The Future is Not the Past

(#247) — Buckminster Fuller reminds us that to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.  That is sound advice in a time when the majority agree there is need for fundamental change in the United States.  We feel less secure, more worried about getting sick and half or more of us struggle to just pay the next bill and manage only by expensive borrowing. The familiar, business as usual methods are no longer cheaper, more safe, or even reliable.

This is especially true in the energy sector which is the blood and oxygen of human society and has already gone through radical transformation. For instance, as recently as 2000, 75% of all information was stored as paper documents, books, pictures, tapes, etc.  Today 94% of all information is stored in digital electronic form.

In 2000 we began to hear about China’s growing interest in renewable energy. In 2012, China leads the world in every major technology and is the second largest economy in the world.  A country that leads in the radically more efficient forms of energy will prosper by selling its technology and services around the world.

The United States continues to produce a majority of its energy from coal although it invented almost all of the renewable energy technologies.  It has coal deposits that can provide sufficient energy for the US for 100-400 years.  But, each hour, a typical coal plant withdraws 24 million gallons of water for cooling making it obsolete in many states experiencing water scarcity. Coal causes 13,000  pre-mature deaths per year and $100 billion in health costs per year.  In 2010, 50% of US coal plants had no scrubbers for removing sulphur dioxide, 57% no nitrogen oxide reducers, 96% no modern controls for particulate and mercury emissions. Everyone has the right to live in an environment where such pestilence and death is eliminated if there is a choice.

Our national electric grid is a marvel of engineering and load management. But it is old, hugely wasteful and subject to costly blackouts and shutdowns. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate energy outages cost businesses $160 billion a year.  They model scenarios based upon current radical weather volatility in which blackouts could occur which cost $1-3 Trillion annually.  They all require energy to restart.  Nuclear power plants often take two weeks to return to full production once they gain access to sufficient energy to begin the start-up process.  Coal and nuclear power plants face insurmountable financing and insurance obstacles.

Renewable energy technology offers an alternative. Its energy is free, the energy price is the same for decades, capital costs are falling and we have a lot of it. Onshore wind on available land can supply 9.5 times as much electricity as the US used in 2010.  The 5 main renewable technologies can currently produce 20 times total 2010 use.

Many parents believe that their children are the first generation that will have less opportunity than themselves.  Radical energy efficiency and renewable energy can reduce costs of living, increase quality of health and life as well as generate a lot of local jobs.  We can do it right now.

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