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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 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, 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. :)
        • Mar 23 2012: Yes indeed John, optimism and pessimism are relative terms in this context!
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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

    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 (
  • 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 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, . 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!!".
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    Mar 22 2012: Just sounds like a bunch of big words strung together by a bunch of do nothings sitting behind computer screens trying to seem intelligent-paying $50-$150 a month,every month to access the interweb-suckers. Donate big $$$ to "Apple" so they can pay desperately poor Chinese teens a dollar an hr. to put together your piece of electronic garbage that will be purposely outdated by Christmas.
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    Mar 22 2012: Paul logically speaking you are probably right that we are unlikely, as a political species, to do anything significant about our common fate until too late for many of us. Waiting for a consensus from the majority in order to react, has historically, almost always depended on war or disaster level crisis, just as you say. The problem with this dynamic is that even when the majority does finally agree it does not necessarily make them right about any particular solution.The best solutions are not reactive but proactive ie.. a stitch in time saves nine. I think we need to clearly identify the core problems that tend to nullify most potential solutions, fear and laziness, which are the cause of greed and the mother of stupidity, respectively. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly called for moral advances to balance our technological over-achievements. With trust and cooperation even a modest plan could easily work, without them even the most brilliant will fail to avert the disaster you foresee. Yet if the impending crash is severe enough then no solution is needed, a population of a half billion or less will be able to eke out an existence with pre-industrial methods. The earth will eventually heal itself, even sooner if we are reduced to a few million. But it doesn't have to happen that way. We can still jump start Ken Robinson's "Educational Revolution" I will intend to host a forum for like minded solution makers to map out just such a proactive revolution.
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    Mar 21 2012: I agree. Clean technology will not scale fast enough to prevent the crisis.

    This, however, does not exclude all of the other options to prevent crisis. Clean technology is only one part of a combination of factors that will likely be needed to be used in tandem. It would be rather comical to use one tool for a wicked problem. We wouldn't use a hammer to cook, clean, or keep us warm at night. It's for constructing shelters. In this way, we have to start thinking about how to amplify the use of clean technology with other solutions... like social change to empower local communities to become more self-sufficient and less wasteful.
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    Mar 20 2012: Please bear with the non-stop style of the response. I found it appropriate for the story I would like to share with all of you. >>>When one goes through the patient and exhausting process of identifying and subscribing a team of specialists and engineers to do a big thing, thereafter to sniff our and unearth, no - pry from closed hands, reluctant funding, all the while trying to balance a normal life in your one hand, while running at full pace and drinking your morning coffee in the other hand, and assembling the project detail that would do justice to a single, biogas installation blueprint, and you rest, and you eventually manage to satisfy enough stakeholders to kick a project off, and then get your feet on the actual ground, at the actual installtion site, and realise you "quickly" need to educate, discuss, and agree the whole project with all the community stakeholders, only to discover they have a tribal system and the politicians and community elders are from different planets and opposing social classes, and eventually, after this treacherous road of potential failure has been walked to a point where a shovel could be stuck in the ground, to start the 3-month process to build an actual machine that works, then one starts the journey of a very-risky venture, because what if it did not return the benefits we said it would, then only would one begin to understand the complexities of bringing renewable-energy technologies to a practical level to avert a global, energy crisis. The People, Organization, Technology, and Process ecology is fraught with challenges only the most-experienced would be able to traverse. Each failure sets the bar higher for those who need to follow. We, Us, The World simply cannot afford our failures anymore. Learning without application only results in more learning, and not adaptation. We need to adapt now. By implication, we really need to be doing this stuff right, most of the time, not just talking about it.
  • Mar 20 2012: I agree with Paul Gilding's view simply because he has laid out the data and all the trajectories (economics, resource extraction, consumption, long term trends, etc) point to the same outcome. I fear that Peter Diamandis's view is one based on hope (and perhaps more than just a little splash of denialism).

