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The Shifting Conventional Wisdom
Jamais Cascio, 25 Sep 05

bizweekenergy.jpgOne of the catalysts for making the Bright Green Future possible is for the mainstream vision of the future -- what I sometimes call the "baseline scenario" -- to take on characteristics that make the WorldChanging vision no longer seem quite so radical. If smart grids, hybrid vehicles, and green buildings are part of the default image of tomorrow, then energy-producing materials, sustainable urban design, and biomimetic architecture will appear as exciting possibilities, and entirely within reach. One good way to checking out the state of the zeitgeist is to look at business magazines, especially the old-school, pre-dotcom journals.

BusinessWeek looks to be a bit ahead of some of its competitors in terms of checking out how the world is changing. We've linked to their articles a few times, and while they will by no means provide shocking new insights for even casual WorldChanging readers, they do give a good sense of how Bright Green ideas are being translated for a conventional wisdom audience. Last week's BusinessWeek (cover date Sept 20) is no exception: the technology special report, "A Low-Cost Energy Future," shows both how close the mainstream world is to the Bright Green vision, and how far it has yet to go.

A Low-Cost Energy Future is a set of articles covering alternative energy technologies, hybrid cars, and a particular emphasis on green buildings.

  • Fresh Heat for Energy Policy looks at how recent global events have pushed both conservation and alternative energy sources back into the limelight. This is probably the weakest article of the bunch, as it misses some major potential cleaner energy sources (biofuels, ocean/wave power) and completely drops the ball in its toss-away line about wind power ("Wind power sounds great, but you'd have to blanket the entire country with wind mills to make it feasible, and that just wouldn't work.") Hello? Dismissal of an energy technology because it can't conveniently replace all other energy production sources is a pretty tired bit of hack writing.

  • Much better is the article "Ultraportable Power Charges Ahead," looking at the variety of personal power generation technologies, from solar handbags to suspended-load backpacks. This is one of the pieces that, if you read between the lines, hints at the scale of the paradigm shift we're about to see. A world where what we carry with us can take care of casual energy production is a world where a rapidly-growing proportion of our physical environment has energy producing characteristics. Once you can embed photovoltaic production into everyday materials, you start seeing the opportunities for casual energy production everywhere.

  • "Hybrids: More Power, Less Fuel," is pretty much a standard conventional wisdom article about hybrid cars. With a small exception, this is almost a piece that could have been written a year or two ago with little modification. The exception is the brief discussion of the adoption of hybrid technologies by some automakers not as a way to improve efficiency, but as a way to increase "performance." Because the ideas in this article are so commonplace, it actually represents the best example of how proto-Bright Green concepts are becoming conventional wisdom.

  • "Dirty Harry Comes Clean" looks at the Tehama development in Carmel, California, a new upscale housing development owned by actor and Carmel politician Clint Eastwood. The development project actually adopts an impressive array of sustainable practices and technologies. Wind power and photovoltaics combine with advanced water reclamation and sewage treatment, a native plants nursery for homeowners to use for their grounds, and an organic farm. None of this comes cheap, of course; as we've discussed before, more effort needs to be made to bring sustainable technologies and practices to lower-income communities both at home and globally.

    The remaining three articles all focus on what can be done for individual homes to give them greener footprints.

  • "Does Your Home Burn Money for Fuel?" takes a straightforward "efficiency=lower costs" approach, unsurprising for a business magazine and likely to be among the more persuasive arguments for a mainstream audience. Home solar, "Energy Star" rated homes, improved insulation and draft reduction, and an overall zero-net-energy goal are addressed, with the discussion aimed at current homeowners looking to upgrade their current dwelling. The up-front costs mentioned -- $10,000 and up -- will undoubtedly deter many readers.

