Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kommentary on the Economy


As the Aughts recede into history, it’s clear that we’re moving into an entirely new energy era, and that the seeds of the new world economy are sprouting.

The world now realizes that energy monocultures are foolish. Just as pre-industrial economies denuded their landscapes of trees into order to heat their homes, we’ve spent the last 100+ years sucking, scraping, and distilling every last drop of petroleum from the earth below our feet. We all realize now that continuing to rely so heavily on this one fuel source, so unevenly distributed across nation-states, creates the conditions for a possible nuclear World War III some day. Just as horrid as that conflagration would be a Malthusian nightmare of several billion people starving, freezing, and stranded without the juice to power their now-obsolete “high technology.”

Interestingly, in spite of all the shocks of the past 10 years, it’s now clear how the world economy is retooling itself to reduce this overdependence on one fuel source. No one alternative has emerged to petroleum, but, rather, a smorgasbord of many sources—wind, solar, biomass, natural gas, geothermal, etc—plus new technologies, patterns, and ways of living to mix-and-match them. Market forces continue to push any and all of them more deeply into all areas of our lives, and, of course, to encourage more efficient consumption and even improved petroleum exploration.

A supranational market economy has proven to be humanity’s best shock absorber for adapting to the new energy order. Perhaps in the coming decade some startling new set of energy technologies—perhaps radically improved electrical transmission, storage, and/or generation—will come to the fore that either a) makes for a more sustainable “grid,” b) allows us all to sustain our economy completely off the “grid,” and/or c) allows us to take either approach.

What’s truly cool is that we now realize that we’re not necessarily fated to a 100-percent on-grid economy.