    I should say that I have read Paul Gilding's book and I haven't read Peter's however from his presentation it seems to me he's not looking at the broader picture and the mega-trends - he's focused on the more inspiring case studies and examples. We do need to draw hope from somewhere and to be frank Gilding's belief that we will rise up out of the ashes (and parrallels to WWII) is less convincing than his thesis that the Great Disruption is imminent. But hope based on denial of the scale of the problem at hand is, as Gilding says dangerous.
  • Mar 18 2012: I think this short clip is about profits versus environment, and how we should
    keep a balance before fast technologies invent our way out of our
    coming crisis, imaginary or fundamental reality. We need to get the energy
    as much as possible to face the immediate or foreseeable challenge.
    The question is how to get gov to protect nature and keep the balance in
    the game of profit verses environment in the developed and developing countries.
    Gov of course is a big player in this game. Some say the very idea to govern
    comes from parents govern children. As common sense and common practice
    as it is today however it's difficult to reform/update your parents if you
    are a child or childish. Maturity is the key when you don't have a good
    neighbor handy or footstep to follow. Maturity and neighbor meant the intellectuals and their associates. You need both updated parents and matured dudes all in one society that would work best for you. Btw the debate is fun and the host is cute:)
  • Mar 17 2012: Oklahoma has the only wind-powered electrical grid. OG&E furnishes the majority of power from their wind-generated facilities. If one state can do it, can't another? If people had paid attention to the hippies and started conserving energy we may not be in such a dire strait. I think it may be a little, too late. There must be some way to save things now.
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    Mar 16 2012: No offense Clark, but are you serious vis a vis invitro meat? We are in the middle of the 6th Great Extinction... It is going to take quite a bit more than veggie meat to reverse the damage already suffered.
    • Mar 16 2012: invitro meat isn't vegetable meat, it's just the same animal meat for people without doing any harm to any animals. If this stuff gets better, imagine how much better the animals will get when we no longer need to hunt them?

      I for one think this is a great idea in the step to the right direction, if I'm wrong please let me know I'd be happy to hear
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        Mar 22 2012: My initial reaction to "shmeat", as it's sometimes known, was disgust, not so much from a revulsion to the product itself, although partly that, but the decadence of humanity that, rather than overcoming our meat addiction we would fiddle about with stem cells from dead animals, feed them on "artificial blood" and create a market for yet more processed, unnatural food. Then I remembered how disgusting and inefficient actual meat production is - having not eaten it (except fish) for decades myself -suddenly Frankenmeat didn't seem quite so horrific.

        I've just read (mostly just the summary parts of) a recent report on the energy and greenhouse gas emissions of IVM - - and it does have great potential, at least in freeing up land that could be used for other crops (veggies, yay!), biofuel production or reforested, as the Oxford University estimate that cultured meat requires about 2% of the land.

        Still, I suffer from a deep sense of nostalgia for the natural environment and natural processes, the old world that is fast disappearing, when humans lived in close contact with the soil, when our culture was the traditional culture of our parents and not too different from our more distant ancestors. I won't be trying shmeat. I'm with Chris Cosentino: "They want Star Trek food. They want to push a button and have it drop out, shovel and fill their tanks, and move on. There’s no enjoyment process of this. It’s not going to taste like real food. Why not just put everything in a blender and put it into your arm with an IV?”

        And that last point is where the technologists will lead us. That whole alimentary canal thing is quite unnecessary. We could just inject the artificial blood instead of feeding it to the stem cells.
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    Mar 16 2012: that "everyone" seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. for example matt ridley, TED speaker, believes that at the moment, resource crisis is not immediate danger at all, and he forecasts a smooth progress for the upcoming decades (with the usual bumps of course, but nothing too serious).

    check out his website at:
    • Mar 16 2012: Krisztian
      I think Ridley definitely agrees with what I say above re us facing "some serious ecological and resource limits". But he thinks as you say we'll sail through with a few bumps. Time will tell, but I think the scientific evidence suggest those bumps will be quite severe!
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        Mar 16 2012: let us just take energy and CO2 for a second. as of now, at least half a dozen alternative nuclear reactor designs are out there, some of them are in experimental phase, others are fully tested and ready. the only reason we are not implementing them is that we decide not to. we decide not to for two reasons, one is money, other is politics. should the public opinion change, we can overcome both. so the whole "energy" crisis does not seem to be a crisis as much as general ignorance and lack of care.

        same can be said about food. we simply don't know any reason why would be not able to produce like 5 times more food than now. granted, the price might be a little higher, but considering the ginormous amount of accumulated capital and wealth, it seems to be a non-problem economically. politics, on the other hand, is a different issue. again, public opinion is the culprit and the key at the same time.

        the only thing i can think of as an upcoming horrifying crisis scenario is the global warming or any such climate change. the extents and probability of it is debated. the timeline of it is even more.
  • Mar 16 2012: Okay well as far as I understand, Paul Gilding says that technological change will happen after a huge crisis that demands it. Then Peter Diamandis says that technology today is growing faster and faster and a huge crisis isn't necessary because the rate that technology is growing is faster than it ever has been.

