Can We Outrace the Fourth Turning?

July 03 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Economics   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

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 Punctuated 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. fourth 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 American Dream”.

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.)

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Energy: Can we break the tyranny of oil? Experts say we can

June 24 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

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 economy.

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.)

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David Houle on the Benefits of Space-Based Solar

June 06 2008 / by Accel Rose / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 1

Futurist David Houle of EvolutionShift is confident space-based solar power can answer our rising energy needs, while fueling a nascent private space industry during its critical early stages.

Rising Oil Prices Fueling Broad Economic Disruption

May 29 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

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. CNN reports 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 FHWA history.’”

Others are increasingly making the switch to higher-mileage and hybrid vehicles.

In Europe, where environmental taxes roughly double the cost of gas, groups of French and British workers are demanding public assistance by staging protests .

A few particularly pinched and pro-active folks in rural regions are shifting around their work week and travel schedule. According to the 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.”

And of course there are the enterprising individuals who’ve decided that enough is enough and that it’s time to take drilling for oil into their own hands.

This is just the beginning. (cont.)

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Black Gold

May 28 2008 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

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 $130/barrel.

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.

Future iPhones Will Be Solar-Powered

May 27 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

I’m already big on the future of the iPhone, particularly its potential for underdeveloped regions like the African continent, so Apple’s latest patent filing for a solar-powered iPhone only serves to further my belief that the device will not only go big, but also spread very broadly.

According to 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 quite desirable.

In what year will a solar-powered iPhone hit the market?

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$40 Trillion Industry for Reduction of Carbon Emissions?

April 21 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Economics   Year: General   Rating: 2 Hot

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 a boom.

Maybe it’s time to start hording those precious solar cells, bury your money in a pit, or just live it up!

Super-Efficient New Mini Light Bulbs

April 07 2008 / by Accel Rose / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 7

Check out this vid of an efficient new light bulb that can push out 140 lumens per watt compared to the 15 that average incandescent household bulbs can produce:

Hopefully this latest development will accelerate the shift over to better bulbs that cost less from both an economic and environmental perspective.

(via inhabitat and crunch gear)

FloDesign to Replace Traditional Wind Turbines?

March 28 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 9

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 sound:


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Radical Ultra-Hot Plasma Reactor Converts Toxic and Radioactive Waste to Clean Energy

March 25 2008 / by AlFin / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 13 Hot

By Al Fin

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!

Environmental Energy 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 pre-industrial Earth.

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:


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Super-Insulated Glass To Supply Heat

March 25 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2009   Rating: 8

Guardian Industries, 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.

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Shell CEO on the Future of Oil and Natural Gas

March 24 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7

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 natural gas.

“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 do.”

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 necessary.

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.

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