It’s no secret that we have a problem. The American political
system is a bit secretive, quite inefficient and wastes a good
amount of our resources. Such is the nature of gigantic
Like any problem, to solve it we must first quantify or count
it. With large groups of people involved, any such quantification
must be very accurate and very easy to understand at a glance.
This notion is nearly synonymous with a concept that David
Stephenson refers to as transparent government, or “using Web 2.0 apps … to allow informed debate on policy
alternatives, to find convergences (possible synergies—and wasteful
overlaps), and to allow people with particular interests and/or
expertise to contribute to issues.”
Thanks to the evolution of the web and internet applications,
we’ll soon take a big leap in our ability to simulate super-complex
political systems (especially if they are computer-dependent). Two
fundamental, yet eminently do-able, steps remain to be taken:
1) make the majority of government information
2) put emerging semantic web applications to work crunching this
Change will swiftly follow if we can accurately and neatly
organize political relationship trees, decision patterns and
funding flows into a digestible “graph” that anyone can easily
re-sort and view a million different ways from a billion different
Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Democratic presidential
candidate John Edwards, recently had a thoughtful opinion piece
bemoaning the media’s lack of meaningful coverage of today’s
important issues. To emphasize her point, she noted that many
American’s can now tell you Barack Obama’s bowling score but can’t
recite one major plank in his health care plan.
It is a valid criticism and I wholeheartedly agree with her
critique but Edwards, the candidates, and the media are missing
another serious issue – the accelerating pace of science and
More specifically, no candidate is approaching today’s important
issues of health care, education, the environment and war from the
perspective that the near-term future of all of these issues will
almost certainly will be different – and perhaps radically so –
because of the accelerating pace of technological change.
Let me provide just a few recent examples. Late last year, the
Pentagon reported that it had begun arming robots with guns for the
first time ever. It then announced, to little fanfare, that it
intended to triple the number of robots in battlefield situations
by 2010. And by 2015 – a date that would place it near the end of
the next president’s second term – the Defense Department has
publicly stated that it expects one-third of the U.S. fight force
to consist of robots. (cont.)
One of the most exciting things about the promise of the Obama administration is their commitment to employing interactive communication technologies in an effort to better their stewardship of the country.
It was the utilization of these tools that spurred him to victory in a daunting primary process and pushed him to a convincing win in the general election. At a simple level, what he really did was engage anyone he could in conversation. That is the hallmark principle of web 2.0 and also of a good politician. I think this concept is at the center of why people (a whopping 79% approve of his handling of the transition) are so optimistic about what type of leader he may be. While it's true that we are in the midst of very difficult times and that will prod more folks into being open to and hopeful that Obama may lead us out of here, I think it is his continued commitment to conversation and engagement that offers the most potential upside.
While the fate of a US energy tax bill that includes renewable energy credits remained up in the air on Monday morning, the market implications of federal energy production subsidies are now more clear.
Earlier this month the US Energy Information Agency released a report looking at shifts between 1999 through 2007 for federal energy subsidies. The mechanism with the most direct market influence relates to production tax credits (PTCs). Today, the solar industry is hoping that it will benefit the same way that wind and ethanol have in the past.
Global implications of national subsidies
In all major world economies, public sector subsidies play a key role in the evolution of energy production of traditional and alternative energy sources.
And despite the rhetoric of energy independence surrounding renewable sources of energy, the reality is that energy production based on wind, solar and biofuels is globally integrated across the value chain.
The biofuels industry is a global industry built upon a complex web of financiers, seed companies, producers, refiners, distributors, and equipment manufacturers. Biofuels are also heavily subsidized in the US and Europe.
Solar and wind are no exception. The wind turbine that produces ‘domestic energy’ might have been designed or manufactured abroad. And the future growth of a California solar company is likely dependent on buying ‘foreign’ raw materials or selling units outside the United States. So a dramatic shift in subsidies inside the US, Europe and China will have ripple affect across the world.
Subsidy lessons from wind and ethanol
Subsidies use public resource to assist producers, sellers or buyers in energy specific areas. According to the EIA, the Federal Government spent an estimated $16.6 billion in energy-specific subsidies in 2007- more than than double than 1999 levels.
Nanowerk has reported on University of Michigan Professor John Hart’s Nanobama site featuring nanoscale designed faces of Barack Obama. The carbon nanotube faces consist of millions of aligned nanotubes, and shown via a scanning electron microscope.
President Barack Obama's video/web overture to the Iranian people marks not only a strategic shift in U.S. policy toward the country, but also a fundamental change in tactics better-suited for an increasingly connected world.
Now let's see how Iranian leaders Mahmoud Ahmanadinejad and the Ayotollah respond.
Politics is always playing catch up to the future. While most energy issues revolve around changes to the status quo, other opportunities allow political leaders to fund basic research and help grow emerging industries.
But what about other pieces to the energy puzzle that are not central to today’s political campaigns? Or messages that seem to contradict today’s politic themes? What might be beyond the politics of oil trade and peak production? Or other cleantech ideas beyond solar and wind?