    Well either way, we're not totally dead right?

    I would like to agree with Diamandis point of view though, I find it easier and a lot more motivating to get things done when you know that it can be done. Peter Gilding is also right in that things will just go sour so bad that we just eventually have to do something. The reason I like Peter Diamandis though is because his idea inspires more action, if we know that it can be done and fixed we will do it.
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    Mar 16 2012: I was just watching the video of the debate and was a bit taken aback by Chris Anderson's comment about flying over "empty" space. I am hoping that was just for theater. Empty of humans doesn't, of course, mean empty by any stretch. Likewise, that stat about moving and purifying water for human consumption—we are not the only ones at the water hole...

    After the talks, I wrote a post asking, "abundance for whom?"

    "...One can be deeply troubled by world events and inspired by the promise of technology at the same time. What one cannot do is brush away the reality of abundant loss: of species, habitats, biodiversity, clean air and non-record breaking weather..."

    That last point about non record-breaking weather is key. A changing climate is a less predictable and thus far more dangerous one. The other day, reinsurance giant Swiss Re reported that pay-outs for natural disaster damage have risen nearly 7-fold in the last decade from $3 blllion annualy to $20 billion, just in the US.

    When Pakistan flooded a couple of years ago, the cost of cotton—Pakistan is the 4th largest producer— went up globally due to ever-increasing demand. Every major commodity is at point where local disasters can have global repurcussions.. Any little wiggle reverberates around the world, and these days the wiggles aren't so little.

    Humanity's "Grand Challenges" are a subset of the Earth's Grand Challenges. You cannot effectively address the former without acknowledging the latter. . So yes, technology—good.! But with a broader, deeper, more wholistic perspective.
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    Mar 12 2012: Hi Paul,
    While I feel hopeful in the human capacity to evolve new ways of living, like you I don’t have faith that we will achieve this before a global human crisis. Why? Because humanity seems to need crisis. Those with the power and influence to act have already failed. Scientists such as Lovelock and economists like Schumacher have been screaming about the over exploitation of non-renewable natural resources and over population for the past 40 years and yet after each natural disaster or economic crisis humanity roles on in the same destructive direction. It seems to me that Plato was correct, we are living our lives watching shadows. We are habituated in our lives. We need to experience disaster before we wake up.

    In today’s world it seems crazy to want to have children at all, but downright cruel to have more than two. In 2011 planet Earth reached 7 billion people - itching and scratching away on its back. I was born at the end of 1967. At that time the global population was estimated to be 3.5 billion so in 44 years humankind doubled.
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    Mar 11 2012: It's a hard thing to pin-down because the whole thing is in transition and rates of change are very difficult to quantify.

    On the face of it, there is no possible way that technology will rescue us in time - whilever it is focussed on satisfying personal advantage - one person above another - and just sheer personal convenience and comfort (almost the same as advantage) - whilever that stands the resources/funding required for creation of non-personal-advantage consumer goods will never be enough. Technology COULD but no one is willing to let their personal advantage go enough for it to do so.

    I pin the blame for that directly on the debt-driven consumer mentality enforced by the dynamics of a currency based on potential agency instead of potential energy.

    But it's not so simple - it looks like economies are headed for a massive crash. This might be the opportunity for potential energy based economy to take root. At that point, technology will STILL not help us, because all the money-driven companies doing the development will have no funds.

    But after a while, the need for new technologies will turn to employ what abundance we have left to save whoever is still alive. And that will drive new development that is community based. But there will be fewer technologists - they will all be out with the rest of us mining land-fills and digging up roads to plant crops.

    Maybe in a couple hundred years we will see current technological breakthroughs being employed in the new energy economy - that will depend on how well the disc-drives survive (they have a relatively short lifespan - and optical only last about 5 years. Maybe some books will escape beign used for fuel.

    I note that some seed banks have been secured - has anything similar been done with books and scientific papers?
  • Mar 9 2012: Hello Paul, if you think about it technology growth gives us more than new gadgets, new materials and manufacturing processes.

    Technology (esp. the Internet) is increasingly enabling us to connect, learn and do something about problems around us. It is a huge opportunity for us to make things right.

    People from all over the world and from different walks of life are starting to work together on solutions. They spread their positive messages over social networks. They learn from friends and speeches like on TED.

