A New Year = New Energy Solutions

January 10, 2012

By Matt Palmer

This is my first post for the new year, after a bit of a break, and a nice holiday with family. My intention for this year, apart from completing financing for “Unintended Consequences” and getting the project into production, is to highlight solution stories. This is not to say we ignore talking about problems, but much of the energy debate in the media centres on stories that serve to ramp up the vitriol and polarization between opposing sides focusing on dark scenarios. We need new way of debating major issues.

When I was in France in October, I spoke to a few Europeans and others, and asked them what their perception was of the future of energy. Many felt the future was bleak. The prospect of a coming armageddon because of global warming overwhelmed their ability to feel optimism about the future. Perhaps this is because these people, who produce and distribute documentaries, are inundated by fear based stories of what is happening to our environment. I’ve watched many of these shows and they are scary. There is cause for alarm. Measured action is needed.

Humans have been impacting the environment for millennia. Over the last two hundred years those impacts have increased exponentially. At the same time, the global climate has continually changed. It is always changing, but addressing the effects of industrialization on the environment, on our climate is essential. Whether you believe the science around global warming or not, science is rarely if ever settled, particularly when it comes to predictive models. We know the world exists in a state of yin and yang, that for every action introduced into a system, there is a reaction, an impact. CO2 is food for plants, and the most essential process fuel on the planet, but too much of it in the atmosphere is  throwing the bigger system out of balance. Spewing particulates and other toxic substances into our ecosystem is a bad practice.

The system of positive and negative unintended consequences is continual. The question, or perhaps more to the point, the challenge is how do we create an energy system with greater balance, greater sustainability, greater ability to meet our needs, and aspirations for life? These are moving targets, so it is not about being right, but striving to be better. In examining the current debates about energy, economy, environment, social justice being right is often a greater objective held to by major stakeholders than moving forward with rational and pragmatic solutions. How is that working so far? Being right should not be the endgame.

Without a healthy environment there is no economy. Energy, economy, social justice and environment are all connected. The best solutions will encompass this reality, and be system-based. No solution will be perfect. Recognize realities, deal with them. Set good intentions based on the value of inclusion.

We need stories of hope. We need stories that focus on innovation and ingenuity, while acknowledging the challenges. There are no free rides. The costs and impacts of human society on the global ecosystem are real. Carbon is an asset, and our ability to use carbon has created the standard of living we all enjoy. Using carbon creates negative impacts.

Conflict drives all narratives. Man against man. Man against society. Man against self. Man against nature. The energy narrative has all these elements. We need heroes, yet everyone loves a good villain. If the story we tell about energy turned 180 degrees, where carbon transforms from the villain to the hero, how would that alter our perception of the conflict?

I’m spit balling ideas here, and I don’t have the solutions, but there is great value in re-examining the story we are currently telling ourselves about our world and our impacts on it.

So, let’s finish with a new energy solution, and a link to a story out of Cupertino and Apple. Apple Patents Wind Energy Storage is about a new innovation for  harnessing heat energy rather than rotational energy from wind turbines. It is an interesting technology, that may also help deal with energy storage issues, a major issue for some alternative energy sources. Stories like this are great because they point to the tremendous brain power being used to solve complex problems. But, these solutions must also always be examined within the larger system, and time spent determining the trade-offs and impacts.

The future is bright.

About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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3 Responses to A New Year = New Energy Solutions

  1. thomas.elwell@gmail.com says:

    You need to include gasification and gas to liquids. Very important piece of the future energy puzzle and seemingly a more “sane” use of coal.

  2. Matt, it’s nice to see an optimistic approach being proposed. We’ll need a balanced, collaborative, evidence-based approach to finding solutions if we’re going to wrestle these challenging economic and environmental problems to the ground. A friend recently pointed out that Britain and Western Europe successfully made it through the Industrial Revolution (a difficult transition from a societal perspective) and we should look to history to see what we can learn about making a similarly gut wrenching transition and landing safely on the other side.

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