alot of people don't realize that not only do scriptures disclose the events that would unfold in the future as far as hunger, disease, and natural disasters (Matthew 24) but also addresses the human heart condition in these last days (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

      I find it sobering that the details found in scripture shed light on what we are seeing today.

      Scripture also tells us that God will bring to ruin those ruining the earth (Revelation 11:18)

      We will have to wait and see how it all plays out.....in the meantime, we can do our share to respect nature and to not take for granted the gift that is life.

      Thank you Heather.
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    Mar 21 2012: Hi Paul. Great talk and I'm also learning a lot from this discussion. I was pretty optimistic. After watching your talk and Peter's, and just now one of Matt Ridley's, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-zLK50w4Q0 I think I've probably been fooling myself.

    One very important point you made was that it's a web of problems facing us. Each is easy for people to imagine they've found solutions to, while not noticing that it makes another problem worse. In my view, we problem-solve like this rather than facing fundamental facts of our biology. We are evolved animals. People talk about us as though we were rational, agreeable folk. They propose a solution: everyone will be on board. But there are very diverse warring factions, from the religious to the secular, the ultra-technologist to the neo-luddite.

    We developed our modern civilisation through competition, not just co-operation, and I believe that is the simple hard-wired imperitive that will bring our current civilisation down. It will not be sufficiently profitable for those who might to do the right thing at any step along the way - that is how it has been for all of our history - in fact, since we left the forests that sustained us without our effort beyond reaching out to grasp fruit, the abundant past we innovated our way out of.

    Right now, food, medicine and all sorts of technologies are being patented by the rich, so that we will be even more dependent on them for everything than we already are. Our democracies have been whisked away by plutocrats and they hold us to ransom. The Occupy Movement was perhaps just a rumble before an earthquake, as the 99% wakes up to reality and begins to demand/create wealth redistribution. Technology might have little to do with how it pans out.

    Matt talks about humans learning to share ideas and work together as if it were just a good, but technology helps us compete with (kill) everything else on the planet while specialisation lets us relinquish responsibility to the cloud.
    • Mar 21 2012: John
      Thanks for your thoughts and yes, people make the constant mistake of confusing what's possible with what will happen, allowing as you say for vested interest, resistance and so on. There's no doubt we have great potential but we must accept the crisis that will drive us there.
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        Mar 21 2012: Thanks, Paul. It's very refreshing to find a TED speaker discussing their views and inviting others. I have to say I shift on the optimist-pessimist scale a lot, but at the moment I'm even more pessimistic than you.

        You say "we must accept the crisis that will drive us there" - but where?
        • Mar 21 2012: John
          Yes, we all have those days when it all seems impossible to imagine! "Where" can only now be a war like mobilisation in response, and that's why the crisis will have to be accepted first.
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        Mar 22 2012: Paul, there's a misunderstanding between us on the matter of "where" we get to: what I thought you meant was a further condition, a healthy human civilisation after the crisis and the war-like mobilisation. What do you see as that condition, and do you have any thoughts about how it might be stabilised? The last point is the source of my pessimism. It seems to me that the attributes that brought us to the current brink are inexorable - sad irony: I just checked the definition of that and the first line of the google results included the example, "the inexorable march of technology".

        If it were just a matter of mass change of attitude - if we stopped praising things like "working hard" and "innovating" and all the rest, which are part of that inexorable march towards domination/destruction of the biosphere and instead admired low-impact living - that would be a long shot, but perhaps imaginable after some deep catastrophe. However, I sense that the problem may be even deeper - a fundamental reality of evolution: those who work hard and innovate collect more resources and have evolutionary advantage over those who walk lightly on the earth. The pressure that replaced the eco-friendly nomad, first with the small farmer, then with Homo extravagans isn't a political fashion, but biological fact. I say this not to depress people, but because it may be vital to understand and accept, as much as the current crisis, in order to come up with wise responses.