    While politicians might not care as much in the past, things are changing fast and more people are becoming actively involved in making politicians notice what really matters for our future.

    • Mar 10 2012: How is this anything but an implied acknowledgement that energy demands will increase because of existing trends and a virtual promise that the known limitations will be overcome by future discoveries and inventions, ad infinitum? How is it not a political pitch rather than a reasonable practical expectation?
      • Mar 10 2012: Will energy demand increase? From my experience we are manufacturing ever more efficient appliances, cars, gadgets and other things that consume power. Just car efficiency has improved significantly over the years and electric car continues to support that trend.

        I think we also need to realize how much energy we save with the Internet. People do not need to travel just to fill up a government form, I don't need to go to the bank any more, I hardly receive any bills by mail and I could list thousands more examples.

        • Mar 11 2012: The way efficiency is portrayed some of the public could be forgiven by being misled by that line of argument.

          Yes, demand is very likely to increase. The theoretical efficiency of any device is 100% and it can never be reached in practice. Important though energy efficiency is, it has very limited potential to mitigate demand.

          Electric motors are already very efficient machines. Electric cars may be relatively energy efficient to drive but it is my understanding that they are not yet energy efficient to build and are still less energy efficient and less environmentally friendly in their overall life cycle than typical internal combustion engine cars, because of the battery component. There is potential for that to change but the potential minimum amount of energy required to get from point A to point B is not likely to change soon.

          The amount of power used by computing is massive. It is likely that that the number of small gadgets we use will continue to increase and they, like computing, will have a massive energy demand.

          Of course, there are other things to do with efficiency like turning things off when not needed. However, the improvements in energy efficiency, while important, are very limited. Even if done they are very unlikely to do anything like keep up with demand. After the efficiency measures have been implemented the demand rate will increase.

          The ever increasing number of gadgets and people using them is likely to easily outstrip any benefits of efficiency.

          Also, people are not going to lock themselves in their houses because of the internet (at least I hope not).
      • Mar 11 2012: "The theoretical efficiency of any device is 100% and it can never be reached in practice."

        I think we can look at it at a different perspective:

        In the last decade electronic devices started to converge so there is more than 100% efficiency from that perspective if one can replace camera, music recorded and video recorder with just one device.

        Also note that:

        - sales of CDs continues to decline and soon almost no one will be buying CDs. Instead people use their phones or computers to buy and play music. This is big win for energy and material preservation

        - same with DVDs and Blue-Ray discs. Increasing number of people watch streaming videos like Netflix, Hulu and do not need to own physical media

        - this is also true for games. Games are bought online and people just download them.

        - films for photo cameras is rare nowadays as everyone has digital devices

        Again, all examples above shows how progress in technology helps to minimize energy and material consumption as we avoid manufacturing and distribution of media.

        The same is true for paper. Electronic bills are replacing paper bills, many companies do not give salary paper stubs any more. Print of newspapers and books is in constant decrease and for the first time people buy more electronic books than paper books. Again huge win for the environment and energy consumption.

        Chart showing how fuel efficiency has improved of the last few decades:

        Yes batteries are problems, however new advanced in this area will make this less of an issue.

        Apparently we have more than enough energy coming from sun. All around the world companies are building huge arrays of solar panels with Gigawatts of generated electricity. Efficiency and price of those panels keeps improving.

        The only issue I see with some precious metals being depleted in coming decades. Hopefully space exploration and/or proper recycling allow us to solve this problem as well.

        • Mar 12 2012: Zdenek Smith,

          There is no such thing as more than 100% efficiency. I know what you are trying to say but you say it in a misleading way.

          Whist the number of devices required to play different media has reduced the number of such devices has grown. The further proliferation of many other kinds of devices requiring energy is an inherent quality of Diamandis's talk.

          The internet makes it easy to download the same thing repeatedly on demand (so you do not have to store it). I do not know the overall cost in terms of energy, do you? Do not assume it is negligible.

          The chart of fuel efficiency, important though it is, is puny in terms of an "abundant future". It has very real relevance to my point about not being able to exceed 100% efficiency. It has not kept pace with the total demand for fuel and has no hope of doing so in the "abundant future" if such are to remain in use "in abundance".

          Besides the energy coming from the sun not being just for our use and the ability to use it efficiently is not yet proven.

          Heating is one of the major uses of energy. While insulation helps continued 'efficiencies' along those line may well require significant constraints on lifestyle (i.e. require high density living in large buildings with compromises on 'fresh air').

