The next thirty years will present more changes to the global, political and social economies than have occurred since the era of the Explorers. Why? Here are the big three:
- Peaking Resources:
- natural gas
- fresh water
We are testing the limits of supply, extraction, and consumption. In some of the above, there might be additional resources available but not without untold energy and financial expenditures as well as cultural/environmental destruction. Richard Heinberg outlines this state of planetary affairs in his new book, Peak Everything.
- Global climate change adaptation. Now that climate change is a given, watch the economics of climate change adaptation come into play not only in energy markets, but in myriad unexpected ways. Global seaport consultant Scott Borgerson in the upcoming March/ April 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs describes how the rapidly melting arctic ice creates open waters, which absorbs even more sun than ice, known as the "ice albedo feedback loop." The result? Consistently navigable waters for the first time in human history. Expect new shipping arctic megaports, with a mad scramble for newly available oil and minerals.
- $100 a barrel oil. Our planet's main source of mobile energy is at its historic price high. Any movement beyond current pricing is bound to multiply impacts in food markets, supply chains and public mobility. Whatever the causes, no conventional expert has forecast oil price dynamics accurately since 2005, when crude's price began its stratospheric ascent. From now on, any major or perceived major disruption in supply will continue to cause even more dramatic price spikes, impacting global trade, government and civic life.
So What's the Game Plan for the U.S.?
Mind the New Superpowers--To stay in the game with the new line up of superpowers (thanks to Parag Khanna), the United States must continue to lead with big ideas, innovation, implementation and hard work. The European Union is constantly adding new members and is upping its political power with the strength of the Euro and its development of renewable energy and smart planning. China is expanding its reach for energy and political influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond, while bolstering its technology education, training and implementation.
The Next New Deal--Public-Private Partnerships: The early mandates being set by government to combat climate change are in motion, including California's AB 32. In response to baking AB 32 into economic development, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a Performance-Based Infrastructure plan that promises to set the stage for a new way of both governing and doing business, at least in this country.
Executive Leadership That Gets It. All three major U.S. presidential candidates and most heavy-hitting world leaders are strong backers of global climate change related legislation and treaties, and all three running in the US horserace for CEO have strong alternative energy platforms.
- John McCain was the first major Republican advocating climate change measures nationally (even before Arnold), back in 2003.
- Barack Obama has written of taking on the "tyranny of oil" and has announced a program to pour $150 billion into renewables and green collar jobs.
- Hillary Clinton has plans for a $50 billion Strategic Energy Initiative
De-linking Carbon Production and Economic Growth: The Scandanavian Model. Scandinavia has some of the world's highest quality of life, and is rapidly making the switch to become fossil-fuel free. Economic growth is strong in Norway, Sweden and Denmark: Sweden has reduced greenhouse emissions about 40 percent since the 1970s, with GDP growth up 105 percent. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden and Norway are about one-third of those in the United States.
The best systemic solutions will require rapid innovation amongst business and government leaders, as well as public awareness and behavioral change. For this to happen, we'll need data, communications and shared knowledge fueling media, entertainment and policy.
Cisco, Microsoft and others are beginning to put the necessary relationships in place to meld information technology, knowledge and sustainability innovation around everything from carbon accounting to connected transportation and building energy systems. The European Union already has an association for sustainable development communication and information, AICDD. Our government's plan for this new paradigm, along with clean tech and land use/ development incentives, will move us far beyond the advances being made locally in such cities as Portland, San Francisco, Austin and Chicago.
The bottom line: the green revolution is about greenbacks now more than ever. Whether it's the rapidly growing market in organic and local food, green building and renewable energy technologies, green information technology, or larger scale planning and development efforts such as the new LEED-Neighborhood Development program, the nation needs to scale up capacities to create a less carbon-intensive economy that is second to none.
Photo courtesy Flickr user lexrex