Tom Friedman’s 3/3/12 New York Times column is about energy policy. He worries that “the poisonous debate” about climate change may preclude us from having any energy policy at all, especially one using resources more efficiently. Dismissing climate science as a hoax is reckless, he says, and puts at risk not only your beach house but also your kids’ future. Earth will have two billion more people by 2050 than it does today, and they will all want to live and drive like us, which means huge traffic jams and pervasive pollution clouds unless we learn to wring more mobility, lighting, heating, and cooling from less energy, with less waste. We need an energy policy with rising efficiency standards for windows, appliances, packaging, housing, offices, and traffic. The new standards will drive innovation in what will be the next great global industry: energy and resource efficiency.
Friedman cites two recent books, “The Sixth Wave: How to Succeed in a Resource Limited World,” by James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady. (The five previous waves of innovation since the industrial revolution, are water power, steam, electrification, mass production, and information and communications technologies.) Resource efficiency, the authors argue, will be the sixth wave. One implication is that we will have to unlink consumption from economic growth. No longer will we grow more as we consume more. The past tension between green and gold cannot last, creating myriad market opportunities for innovation. The Earth must effect a transition from green versus gold to green equals gold. We will have find ways to travel, heat, cool and light using many fewer resources while generating much less pollution. For example, an incandescent light bulb powered by a coal-fired power plant is about 1% efficient, while an L.E.D. bulb powered by a natural gas turbine is 20% efficient.
The second book Friedman cites is “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” by Amory Lovins, who is chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which is showing how private enterprise, motivated by profit and enabled by smart policies, can wean America off both oil and coal by 2050 and save $5 trillion through innovation emphasizing design and strategy. Lovins says, “You don’t have to believe in climate change to solve it. Everything we do to raise energy efficiency will make money, improve security and health, and stabilize climate.”
Learning how to be more energy efficient with the resources we have available is going to be one of the biggest steps toward sustainability. The other big one is going to be enforcement, because it’s typically hard to get people to change or be conscious of the future consequences.