Are we due for a massive cyclical U.S. crisis that finally
spurs institutional change? A regular revolution not tied to the
accelerating curves driving so much growth and innovation?
In large nations big spurts of institutional change tend to
occur every four generations (roughly every 88 years, 1 generation
= 22 years) when economic resources trapped by out-dated,
inefficient systems are shifted over to efficient new systems once
societies reach a cyclical tipping point for change. Generational theorists Strauss and Howe
call this tipping point a fourth
turning, a point in time where social power shifts to the
generations too young to have witnessed the previous correction.
They liken this pattern to a forest growth cycle: 1) new saplings
take root, 2) the forest grows tall, 3) dead branches fall and
choke off new species, 4) lightning strikes, the brambles burn and
new saplings are free to grow—repeat.
As seen widely in biology, this sort of change is called
Equilibrium, which contrasts with the gradual evolution that
many scientists intuitively believed to be true but ultimately was
not supported by research nor the fossil record. Similarly, the
historical record shows that the United States has regularly
experienced punctuated social crises, aka fourth turnings,
stretching all the way back to its roots in England. And just like
all of the scientists that deny punctuated evolution/development,
there is a huge % of the population that does not intuitively
believe another fourth turning will occur because they have not
encountered the historical evidence and are used to a relatively
stable socio-economic situation. (Ironically, this blindness seems
to be built into the very fabric of our social system and may
result in more efficient growth when looked at from the broader
context of inter-meshed life systems on our planet.)
Like it or not, cyclical crises pegged to
human generations are real and
should be considered when evaluating the future, right
alongside accelerating change. So the questions we need to ask are
1) “When will the next fourth turning begin?”, 2) “Are there any
dynamics that might break or trump the pattern of punctuated
national change every 88 years?”
A Likely Fourth Turning Scenario
79 years ago, on October 24, 1929, the Great Wall
Street Crash sparked the Great Depression and the last U.S.
turning. What followed was the New Deal Era, WWII, the transformation of most U.S. socio-economic
sectors and ultimately the birth of what we now refer to as “The
79 years later the U.S. economy is facing a variety of problems
that could spark a down-turn and a new fourth turning. (cont.)
Energy is the life-blood of America – it affects our economy,
standard of living and national security. Our prime energy source,
oil, is a product we can no longer afford. Four-to-five dollar per
gallon gas prices, air pollution, and global warming has brought us
to the point where we must find a better energy source.
Experts predict that by 2030, new energy technologies described
below could drastically cut our oil consumption, and slash reliance
on electricity-producing fossil fuels like coal and natural gas
almost entirely. Added to our portfolio of existing nuclear and
hydroelectric power, these new energy sources could virtually
eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels to run our homes and
Bio-fuels – in the nation’s heartland, scientists are working to
turn agricultural waste or ‘biomass’ such as switchgrass, wheat
straw, cornstalks and miscanthus into a fuel called cellulosic
ethanol that could be produced commercially. Department of Energy
(DOE) officials believe that by 2030, bio-fuels could meet 30
percent of our transportation fuel needs.
Hydrogen – this new technology stores energy more effectively
than batteries, burns twice as efficiently in a fuel cell as
gasoline does in an internal combustion engine and leaves only
water. It’s plentiful, clean, and capable of powering cars, homes
and factories. The DOE predicts an
all-hydrogen vehicle could become price effective by 2020; and by
2030, this renewable non-polluting energy could power ten percent
of our cars, homes and factories; by 2050, 50 percent. (cont.)
With crude oil hovering at an all-time high of $130/gallon
people all over the globe are feeling the pain and starting to
react in different ways.
Some are finally choosing to drive less frequently.
that “compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an
estimated 4.3 percent less—that’s 11 billion fewer miles, the
DOT’s Federal Highway Administration said
Monday, calling it ‘the sharpest yearly drop for any month in
In Europe, where environmental taxes roughly double the cost of
gas, groups of French and British workers are demanding public
staging protests .
A few particularly pinched and pro-active folks in rural regions
are shifting around their work week and travel schedule. According
Wall Street Journal “a handful of small towns and community
colleges are switching to four-day workweeks in an effort to help
employees cope with the rising gasoline prices, and could soon be
joined by some larger local governments.”
The economy is a funny thing. As oil prices, and commodity
prices in general, have gone wild in the past year or so, there are
many interesting ripple effects. Some are obvious and quantifiable,
such as the increase in venture capital investment into
green/alternative energy sources and plummeting SUV sales. But here is a micro-trend that could gain
some traction if oil prices continue to rise. A farmer in Indiana
installed a drill on his property that produces about 3 barrels of
oil a day – worth almost $400 dollars at today’s price of about
Of course you have to have oil in your backyard to actually make
this work – but if oil ever gets to be the same price as gold –
then we’ll really see a trend in backyard prospecting.
Mac Rumours who first discovered the patent application:
The most interesting technique described by Apple … is the
integration of the solar panels behind the actual LCD screen of a portable device. The solar panel
would absorb ambient light that passes through the LCD screen of the device. ... If successfully
implemented, Apple’s iPhone, iPod and laptops, could require no
outward changes in design to add solar power.
