Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

An urgent warning comes from, of all places, China, at Davos last week. It identifies the challenge facing human habitation on a global scale, the need to bring growth and development back into a scale that balances with natural processes. We just can't keep burning it up, and for China to embark on a radical departure from its earlier megaconstruction and expansion is quite startling. But this does resemble its one-child policy that it implemented decades ago in response to an obviously unsustainable population growth spiral.

China is now headed for global economic dominance, and it is trying to direct this growth in a responsible manner, after becoming world-famous for its pollution and environmental destruction linked to top-down bureaucratic control. The fact that this recognition is presented at Davos is unprecedented, as the Chinese government is very careful about positions that are taken globally by its citizens and institutions.

Here in the US, we're stuck in a high-consumption lifestyle that keeps us from moving ahead with the critically needed structural changes to our economy that would turn upside down the old, polluting and destructive industries that are in the grip of the oil and coal industries. It's the leftover Cold War economy. The waste in these systems is prolific and toxic, and its reduction is a key strategy in the transference to energy sources from natural processes. However, making the transition out of these structures and their grip on our economic system will be the biggest challenge the US has had since World War II and the Sputnik era that put man on the moon. We see ourselves falling behind, without the resolve and initiative that it takes to mobilize a common effort that changes the face of business practices in this country. Right now the dinosaurs rule, but every business knows that's the death of the commerce and innovation which drives profit, so perhaps the sun is finally rising. Old slogan from Japan, by the way, which provides an object lesson on the limits of expansion as a profit driver. Streamlining achieves the same objectives.

It's also been obvious that our extreme energy consumption creates political weaknesses as well. With the events now unfolding in Egypt, Jordan and the Mideast, it's clear that energy supplies must come through local distributed networks. Petrocollapse could arrive on the heels of these political changes sweeping the Arab world, triggering spikes in oil prices that threaten economic stability. If we needed something to kickstart the "green revolution", it's certainly here. The aging hippies could finally be right.

The Business Response to Climate Change is a student (no longer "flower children") initiative from the CSRwire news service that lays out a strategy towards shifting the economy and business activity around the new science-based model of streamlined and efficient processes that reduces the grip of these old systems and energy sources on our infrastructure. Unlike India and China, the US no longer has vast undeveloped areas to expand into; the physical frontier is used up. Reflecting President Obama's "Win the Future" point of his recent State of the Union address, it's about restructuring what we have to capture energy and resources effectively. It's also about bringing up the young human capital into the system and using that freewheeling energy constructively. The definition of sustainability, by the way.

We're at the threshold of systemic change that's being driven by the limits to growth. Energy from the sun is a huge part of the answer, but the US has to make those industries viable within a global community that fluidly speaks in songs, videos and pictures, accelerating change and shifting values. The ability to swiftly adapt and respond is a key trait of successful systems. It's called "life".