To simplify where we are as a civilization and where we’re going with respect to energy consumption, economics, and environmentalism, it’s useful to postulate three broad “plans”:
Plan A: We continue on our current course. We ignore the fact that our population will soon be growing from 7 billion to 10 billion, and that an ever-growing percentage of that population is joining the ranks of consumers. Our leaders know that we’re in the process of driving off a cliff; they may lack basic decency, but they’re long on intelligence, and they exploit voter ignorance of this core truth as long as they possibly can. During this time, they and the extraordinarily powerful forces that elected them desperately look for new ways of extracting fossil fuels, while obfuscating the effects on global climate, ocean acidification, social chaos, war, respiratory disease, etc. The elite remain in power until the planet is in ruins.
Plan B: We aggressively adopt what Jeremy Rifkin and others refer to as “The Third Industrial Revolution,” which contemplates continued economic growth by focusing on renewable energy and the many other components of sustainability. As Rifkin conceives this, there are “five pillars” at play here: shifting to renewable energy, developing buildings as power plants, deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies, using Internet technology, and transitioning the transport fleet to electric, plug-in and fuel cell vehicles. Not to give anything away, but this concept is embraced by several of the people I interviewed in my second book, due out shortly: “Is Renewable Really Doable?”
Plan C: Although we’d probably love to believe in Plan B, we just don’t see it as a pragmatic reality. We regard the phrase “sustainable growth” as an oxymoron, and find a way to cut back on energy consumption and deal with a period of negative growth, because this is our only choice. By the way, this too is addressed in my next book, and it’s the core belief of Bill McKibben and many other great minds.
My job is to pull this apart, to unravel the issues that underlie each of the three major plans. And now may be a good time to thank you, reader, for being here, and offering your insightful comments as we work this through together.