        Of course, I may be wrong to equate innovation and hard work with further destruction. It's a hunch I have with little solid evidence, but it seems to me that the green industries have turned out less green than expected, not just due to specific hidden environmental costs, but because they represent a raised threshold for human activity generally, which we can be expected to grow into. Do we need a new understanding of green? Currently, we'd be proud to clear areas of virgin "wasteland" to build an "eco-friendly city".
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        Mar 22 2012: P.S. Sorry, I just realised I'm being lazy, followed the link to your biography and found more of your opinion already for me to read, although I'd be delighted to discuss the issue further; and for saying "even more pessimistic than you" - when I see your bio has you as an optimist! Me, I'm a happy stoic. :)
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    Apr 3 2012: Humanity, as a group, only changes when it is forced to (governmental, social engineering) or comes to see a true advantage(horse and buggy conversion to automobile) in making a change. Theodore Diesel first chose peanut oil to run his diesel engine. Not to save the earth or to burn food as fuel, but due to peanut oil's availability within the market. When fuel oil became more available petroleum based fuel or "diesel fuel" became the norm. Petroleum based fuel is and will be ,for quite some time, readily available. Limitations are only due to politics.
  • Mar 10 2012: We so love our status quo it is hard not to find every bit of evidence for optimism we can to support an optimistic future. Technology can and does provide but I haven't asked for much of it, as consumers fueling untenable growth we are buying it. If we continue to blithely consume the next decade of technology just like the last decade, the western world will end up with even less expensive solar panels powering even larger flat screen TVs. Right up to the moment of resource collapse. I don't think humans really want that, instead they want connection, community, a sense of inter-dependance, and some semblance of equality. My sense of optimism comes from knowing that this is what our many social and environmental challenges need to be survivable. A 50% decline in GDP will look like collapse to most in the western world, it will feel like collapse too if socially the loss of our consumer status quo causes more scarcity and competition for what remains.

    The best untapped resource is human compassion and collaborative creativity, just like the other technologies, the question is whether or not it is scalable in time. If history suggests, then probably not, I want to believe that human development is on its own exponential growth curve.
    I would rather the next solar panel go to replace kerosene lights in india with solar powered LED, my 270 watts is plenty. My time is spent teaching students - the next generation - the difference between growth and development, communication skills of collaboration rather than competition. In the book "Limits to Growth" one major caveat to a graceful transition was a leveling of global consumption amongst the population. It is very difficult to collaborate rather than compete within the context of massive wealth disparity.
  • Apr 3 2012: We are dealing with exponential processes, which have constant doubling times. Half the forests have been destroyed, three quarters of the ocean has been overfished and half this destruction occurred in the past 50 years. That is, the doubling time for our destruction of Nature is around 50 years in our current trajectory. And climate change will accelerate the destruction beyond what was experienced over the past 50 years, to potentially wipe it all out in less than that time.

    But it wasn't climate change that did all the destruction of the past. And it isn't climate change that is causing a Florida sized area of tropical forests to disappear every two years today. It is mostly the eating habits of the top 20% of humanity.

    As such, "massive technological change" is probably insufficient and "massive behavioral change" is called for, especially at the top. That behavioral change is when we routinely consider "abundance" for the tiger to be as equally important as "abundance" for our own selves.

    Even Peter Diamandis will admit that the tiger is currently not experiencing a world of abundance. Such a world of abundance can only occur when the "Sling Shot" water purifier is entirely redundant as river water is already pure.
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    Mar 28 2012: We can do anything we want. The problem is that things will get worse before they get better. We always have to learn the hard way. We can make a rapid switch to clean energy. Germany has proved that-- Look at how much sun Germany gets and how much they rely on solar power. The thing that worries me is up and coming economies mimicking the wastefulness of America.
    • Mar 28 2012: I agree Earl on your last comment on the up and coming economies - they are in a US time warp back to the 80's and 90's excess. Massive consumption with no understanding of the consequences for most. Their immediate gratification is the improvement in standard of living, so why would they want to consume less if it is perceived as a reduction in standard of living...It's a conundrum. Make clean energy and technology cost effective that gives them the standard of living they want.
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      Mar 28 2012: Countries like Germany can get away with using solar because they have an agreement with France to buy nuclear generated electricity off them if there is a shortfall. While the rest of Europe goes alternative France keeps generating more and more nuclear and propping the system up while making lots of money of course.
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    Mar 28 2012: If the crisis is inevitable, should we then just stop innovating as we will be doomed anyway?