          It really is just not good enough to take these things and an abundant future for granted with fuzzy ideas of trends and efficiencies. You need to put realistic figures to costs, practicalities and time lines. All the while promises of equity just remain promises.
      • Mar 12 2012: I think I provided enough concrete examples of how technology drives down energy demand and create efficiency.

        We will have to agree to disagree.

        • Mar 12 2012: We do have to agree to disagree. I particularly disagree that your examples are in any way concrete in demonstrating that you have any idea of any practical quantitative appreciation, relative and total, to support such reliance on the future.
    • Mar 10 2012: Zdenek
      I certainly agree that technology will and alreadyis doing great things to get people more connected and in many cases, more active and more engaged in their society. I'm not at all arguing that technology is a bad thing, in fact I think it's a great opportunity. However, we often confuse those benefits with physically addressing the underlying resource constraint issues. Nevertheless, as the crisis hits, this new connectedness will be a terrific benefit to finding and spreading solutions.
      • Mar 10 2012: I do agree that the crisis will be a great motivation for everyone to search for and implement concrete solutions.

        We will have to see whether the crisis will really happen or whether we will manage to avoid it because of growing "abundance" of information, connectivity and good will =)

  • Mar 7 2012: Hi Paul, it is also important to note that the ones who most likely to weather out any crisis will be the wealthiest of society.
  • Mar 7 2012: Paul, glad to hear you know those works! I love Chris' work, however, if you read his followers posts' for a while you see the trend I see. There are those for whom the transition to a more technologically based society will not mean advancement. They see themselves as those likely to be left behind. So, they are planning on surviving through relearning old skills. If the change sweeping the world does not go the way they expect it to, they may be inclined to bring it about. Let me clarify that I am among the ones relearning ancient skills in order to reconnect with the land and thrive on it. However, I fear those who are so wedded to their survivalist skills that they may make the social downfall come about in order to be relevant and successful.
  • Mar 6 2012: Economic crisis, the size of 1929 depression, only end up in one way, and that is where we are heading, unfortunately.

    Regarding clean energy, we could have advanced a lot more in nuclear power if the demonisation of this source of energy hadn't taken place. And the attacks on this came from pure ignorance of the technology and the science behind. But water under the bridge, let's just learn the lesson. Still today ~50% of the energy output comes from burning coal, cannot see any protests against this, and this is the real enemy we should have been fighting against.

    Exponential population growth is an overused term by now, and only in the most extreme of projections this is will happen, nothing wrong against highlighting this issue, and it should be brought. And if we look at the way China behaved with the one child policy, it did work.
  • Mar 6 2012: Not only is clean energy unlikely to scale up in time but ‘clean’ energy will itself have adverse environmental impacts simply because of the scale of the footprint required by the hardware. Nevertheless it is the right way to go being the likely least damaging option.

    Relying on new technology to forever come to the rescue is idiotic and an example of ‘positive’ thinking in the extreme. If any natural growth went on forever there would be no such thing as a ‘balance of nature’. The serious environmental damage in the meantime is being implicitly and negligently dismissed.

    A possible saviour beyond the immediate short term is nuclear energy. That is not necessarily a bad thing except that it is likely to happen by default rather than good reason derived from genuine debate (i.e. the apparent easy way out being too much to resist).

    In the meantime, those advances in technology that are helpful tend to be excuses for pushing the problem further away and continuing full bore exploitation. Forever relying on future technology to fix current problems is a perpetual default (easy/comforting) crisis management attitude likely to exacerbate the eventual consequences without delaying them significantly.
  • Mar 5 2012: Paul, you may be wrong about that. When in doubt, assume positive.
    • Mar 6 2012: Rhona, while that is appealing, (and I sure hope I'm wrong!) the danger is that assuming positive means we don't take the preparatory actions needed for what I think is coming. So I don't advocate there will be a crisis and then we just worry about that, but that we take action to make the crisis more manageable!
      • Mar 6 2012: In my experience I have observed people planning for different types of crises have ones that they did not plan for occur. We have choices always about what to focus on. There is so very much going on all the time that is positive, it seems to me that your overall life experience will be much happier, if you spend your time, energy, attention and resources investing in the positive portions of reality. Some people have free-floating anxiety and look around of things outside of themselves to attribute it to, to legitimize it, but it seems to me that most or all fear starts from within. For example, I think paranoid people fear that others will do the negative things that they do or would do, if given the opportunity.