As the price of both iPhone components and photovoltaic
(PV) cells comes down steadily, this will add to the appeal of the
increasingly coveted device, especially in resource-strapped areas
as rising oil prices gradually push up the cost of manufacturing,
transportation and electricity.
Adding solar cells beneath LCD screens
is such an elegant no-brainer that it’s difficult to imagine a
period in the near future when all mobile phones/computers
aren’t forced to integrate solar. The main plausible
alternative I can see is the prevalence of small plug-in PV power
stations (either based at home, mounted on the car or worn) that
can directly or indirectly charge mobile devices. But even then,
just knowing that your device can charge autonomously still seems
Futurist Patrick Dixon predicts that
widespread emotional pressure will fuel a $40 trillion industry
dedicated to the reduction of carbon emissions.
“We will see a 10x or even a 100x increase in the emotional
pressure on governments to take action on every aspect of global
warming,” says Dixon, “It will affect the decisions consumers make.
It will affect the opinions that they hold. It will affect the
image of multi-nationals, and I’m not just talking about oil
companies – I’m talking about banks … shipping companies …
airlines. Every company in the world will be called on to justify
its carbon footprint.”
If the near-term future validates Dixon’s opinions then we’re
bound to witness great economic disruption that sucks a great deal
of market cap from established companies and infuses it into the
entities that can provide the most cost-effective solutions.
Depending on the timing and pacing of such a shift, and the
efficacy of the new technologies and methods that hit the market,
it seems we could experience anything ranging from a depression to
Maybe it’s time to start hording those precious solar cells,
bury your money in a pit, or just live it up!
The following video (below the fold) was scanned into the
Future Scanner yesterday
by AlFin and
demonstrates a remarkable new technology that may transform wind
energy generation as we know it.
A Massachusetts-based company named FloDesign has
taken on the mother of wind energy technology, the classic turbine,
in an attempt to squeeze more energy out of the inefficient
structures. As discussed in the video, traditional wind turbines
only extract at most 50% of potential wind energy due to their
shape, size and weight, making them less efficient than desired.
The traditional design also requires special infrastructure for
their production and transportation, making them environmentally
problematic, as well as lots of land and remote spacing for utility
and safety purposes, making them less cost-effective.
The FloDesign turbine, on the other hand, extracts up to four
times more wind, compromises less land and is more stable. Check
out this informational video produced by the company explaining why
FloDesign technology is more efficient, safe, and environmentally
Garbage and hazardous waste are becoming valuable energy
feedstocks, thanks to researchers from Ukraine, Russia, and Israel.
Even low level radioactive wastes, medical wastes, and toxic wastes
can be converted to useful products and energy, using a new high
temperature plasma reactor.
There is no need for the world to drown in a sea of garbage and
toxic waste. We do not need to pollute the oceans, groundwater, or
air. Being smart about toxic waste is just another way of using our
most valuable resource-our brains!
Resources Ltd. (EER) of Israel, is working with researchers in
Russia, the Ukraine, the US, and other nations, to make sure that
the future environment of Earth will be as pristine as the
The new reactor uses a process called “Plasma Gasification
Melting Technology” (PGM) which was developed by scientists at two
Russian research institutes (Kurchatov and Radon Institutes) and at
Israel’s Technion Institute.
PGM Technology is suitable
for the treatment of a variety of waste types:
an architectural and automotive glass manufacturer, recently
unveiled a new prototype glass product that could provide some big
energy gains when integrated into the homebuilding process. The
windows of your house may soon actually supply energy via
passive solar gains instead of leak it.
The vacuum-insulated glass (VIG) panel consists of two glass
panes, one of which is covered in low-e coating.
When vacuum sealed together, the panel effectively eliminates both
convection and conduction of heat. The most impressive aspect of
the product is its potential level of insulation (or R-value). The
higher the R-value, the better the insulation. Most low-e glass
comes in between R-2 and R-4, but this revolutionary glass promises
a whopping R-12 to R-15 rating – the equivalent insulation of your
home’s exterior walls.
In a CNN interview last week,
Jeroen Van Der
Veer, CEO of Shell, briefly discussed the future of
the oil giant, emphasizing a big focus on harder-to-reach oil and
“There’s still easy oil and easy gas, but I think national
companies can do that themselves,” spoke Van Der Veer, “So if we’re
an international oil company we have to do things that others can’t
Check out the video clip here:
Also of note, Van Der Veer added that Shell is betting that
“world energy demand will grow by 50% by the year 2025.”
Considering exponential growth forecasts for technology and
information, I’m rather skeptical about that figure. Frankly, I
think our power needs may grow by several orders of magnitude more
than that. Though we will consistently discover new ways to use
less and less power, it seems likely that our addiction to
computation and the mining of information will push us to use as
much power as we can reasonably harvest apply. For that to occur,
solar and/or nuclear power generation seem absolutely
This doesn’t mean that oil will lose value in such a scenario.
Actually, it’s very likely that we’ll gradually need a great deal
more of it to create the structures necessary to capture the sun’s
energy more directly, in which case things should work out just
fine for Shell and the other behemoths.