SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

World: What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate About Sustainability

A number of years ago I wrote a blog on the link between science, tinkering and innovation and discussed the need for goal setting in innovation.

More recently I have been frustrated by the general apathy of the general population in creating a zero net carbon world, and this has been the subject of discussion in various governmental and commercial sustainability projects we have been involved in.

In some of those discussions we have asked for planning documents that lay out the path to achieving zero net carbon. We received reports that showed timelines and various plans for sustainable technology implementation, and the issuing agency had accepted them as project goals.

These goals seemed technically reasonable, but left me wondering why these goals are often not being met. I think I have figured it out. What are goals to policy makers or engineers are not necessarily goals for the world at large. The world at large does not care if their energy is sustainable or not, as long as they get their energy. Global warming and rising sea levels are a concern, but they do not intrude like taxes, family illness or gas prices and therefore are not primary concerns. Moreover, they are depressing issues that seem overwhelming, so ignoring them is a proper defense mechanism.

Meanwhile, because I am tree hugging geek nerd who has made some personal headway in sustainability and who can see the solutions are manageable and even fun, I am frustrated about the glacial adoption of sustainable energy approaches. After a bit of pondering, I realized it relates to improper messaging.

The real goal of sustainable energy is hidden in dull, seemingly expensive, inconvenient, intrusive and scaremongering noise.

So let’s set the real goal that we can all have fun with without the distracting noise.

The goal is to get everybody to enjoy the benefits of sustainable energy, and the faster we implement sustainable energy, the faster we can all share in the fun.

And this is why sustainable energy is such a fun benefit:

1. Live Better. Nobody’s lifestyle will suffer from sustainable energy, and it will very much raise the lifestyle of the vast majority of Americans and the world population.
2. Help Everyone. Sustainable energy benefits will percolate through the entire community, ranging from reduced environmental noise and pollution to increased reliability and redundancy in energy delivery. Best of all it will allow those who presently have limited access to energy to obtain it quicker and at lower cost.
3. Get Better Stuff. Equipment that runs on sustainable energy is inherently cheaper, more reliable and cleaner. (This is already the case with lawnmowers, and will soon be the case with cars, and will eventually apply to every piece of powered equipment that we use). A solar home is actually cheaper to purchase than a conventional home and would be a nicer, more secure and reliable home to live in.
4. Make Things Better Every Day. There will be adjustments, and sometimes those adjustments will provide temporary inconveniences, but they will be transient, and always be net positive. Unlike carbon energy which will always be net negative.
5. Advance World Peace. Instead of worrying about who we will invade to get more energy when we are running out of our own reserves, sustainable energy, in all different forms, can be produced everywhere, and will not run out. This will have a massive positive effect on world peace.
6. Save Money. Sustainable energy is cheaper than carbon energy. More personal cheap energy, more personal wealth.
7. Create Clean and Satisfying Jobs. Sustainable energy will provide as many jobs, if not more, as carbon energy. And they will be much cleaner, better paying and healthier jobs, since there will be more wealth from more cheap energy.
8. Become a True Rugged Individual. If we want to, sustainable energy will allow us all to become more independent. If I want to independently live in the woods or on the water with a decent lifestyle, I can actually do that today thanks to sustainable energy. Sustainable energy creates rugged individualism. Unless you want to live a preindustrial life style, you cannot be a rugged individualist in a carbon economy. It is impossible to live independent of a coal mine or an oil refinery in the carbon economy. However, with sustainable energy, a pile of solar panels, a wind  power and battery storage can make you completely independent from energy profiteers and extortionist.

The last point is particularly interesting. A big gas burning car and a house with a huge oil tank or gas line does not make you tough or independent, it makes you a puppet of big oil and big government; a patsy. Supporting and pushing sustainability is the best path to personal independence. Undoubtedly sustainable energy is more efficiently generated by large conglomerates, just like oil. The only difference is that anyone can generate their own sustainable energy (at higher cost) if they so choose, but one cannot personally generate gas or diesel oil without access to a personal unlimited oil well and oil refinery unless you are super rich, and then you might as well build big ones and fleece the rest of the world.

See: It is all positive for everyone; except for oil oligarchs, and who cares about them.

And guess what? I did not even have to mention rising sea-levels or global warming remediation as a motivating goal. It is amazing, we can have fun, and fix that annoyance at the same time at no additional cost.

So let’s all hurry up.

But then there are those who worry about the cost of it all. There is actually no reason to worry about the cost at all, and that is due to one simple physical reality:

Since sustainable energy costs much less than carbon energy, the cost of a shift to sustainable energy will pay for itself.

Don’t for a second believe anyone who says otherwise, they are simply undercutting you with their remaining oil reserves in the hope of squeezing the last penny out of you before you will be forced to switch to sustainable energy anyway when the well runs dry or the rising sea level gets up to your lips.

At its core the proof is simple:

Personal solar and wind, and storage to achieve carbon equivalency (which at a personal level is inherently less inefficient than large scale sustainable energy) is already at par with carbon energy. Large scale sustainable energy, by simple math, will beat carbon, therefore ignore anyone who says sustainable energy is more expensive than carbon energy. And that is just the cost of generation.

Since sustainable energy has much lower carry-on cost (no sea level rise expenses, less pollution remediation, fewer health consequences, much lower delivery costs, inherently higher efficiencies) there is a double (or even bigger) whammy reduction in energy cost. And never forget that a person’s wealth is directly related to access to energy. More access to cheap energy, more wealth.

As such, since there are so many positive benefits, and it is essentially free, we should tell our leaders only one thing:

What is taking so long? Hurry up, I want a better life now!

And what should the leaders do? Stop mumbling about numbers and budgets and schedules, just tell us all what we are going to get (see items 1 through 8 above) and help us get it.