    I would try and be optimistic (urgent optimism as Jane McGonigal calls it http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html)

    Nor can we sit back and wait for the technology to arrive.

    If the problem is really this bad (and I have no reason to assume it isn't), then we do need to support all actions towards that goal, and act ourselves.
    We do need some climate psychologists and lobby groups as well... to implement and scale the current solutions.

    Even if it will be to slow, it seems the only reasonable thing to do...
    • Mar 29 2012: Christophe
      I think it is important to recognise that while the crisis is inevitable and will trigger the major response, you are right that we definitely need to act now and innovate as fast as we can. While in my view it is too late to avert the crisis, this is inherently unknowable, so acting strongly now is good either way. If it prevents the crisis, great, if not it helps us get through it faster and reduces the harm on the way through. So either way more action now is good!

      btw, there are many people looking at the psychology of this and how to get through denial faster.
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    Mar 26 2012: The thing that I find most perplexing is the amount of time and energy put into hand wringing about the fate of the 1 billion or so people in Europe and North America. If there was a massive recession in europe followed by a corresponding collapse in standard of living, your average European would still be better off than your average Asian or African. I'm sure the average Sudanese man on the street fails to see the austerity in the Greek austerity measures. The collapse in standard of living may also produce a drop in energy consumption and CO2 emmisions. In the west we might all have to watch TV together like we used to all in one room with only one light on and one heater running.
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      Mar 28 2012: And that there is the heart of the matter. In America, even the modest income live like kings. There is a tv in every room, houses with air conditioners running year round, the ubiquitous use of large vehicles just to hop to the corner store. This refusal to conserve is one giant part of the resourse depletion as well as the environmental destruction, and unless there is a massive social change before the depletion, there will by necessity be a massive painful social change after the fall.
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    Mar 23 2012: I see a lot of arguments that fit this basic pattern, which I've translated into a parable about a little drive in the country: "People say we're nearly out of gas, or they say this baby won't go any faster, but I say there's plenty in the tank yet and we can get much heavier on the pedal. Some also say we're heading for a cliff - pretty worrying, I agree - but that's still being debated, as is how close the cliff might be, and I've been pulling on this lever that says 'Deploy Wings', which is bound to do something soon. Put the wipers on, I can't see for squished bees. Mind the bear!"
  • Mar 16 2012: The ONLY reason for this is government intervention. Why are NO clean energy solutions economically feasible on a scale that would help the consumer and the environment? Because government agencies, all over the world, insist on abuseing buisness for political gain, that is to hold the power and control over others. Governments make it impossible to fire union workers who are already over paid, and strike whenever they want more money. They take larger and larger portions of the companies money ,that would be used to pay for innovation, every year, and then waste that money by giving it out to already failing companies, who still fail to produce innovations that would lead us to the type of energy production that we have to have, not only to avoid crisis, but to rise to the challenges of the future, and create a civilization of powerful, thriving, vibrant Human beings. We have to get government out of our way if we want a bright future without the threat of annihilation from an environmental catastrophy. thanks for reading.
  • Mar 9 2012: I am a technology optimist. I believe technology is the key answer to saving our planet from an untimely and abrupt... not quite end, but catastrophic change that is beyond our ability as a 7 billion+ species to adapt to it.

    That said, I also believe that technology is only partially the answer... the way we think about and develop our technology will be as critical in changing that outcome as technology itself.

    To put it another way, there's no way in hell we'll pull out of this proverbial tail spin by making things more efficient and not changing our behaviour.

    We need to fundamentally reinvent our behaviour, while embracing technology utterly for this to work.

