Generating and storing

“If we find ways of generating and storing power from renewable resources we will make the problem with oil and coal and other carbon [-based fuels] disappear.”
– Sir David Attenborough

President Obama interviewed David Attenborough recently and this line uttered by the great naturalist sums up so succinctly I think the big picture of renewable energy and it’s great messaging.

So often talk around renewables is just around generation. Talking about generation and storage hand in hand though is far more powerful and needs to be done much more because people understand energy storage in a very real, day-to-day sense.

Such a clear and powerful – and indeed illuminating – statement.

You can watch the interview here – it’s pretty great. The quote is around 19:26.

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Our House

What about the little picture?

While painting the big picture of a sustainable future will speak to some, for many the tangible and day to day will open their eyes.

What will a sustainable (perhaps no waste, zero net emissions) home look like? Will there be an electric car parked in the garage, plugged into a central battery and solar panels system? Will food be composted at home or by the council?

What will work look like? Will office blocks generate all their own power (perhaps with transparent solar pv windows), recycle water and other resources and feature green walls, inside and out, and green roofs? Will the office be a coworking space close enough to the home to cycle or walk to and encouraging collaboration, flexibility and creativity? Or perhaps it will be from a home work station?

And educational institutions… Will schools have vegetable gardens and a small farm to teach connection with food production and the land? Will sustainability and social/intergenerational responsibility thinking be incorporated into the teachings of university courses from commerce to engineering?

What will our cities and towns look like? Will the roads be solar panels filled with LED road markings or lined with electric charging stations? Will roads and suburbs be redesigned to pedestrians, cyclists and cheap, efficient public transport reducing transit time and encouraging community and healthy lives?

What will communities be? Will people create their own household items with 3D printers using recycled, bio-degradable materials reducing transport miles? Will community reemerge as people spend more time in their local area forging relationships with their local community buying locally or regionally grown food or 3D printed goods?

It’s quite fun to think about and so it should be. Innovation is exciting and should make our lives easier and more sustainable. I believe that the more we can help people imagine their own daily, lived sustainable future the more support there will be for creating it and the more they will be participants in creating it.

(Photo at top: Beddington Zero Energy Development, Wallington, UK)

Coordination

I mentioned briefly two posts prior that the world will increasingly involve international coordination in order to tackle a number of problems like climate change, resource depletion and poverty become more sustainable.

I want to colour in this image a little more before sketching the small picture stuff in my next post.

Global governance and coordination already takes place through the UN and countless international bodies and treaties. But there’s still a lot of what you might term anarchy and unanswered questions in the international system.

Countries and multinational corporations still have a lot of power and freedom to pursue their own interests even at the cost of others. (Troubles with exploitation and management of global commons are a great issue to read more on here).

How do we manage depleting fish stocks in international waters? How can we feed a global population heading towards more than 8 billion by 2025?

Many of the environmental problems we face today have arisen because of international anarchy, a winner-takes-all world and the lack of measurement, planning and coordination.

Managing the world’s limited resources to provide sustainable prosperity for all will require scientific measurement and modelling to coordinate our use of resources. The will still be freedoms; there will still be global markets but they will be guided by data-driven policy and coordination.

With many aspects, in the West at least, policy informed by science and research has had to play catch up with the free market (see cigarettes and CFCs). This is happening now on a global scale with science slowly informing global climate change action and national policy and it will have to happen with a lot of other issues.

This future sustainable world will be one not where science continues to play catch up with the market and a chaotic world of nations but one where science is used to monitor global systems (be they economic, social or environmental) to inform sustainable policy in order to avoid problems like climate change arising.

Essentially, global coordination based on scientific measurement and modelling will help us manage our resources and systems more efficiently and sustainably providing enough for all.

[This touches a little on resilience thinking which I’ve come across recently but I’ll leave that to a later post.]

PS. Indeed, and I’m far, far from being an expert in this area, the same principles would apply to global macro-economics and markets in the sense that data-driven economic regulation and policy would promote equality, prosperity and sustainability over profit and growth.

(Photo at top: Fetching water at a borehole in the village of Bilinyang, near Juba, South Sudan. Photo: World Bank/Arne Hoel)

End of nothing

One of the things that really stuck with me from my politics studies at uni a few years ago was Frances Fukuyama’s End of History theory. Briefly, Fukuyama argued that with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the West’s victory in the Cold War world history had effectively come to an end as liberal democracy had triumphed and from here on in the rest of the world would fall in line.

Whether it was the authoritative finality of the theory or just the way it was taught us, I came away with the impression that all the work building the world had been done before my generation (Y) and that we could just sit back and happily consume.

But it’s clear that we and future generations have an equally impressive task at hand to contribute to building a better world – that is of course making societies sustainable.

We need to change policies, economies, behaviours, values, technologies and businesses for the better. When I realised this it was a real source of inspiration, inspiration I’d lost after Fukuyama.

We’re at the start of creating something new (which I’ll look at more in the next post) and it’s exciting to be a part of that. The transition to a sustainable world may not be as dramatic as that to a liberal democratic one given the lack of a global conflict accompanying it but it will be no less momentous.

I think to some degree a lot of my generation understands this but it hasn’t been clearly articulated enough. We will build the future; we just need people to help us recognise that.

(Photo at top: One Young World Conference 2014. ESSEC Business School)

It’s all connected

So, we need to inspire people to be part of building a sustainable world by painting an inspiring and positive picture of what such a world would look like for them. Let’s start with the big picture…

Part of this plan is expressing the fact that tackling the world’s environmental issues will help us tackle its other pressing issues. Many of the major problems the world faces, whether environmental or otherwise, are:

  1. connected, and
  2. will be solved faster and more effectively with coordination.

From poverty, to disease, inequality, discrimination, violence, conflict, mental health, resource depletion, pollution and climate change, all are connected in that one can beget another or make another worse, or that improving one can improve another.

Tackle climate change and you alleviate future conflicts and violence over resource scarcity. Reduce gender discrimination by providing education and financial independence for girls and women and you reduce poverty and inequality. You get the idea; pretty nifty.

What makes this even better is that the more and the sooner the world coordinates its management of resources, creation of wealth and response to the above problems the sooner and better we will be able to alleviate them and build a world of peace, prosperity and sustainability!

So, our awesome sustainable future (whose picture we’re trying to paint) is not just going to involve solving our environmental problems but many of our others too.

(Photo at top via thenextweb.com)