Things To Come — Soon
Sometimes individuals make a mistake and get involved in bad situations that take years to remediate. Hence big divorce rates. Entire economies sometimes get off on the wrong foot, too, and they also require time to turn around, though once the process starts it can go very quickly.
A truly huge turnaround is now in the process of fundamentally reshaping the world’s economy. And anyone who doesn’t appreciate the importance of this change, or the speed at which it is occurring, is simply not going to understand how the world will operate just a few decades down the road.
The great transformative revolution here involves energy. In broad terms, it involves the changeover from “dead energy,” coal and oil, the remains of long deceased plants and animals scooped and siphoned from their ancient burial grounds, to “live energy” being created every instant by the sun, the wind, the motion of water, the heat of the earth, the splitting of the atom, etc.
Two small bits of this massive transformation are on view in today’s New York Times. Bob Herbert’s column discusses a manufacturing facility in a Detroit suburb turning out large amounts of photovoltaic sheeting. Another piece in The Times looks at a still tiny osmotic power station in Norway that generates electricity by tapping into a process no more exotic than the tendency of salt water to attract fresh water with a membrane in between.
It would be virtually impossible on any given day not to encounter tales such as these because everywhere you look there are people doing amazing things to change the way energy is captured and utilized — ways distinct from the burn-the-dead-fossil-remains that have been energizing our economies since the start of the first industrial revolution. Substituting silicone for carbon, computer-based efficiency for brute burning, is of course another key element of this transformation.
Forget gradualness when it comes to the new energy world we are today well and truly on the way to creating. This is going to come on with a speed that will astonish many — but shouldn’t. The private car, the telephone, the TV revolutions, they all happened very quickly. In its various guises, this one will happen faster still.
In the befuddled sea of contemporary economics, this is an island, indeed a whole new continent, on which the world’s people will find greater shared prosperity, and in many cases liberation from collective energy and related political systems as well. And thankfully, we need not depend on government planners — who can impede or expedite, but can neither create or destroy — to achieve this happy end.