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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 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 =)


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