    That said... I think that reinvention could be less painful than we'd intuitively think, if we frame it in the right way.
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      Mar 9 2012: Agree to some extent.
      One must be careful of "solutions".
      We all (particularly males) have this natural behaviour to "fix" "problems".
      But most of our fixes create more problems than we had.
      It gets like a ponzi-scheme of ever-growing fixes upon fixes upon fixes.
      THis process has delivered our newfound "quality of life", but it drives unsustainable growth.
      There must be some balance point .. but that kind of thing requires a "stepping-back" to allow the balance to establish itself.
      I think a good start would be to identify the absolute global cost of our "fixes" before we commit to them.
      AS you say - behavioural.
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    Mar 7 2012: Over teh years, I have been watching the human race climbing out on more and more rickety ladders oblivious to the risks they were taking.
    I personally contributed in my work to refine supply chains to razor thinness and increased reliance on insecure digital technology. At the time I thought it was all very clever, but not any more.
    I suspected at the time, that the reduction of inventories in the supply chains increased vunerability of cities with less than 1 day's worth of food in the pipeline - that any number of disruptions would cause entire cities to be starving within a few days.
    I also suspected that the ever-increasing complexity of computers would give rise to impenetrable layers of digital infrastructure and symbolic languages - such that it would generate a class of techno-high-priests who could move behind the complexity at whim - while the oblivious users blindly assume that all is well and secure - it isn't.
    Entire economies now reside exclusively in the internet - at the expense of local bricks-and-mortar distribution.
    All our local supply outlets are withering. We are becoming disconnected from our food, our basic life skills and our local community.
    What happens when the fiat currencies finally collapse - just as the cost of extracting our resources doubles?
    THe very thing that would save us has been dismantled - local community.
    Hopefully, communities will re-bind quickly to assay local resources and deploy them for local benefit.
    It will be a hard challenging time that can only work from bedrock grass-roots-up - rediscovering the true capacity of humans.
    I strongly suspect that oportunists and exploiters will have everything thoroughly looted before the reconstruction can begin. But begin it will.
    I see the crisis as absolutely necessary. How deep we go into it will depend on how many actually prepare.
    It could be that books on practical skills and methods might now be the most precious things on Earth.
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    Mar 6 2012: A very large contributing factor to economic inefficiency, economic un-sustainability, the largest incentive for every sort of environmental abuse and the historical root cause of the disparity of wealth on the planet is private ownership of land and natural resources which has resulted over the centuries in a virtual monopoly of the most valuable land and natural resources in the hands of a relative few of our kind. It is estimated that 3-5% of people and their corporations own 85% of the most valuable land and resources. A little appreciated fact of economics is that the value of land is created 100% by the community of all people and therefore the income from land and natural resources which amounts to anywhere from 20 to 40% of GNP incomes everywhere is wholly unearned. This simple underlying fact of economics mostly unappreciated today obscures the fact that the effect of all human progress including the increase of population and the increase of productive capacity enabled by our technology is to increase land and resources values and most of it goes into the pockets of private owners of the earth thus giving the impression that progress does not benefit everyone. Which it does not. This is why mere technological progress will most likely be a disappointment because it will not benefit enough of our kind to alleviate poverty which it otherwise could easily and already would have done. In addition the massive increase in human productivity will further increase land and resources values further enriching the already wealthy.