Many people believe that we are only at the beginning of an important age of energy politics. And we speculate that the hardest political conversations might be about changes in electricity grids and the control of energy flows, and the ethical issues of bio energy.
Here are two other issues that might shape the future of energy politics – global interdependence and synthetic biology.
Energy Independence vs Global Interdependence
Oil is on everyone’s radar. And common sense says rally behind the political message of the day energy independence especially with gasoline. But oil has been a globally integrated industry for decades, and undoing those relationships requires a very serious debate about what is good and bad about trade. What might complicate the future politics of energy independence is our ‘dependence’ on oil is the world’s other major resource: natural gas.
Last summer T Boone Pickens- launched a multi-million dollar television media campaign for America’s future. A central theme was energy independence via wind for power generation and shifting natural gas towards transportation fuel.
But what if the global natural gas market is only just starting to expand around liquefied natural gas? And if the US did shift to domestic natural gas for transportation fuel, wouldn’t this market be global in nature?
Or on the very positive side of renewable energy systems? What if the US or China’s clean tech industry dropped the cost of new energy systems? Would we want those products kept within a national border or delivered around the world?
Might the energy politics of the future be about thinking more globally and pushing towards further interdependence?
And if energy independence does remain a central theme, what about the politics of US and Chinese coal?
Enter energy politics of coal and synthetic biology
In the past, the mere mention of an idea system or establishment in this blog has lead to a barrage of complaints and corrections from advocates and opposition alike. So, it is with much apprehension that I attempt to discuss technocracy.
A technocratic society has the goal of: Producing optimum quality goods and services at the lowest possible energy cost, and distributing the maximum amount of goods and services to everyone.
Our broken economy has so far prevented this from being possible. The constant need for money has forced producers to continually produce poor quality goods, essentially, in order to keep the consumer buying. If you have to keep buying, you have to keep working. In today’s developed world, we have far more than our parents did, yet we still continue to slave away, even massively increasing our debts to own more and more.
Essentially, all we really need is:
- Clean Water - Food - Shelter - Basic Clothing
Secondary needs are:
- Consumables - Electricity - Comm infrastructure - Transportation
Earlier we made a bold forescast that an old industry giant, Johnson Controls, could become one of the most relevant (and greenest) companies in the 'new energy economy' as it delivers energy management solutions, and enables the transition to electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Now we're adding DuPont to that list of companies to watch in the new energy economy.
A New Vision for American Competitiveness? Speaking to an attentive crowd at the Detroit Economic Club, DuPont Chairman and CEO
Charles Holliday, Jr. described a 'unique time for transformation' and called on the United States to improve its global competitiveness via sustainability.
"As industries shift to address the new reality, innovative, science-based products that provide the solutions must lead the way. Speed, agility and transformative science are needed today as never before. Success during this time is ultimately going to come down to two very key concepts: sustainability and competitiveness. Without sustainability, it will be hard for a business to remain competitive in the new reality."
The Detroit Project Holliday also supported the proposal for the 'Detroit Project', a 'Manhattan Project' style effort to develop a new, energy-efficient vehicle that could achieve 75 miles per gallon. The U.S. Council on Competitiveness has proposed funding for the program to come from a U.S. savings bonds program to stimulate U.S. personal savings and provide financing for U.S. infrastructure investments like the Detroit Project.
Why DuPont?Does the Auto Industry need help from the World of Science?
Committing Ourselves to Enabling Disruptive Science & Technologies Given the dynamics of the global energy sector we can expect that nothing is going to change quickly, but when changes do happen - they could be potentially disruptive to how we produce, store and distributed energy.
Incremental solutions are not going to solve US or Global energy and environmental challenges. We must enable disruptive science and technologies that can 'do more with less' in fundamentally new ways. While we cannot pick winners, it is clear that the cross-disciplinary nature of science at the nanoscale will be paramount in all areas of energy from making hydrocarbons cleaner, lowering the costs of renewables, scaling up next generation bioenergy solutions, managing 'smarter grids', and creating storage solutions. Maybe a new framework for research collaboration is what we need to enable the 'new energy economy'!
Charlie Rose recently hosted a conversation [35 min.] with United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. The conversation covered a wide spectrum of ideas being explored from the 'low hanging fruit' with energy efficiency and new building design tools, to evolution of Smart Grid and anticipatory management of energy flows, new tranmission lines for renewables, emerging carbon pricing markets, cleaner coal systems, regulatory framework for nuclear, and next generation liquid fuels.
And ended with Rose stating 'that the convergence/merger of our scientific know-howand energy' will determine our future. On that note, I wish Chu would have uttered something about 'nanoscale' engineering, and bioenergy (algae/bacteria, and synthetic biology) just to seed these emerging concepts with Rose's audience. But baby steps, I guess!
Energy Revolution Rises from Materials Science and Bio-science, not Geo-Engineering Chu arrived at the right time! The first half of this Industrial Age was based on us being smart geo-engineers, not necessarily smart energy materials scientists. And that is our future- growing and storing our own energy supplies! I am just very thankful that we have a DOE Secretary who recognizes that the 'green revolution' will arise from science, not shopping!Oh, the places we'll go!