  • Fortunately, a companion piece, "Simple Fixes for Saving Energy," talks about faster, lower-cost methods of bringing down home energy consumption. Most are the kinds of conservation advice easily found around the web -- compact fluorescent bulbs, programmable thermostats, water heater blankets, and "Energy Star" appliances -- and probably most useful for WorldChanging readers as a checklist to give friends and family. Nonetheless, it's good to see the lower-cost end of the energy efficiency spectrum addressed.

  • Finally, "A House That Costs Nothing to Run" is a case study of a single high-efficiency home construction project. This one is in New England, in the northeastern US, so much of the emphasis is on keeping the home warm in the winter. Although the article has something of a "look how much stuff there is you need to/want to buy to be green" quality to it, it does emphasize that the homeowners profiled, the Moomaws, made a point of buying "common brands." In many ways, I found this the most interesting article of the bunch, as it spells out exactly the kinds of consumption choices one will expect to see people make as we get closer to the Bright Green world. The article is accompanied by a set of photos from the Moomaw home design process, including many pictures of green tech items.

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    Comments

    I bet the Bill Moomaw who is building the zero energy house is the same Bill Moomaw who teaches at Tufts and has been campaigning to raise awareness of global warming for the last decade or so. He is a smart and engaged man in a variety of ways.


    Posted by: gmoke on 25 Sep 05

    Can you tell me where I can find an engineer that will help me produce the autocad program I need to prove electromagtics can be made into a serious renewable energy source? E=MC2 is not that had of a problem to solve, I just need someone to help me figure out the firing system.

    Doesn't sith grade science teach us that like poles repel each other? Every wonder how much energy would be produced if 2 electromagnetic of the same polarity had a 100,000 volts dropped across them? While I don't know exactly how much energy that produces, I do know better than to do the experiement without someone that knows what they are doing?

    Seriously though, if anyone knows of someone who has an autocad that can produce a 3D model that works I'ld like to talk to them about creating a motor that'll blow peoples minds.


    Posted by: Henry Schlatman on 25 Sep 05

    Interesting... 'Bright Green' has a good kind of ring to it, as does the concept of 'energy-producing materials'. Devices that can produce a net return on the energy invested in their construction (by tapping renewable sources i.e. tidal & solar), but which don't compete directly with conventional agriculture, start to look like gold dust in an oil-starved world...


    Posted by: speedbird on 26 Sep 05

    I used your link to the original article and applaud Professor Moomaw's efforts! His greatest contribution will be the educational impact this will have on others. His timing could not have been better as people are reeling from the impact of oil prices on their daily lives and are now willing to consider alternative energy ideas.


    Posted by: Timetrvlr on 26 Sep 05

    We need to envision buildings as energy sources rather than energy consumers. Buildings can become the framework on which we can build a decentralized energy network.

    One example a school that generates more power than it uses:

    http://www.solarbuzz.com/News/NewsNAPR553.htm



    Posted by: Thom Worlledge on 26 Sep 05

    You would be surprised what visions conventional wisdom has for homes of the future...

    A 12000 square foot 3 story home where the entire bottom story is garrage and storage area and the entire roof is a enclosed greenhouse backyard 30 feet in the sky covered in a solar cell material that lets in JUST the right amount of light and heat and absorbs or reflects the rest.

    Several cars of various sizes and purposes all robotc in nature sit at a charging station/hydrogen generator depnding on tech nd blah blah blah...

    Up a ramp that retracts when not in use you find the first floor and various rooms such as computer rooms and entertainment rooms and kitechens and so on.

    Then the third floor will have all the bedrooms and more netertainment rooms and anouther puter room and exercise rooms and movie room and blah blah blah room and thinguy room...

    The a ramp will lead up to the "outdoor" backyard area and maybe even a swimming pool.

    And the entire thing will have been built by robots and be concidered a low -middle income home.

    Also very likely the home will have a smallish wind turbine right on top of it as being that tall the wind level should be rather good.

    But it wont be green as the entire thing will consume tons of energy and every room will be full of light and stuff.


    Posted by: wintermane on 27 Sep 05



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