    One of the technical advances that could be adopted is a political advance in turning the mechanism just described to the benefit of all people. It is called "land value taxation" whereby taxation is shifted off of earned earned incomes from labor and real capital investment onto community created land values and the unearned incomes derived thereform. In this way the earth will be shared while not disturbing "ownership" of land.
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      Mar 7 2012: The territorial drive is there in us somewhere.
      It is my beleif that, in a social animal (such as humans), the natural progression for territory is outward from the individual to the family to the tribe to the geographical district(typically a valley) to the nation .. .and then to the globe (where we are now).
      The boundaries of these territories is governed by the ambient scarcity/abundance of essential resources. As abundance increases, we are able to defer our territorality to the larger boundary of the social group - whilever there is no threat to personal benefit. As scarcity cuts-in, territories shrink to what can be defended on behalf of smaller groups.
      To be true to our own nature, ownership should be dynamic.
      Unfortunately, the agricultural revolution gave rise to the concept of farming - the exploitation of a captured species. The captured species usually requires confinement on some land. Hence the farmer becomes an owner on a static "plot".
      I think farming should be re-designed to conform to dynamic boundaries dictated by scarcity/abundance. The concept of ownership is the greatest impediment.
      A farm without boundaries might look like setting the food species loose, but tended by all for the benefit of all. It would require some light regulation .. some kind of empowered stewards .. so long as abundance was maintained, the territorial drive would be limited.
  • Mar 6 2012: I would think that the technology change in itself will create an economic crisis. The resource limitations are the driving force which require new solutions to be found. But even a relatively small change in technology can result in the complete upheaval of established industries.
    Consider what is happening to the recording and publishing industries due to the paradigm shift created by the internet. Then think about the impact on power suppliers when everyone can get generate household power in their own backyards. What happens to the board of works when that power is used to extract water from the air.
    The great abundance mentioned in Peter Diamandis' talk will completely destroy many major industries by making their core business obsolete - almost overnight too given current progress.
    Even without the inevitable backlash from the entrenched powers, the economic impact on the developed countries would be disastrous. Places like Africa and parts of Asia may actually survive better because they are only a short way down the large scale centralised infrastructure path. Hence they should be able to leapfrog onto much more sustainable technology - if political considerations don't get in the way.
    • Mar 6 2012: Peter - this is a good and important point. It is now inevitable that large upheavals will take place as we replace industries. Oil for example is a $3 trillion per year industry so its departure will have far reaching consequences on both local economies and on international geopolitics.
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      Mar 7 2012: THis is why I believe that only grass-roots bottom-up initiatives have any hope of succeeding.
      To mobilize a lot of people quickly, the only tool availalke outside of gridlocked government and big-business
      Is *fashion* .. it must be seen to be "trendy" to have an energy independant home or neighborhood - same as food independance. To get things to be "trendy" one must enlist major trendsetters. Holliwood could do it in a snap - the merchandising opportunities are immense. I'd warrant that a few hundred million paid to a bunch of A-grade celebrities would well outballance the opportunity cost associated with doing the thing top-down through government or large-scale corporate commercialism.
      Then there's the monstrous impediments of city-hall ordinances and regulations dictating unsustainable land-use.. That might have to be a people-power thing - once again - an act of fashionability.
      • Mar 8 2012: Yes, a grass roots movement is the only way the necessary changes could occur. Government and big business are part of the problem and would need to completely re-invent themselves to provide any real solution.
        But the nature of fashion has also changed and trends can now start through viral ideas rather than famous personalities. Consider the Occupy movement as an obvious example.

        But, as shown by the financial crisis, world economies are on a knife edge - a rapidly thinning edge from what Paul Gilding is saying. Economic collapse is inevitable unless something drastic is done.
        And that something is already being done - as covered in Diamandis' talk. There are new disruptive technologies that completely change the game.
        My point is that changing the game at this stage and so quickly will invalidate the business model of a number of multi-trillion dollar industries. In this context - what does "too big to fail" mean? What happens to people employed by industries who's whole basis for existence have been removed? Hence economic collapse again.
        Damned if we do and damned if we don't.

        The silver lining is that the long term outlook is optimistic once the debris has been cleared away.

        One other thing: the common aspects in all the new technologies is smaller, localised, distributed. This means less need for large centralised organisations to manage them and the supporting infrastructure (no need for power lines or fuel transport etc.). Big industry is becoming obsolete and those countries that depend most heavily on them, i.e. the 'developed' world, are going to be hardest hit.
        Like the technology itself, the benefits are distributed, while the damage will be localised.
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          Mar 8 2012: What you say is true, however, it is not the converted that need to be preached to - the greater part of resistance to change can be represented as those who still cling to the traditional broadcast media - and still accessible by the prefabricated perceptions that have gotten us in this mess in the first place.
          I see some brilliant business opportunities emerging for those who begin producing small-scale backyard infrastructure now .. regardless of the currency used to sell it ;)
  • Mar 5 2012: Paul are you familiar with Chris Martenson's Crash Course?

    How about Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs McWorld?

    I fear that even if humans were capable of inventing and engineering our way out of our crises, humanity as a species is not capable of transitioning rapidly enough to prevent a major social melt down first.

    We have had much of the technology available to us for quite some time, and have not utilized it because scarcity is profitable. There are those who will take the profit regardless of the consequences to the rest of humanity.

    Humans' return to religiosity is only one of the consequences we are already facing of humanity's inability to cope with the massive changes coming our way.
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      Mar 6 2012: Return to religiosity? has there been a sudden uptake on christian numbers or islamic numbers globally?i thought in the western nations it was america and south america where christianity still held sway,but the rest were increasingly athetic in view point.
      • Mar 6 2012: Yes, one merely has to take a look at the current US political season to see what I mean. While the numbers of those claiming to be Christian has not risen, the presence of them in government and the influence they hold over the government has risen.
    • Mar 6 2012: Sharon. I agree such more negative outcomes are possible, but they are certainly not inevitable. I look to Mandela and the disaster that could have been in South Africa but in the end wasn't. So with good leadership and good hearts great change is possible. I'm not naive to the other potential but I don't see much upside in dwelling there. But it's going to be an "interesting" period, that's for sure.
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        Mar 7 2012: Umm .. people don't really like hearing this - but the overthrow of Apardheidt had a little more to do with global coal and mineral prices. By exploiting low labour cost of mining, SA undercut mineral prices and won massive contracts at the expense of more powerful nations. Mandela certainly took up the mantle of change brilliantly, but there was a lot of covert support that will probably never be regarded.
    • Mar 7 2012: Sharon, Yes familiar with both. Interesting and important works. I particularly like Chris M's Crash Course, seeking as it does to empower people with knowledge of how the financial system works (or doesn't!)
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    Mar 29 2012: BTW Germany currently provides less than 10% of its power requirements through solar. Around 50% is fossil fuel and 22.6% is nuclear for 2010 (euronuclear.org)
  • Mar 28 2012: There are more than trillions of Watts of light hitting our planet everday. Tidal movements make multi Kilo-joules of excursions in an area less than a square kilometer. Water is H2O, and if we could figure a way to trick the H into coming debonded we could have a Hydrogen economy.

    To head off that crisis, if we could spend 1/10th of what was spent on say housing and bank bailouts, we might crack some of these "Energy Nuts".

    Investing in Science has been a good investment. In fact, perhaps the best investments of Mankind have been to practise Science.

    When the US say tried to get people to buy things like houses they could not afford, this was a serious Malinvestment. When they used public funds to Malinvest to compensate for past Malinvestments, this was a double hit.

    Science is a good investments. Wasting resources is a bad investement, and is the subject of many of the worlds disagreements.
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    Mar 28 2012: In the end, If we could implement clean energy tomorrow, I think it would lessen the economic downturn, but it won't make it go away, till the other problems are resolved.
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    Mar 28 2012: Large problems with banks handing out more loans then the money they have....I totally agree, but the same can be said about the consumer, receiving loans that they might not be able to pay. I totally agree with you views...I just think their are so many other things that come in to play. The same can be said about every form of business, real estate, medical, etc. It's a collective problem shared by everybody. I don't want put the blame on just one thing.

    You can't underestimate the other man's greed.
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    Mar 28 2012: For me it's simple..People living beyond their means. We live in a world of credit and selfishness that has destroyed the value of the dollar,but we should definitely continue on our journey for clean and reusable energy and once were on the right track the first thing we need to change is ourselves. No matter what type of energy we see efficient and clean enough for ourselves, the problem will always be the same... the way we use it and harbor it...
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      Mar 28 2012: a world of credit and selfishness ... you need to choose your readings better
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        Mar 28 2012: Krisztian, you don't see a problem with Banks giving out credit? It's not that in specific, but we are in a global economic crisis as we speak. Clean technology is irrelevant, we should implement it anyways..but it will deepen crisis just like everything else is...
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          Mar 28 2012: that's a difficult question. in a free market, i see no problem with banks giving loans. in this system though, i see very large problems with banks handing out more loans than the money they have. that is the source of inflation, which is a problem. but this is not a fundamental part of banking. this twisted and sick practice is made possible by regulations. credit is fine.
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    Mar 28 2012: Hi Paul. I believe you have committed a 'non sequitur.'
    You say (and I agree) that we face serious ecological and resource limit problems.
    You say (and I agree) that these problems will encourage the development of technological and market process solutions.
    Then you say that the solutions will fail and result in a global economic crises, which will then encourage militarism. Then you say that the militarism will produce more technological development. Then you say that this resulting technological development which was motivated by militarism results in the conclusion that the first efforts to solve the ecological and resource problems through the development of technology were a mistake.
    Do you see the problem?
    The technologies developed to reduce the problems facing the environment, and the development of markets are of a different kind than those developed for the military. If no effort is made to solve problems affecting the environment and resource limits then the crisis will only come sooner. Don't you agree? If the crisis is such that militarism is seen as one of the solutions, then militarism will occur. The technologies developed for the military will not be beneficial to the effort to solve the problems of the environment, including resource depletion, nor to the expansion of markets globally.
    We have several separate conundrums: How can we save the environment, how can we reduce resource depletion, how can we raise the economic well being of more people, how can we reduce the 'knee-jerk' response that results in the growth of militarism, how can we improve the overall health of the inhabitants of this Earth, and how can we achieve a stable, healthy, prosperous population.
    We are going to need new ways to do things. Every little discovery is another step toward these goals. Someone said 'there is a light at the end of the tunnel.' I say 'there is more than one tunnel. Some are very dark!'
    • Mar 29 2012: Jon, good commentary. I think we should differentiate between militarism and "war like mobilisation". I think the latter could include militarism but doesn't have to. But it's a good reference point to how fast we could move if we chose to do so.

      And I don't think the earlier efforts were a mistake as such, they just didn't work - or at least haven't yet. I'm not sure anything else would have been a better idea though, as we have this incredible resistance to change.
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    Mar 27 2012: Realistically we will probably use hemp for paper and for fibre (as the ever increasing price of oil makes man made fibres ever more expensive) but it will never be a useful food crop as its yield per hectare is only a fraction of that of modern wheat strains. Also if you want to clean the air you should grow bamboo. Its the fastest growing land plant and can be used to make building materials. It makes great floors as it is one of the hardest woods available. As for hemps medicinal use, the results haven't been all that great other than in symptomatic relief. The coming crisis is more about energy. There are 3 billion asians who have decided that they wan't cars and wide screen TVs too. Somehow I don't think hemp will help here. :(
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    Mar 27 2012: "im not sure if hemp will save the planet but i do know one thing, its the onyl thing that can, you can make paper, biodegradable plastic, clothing, shelter, medicine, its cleans the air as it grows, itscleans the soil as it growns plus in some rare cases smoking the plant helps people toappreciate nature.

    The solution is for everyone to grow it,Under government control this plant would nto reach its full potential.

    The desired long term effect of growing the cannabis plant would be the intention that our children may grow more plants than children in previous generations. The key is to not forbid it to our kids, the key is not to mass market it to our kids, prohibition only succeeds in one thing; it makes people want it more than they actually need it. The key is to educate them about the plant about how to grow it many years before they realize they can smoke it. Who knows , just being taught to have to grow and care for something as especially unique as the cannabis flower from an early age may teach the next generation the discipline to use it in moderation because it won’t be such a taboo, it should be around just as common as any other flower. Legalising it will teach the kids the big thing is to smoke it, just growing the plants will show the big thing is everything it can be used for.
  • Mar 27 2012: I read that australia is starting to grow hemp for industrial uses.thats great! with all the info on internet lately about hemp having so much medical value in that it even cures cancer! i believe that if society could use hemp to the fullest as it was throughout history we could clean up the environment and our bodys at the same time.its seeds are extremely nutritional and also a clean burning fuel.Henry Ford built a vehicle totally from hemp, fuel and all that drove down the road.unfortunetly drug companies,oil companys and goverments are trying to prevent that.no money in a plant that grows anywhere and has over 10,000 uses that could,i believe,save the world and people living in it and lead to world peace.hemp was once the number one cash crop in the world but its an illegal drug in most countrys so why even think about.but what if.......
  • Mar 27 2012: I don't think this debate is about optimism vs. pessimism but realism vs. idealism (or naiveté). Gilding's position is that humanity will emerge from this crisis stronger and wiser than before, but it will take the full onset of the crisis to bring that about. Diamandis thinks that our technology will always keep us ahead of disaster, and we'll never have to put the entire planet into crisis mode, akin to the home front during WWII.

    I think that mobilizing and coordinating the global community is both necessary and impossible. Yes, we live in an age of unprecedented connectivity, but it is one thing to speak and another to be listened to. What right do we have to tell the developing world that they can't live like we do because it's unsustainable? In theory, a global communist state that everyone bought into would do the trick. In practice, people won't buy into it, and if they did, that government wouldn't be capable of operating with fairness and efficiency.

    Even a global carbon trading market has failed to get off the ground. Big government is not the answer. We can't make dramatic overhauls to our social and political system in the foreseeable future, because the people favored by those systems will resist.

    Instead, change will require a grassroots, bottom-up approach. We need ideas that are small enough to be feasible and big enough to be impactful. It's not about strength but strength-to-weight ratio. Such ideas can emerge from both corporate and civic institutions.

    I've written a longer response to the Gilding/Diamandis debate on my blog, http://wp.me/p1vixq-aM . I discuss several innovative, lightweight ideas that post. I apologize if linking to a personal site is considered poor TEDiquette.
  • Mar 25 2012: I suggest using the World Bank to create 100 trillion dollars in credit to divide equally among all nations for the express purpose of building carbon reduction infrastructure. This would work providing all nations agreed to a strict set of regulations which insured no nation would profit above any other nation. A formula including population and land mass could be worked out to determine how much credit each nation was qualified to spend.

    Given all nations like free money to improve their own economy and infrastructure, I can see no better or quick way to tackle carbon pollution than by increasing the world credit supply by a given amount... and given all nations agree to back the World Bank then all nations shall equally profit.
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    Mar 24 2012: I'm optimistic and pessimistic at the same time.
    I'm optimistic because I believe that eventually we will find ways to overcome our problems. The only question is at what price.
    On the other hand I'm pessimistic, because, since many of the environmental problems we are facing are not necessarily obvious to everybody many people don't give it the necessary importance.
    For example, people living on some islands in the S-Pacific are already getting their feet wet because of rising sea levels and it's only a question of time until they will have to abandon their islands. Obviously, most people not facing this kind of problem directly might not much think about sea level rise because during their vacation to the beach they probably don't see any difference at all.
    The same with ocean temperature rise. Who would perceive that as a problem when going for a swim ? Most people don't see corals bleaching and entire coral reefs becoming wastelands.
    Climate change causes a chain reaction leading to many environmental changes, some subtle others not so much, but the danger is, once everybody really realizes the impact it will be far too late to undo them.
    Climate change is happening. There can't be any doubt about that.
    What we don't know for sure are the long term implications. but I think it's better to play it safe than being sorry later.
  • Mar 23 2012: The reason that technology has not, and will not, "save us" is that population keeps outpacing it. Population control is the next leap in our social evolution, the only thing that will allow us to avoid a crisis. But, of course, it will not happen. So I agree with you - a crisis is inevitable.
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    Mar 23 2012: Necessity is the mother of all invention. We will bound towards destruction while it remains in the distance, jog towards it once it starts reaching the horizon, and begin to crawl away from it once we being to be truly pained by its effects. Humans as a group function much like any other organism they will continue with business as usual until the environmental pressure is to great to ignore. Is it the most efficient way to deal with our problems? No. But until we rise above our animal instincts as a people that is simply the way we end up functioning on a large scale.
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    Mar 22 2012: I respectfully disagree with the way in which you see the world. I actually find it harmful. I believe brilliant minds will find brilliant solutions (which they already are) and most likely in technology.

    Your analysis reminds me of the celebrity druggie who had a go of it, admittedly had some good times, then tells everyone from a throne of luxury, "Now don't you do that!!".