The question may not be about asking why the consumer should adopt a more energy efficient lifestyle but how can technology mimic the cycles of life that work so efficiently in nature to generate, use and replenish the resources we rely on day to day.
With newspaper titles asking questions like ‘what will we do when oil runs out?’, the prevailing tone of the debate on ‘peak oil’ seems to be mainly alarmist scaremongering. But what if the age of oil will not end due to the depletion of oil reserves, but instead because resourcing inefficiently will simply no longer make sense? The argument for a sustainable future is not whether business and environmental interests will overlap, the issue is by how much does it overlap?
The increasing demands of the world’s population may make it inevitable that people develop more creative ways to satisfy their energy needs. Rather than being connected into one energy grid, energy now can be provided off grid. The consumer’s ability and speed of technological uptake may one day matter more than the size of energy monopolies or the energy grid.
The Cradle to Cradle approach by the architect William McDonough has a vision of reusing materials in a continuous cycle without producing waste. He views buildings as living organisms; a testimony of this approach is the Oberlin College, which makes oxygen, seizes carbon, produces more power than it needs and purifies its own water. The idea suggests that future buildings may increasingly become more like photosynthetic organisms, i.e. they may produce either their own oxygen or energy or both. As the success in self sustainable buildings like living organisms have shown, human ingenuity can make it possible to reduce the costs of resources and increase resource productivity.
This is in stark contrast to today’s hugely wasteful use of oil; according to the US Department of Energy, ‘just fifteen per cent or so of the energy in the petrol you pump into your car actually goes into moving the car forward or powering accessories such as air conditioning. A staggering eighty-five per cent of that valuable energy is simply lost as waste heat, pressure and noise’. Imagine if a new fuel cell is invented, with the help of which you can charge your electric car battery from just a spoonful of water.
3D printing could be another efficient technology that shapes the future. Rather than having goods shipped expensively around the world, you simply download the design instructions for your machine to produce basic products in the comfort of your own lounge. Amazingly it may even be possible for a 3D printer to produce all the parts for a 3D printer, in a sense it’s own technological offspring. Other products such as reprintable paper, or self- cleaning glass provide convenience and efficiency for the consumer. These innovations may leave one pondering, what will happen to the economics of today if the chain of production is reduced to localism? For example, what if independent 3D printers compete with mass manufacturers? Can genuine self- sufficiency be a better solution than globalism? The answer is yes and no. While self- sufficiency would provide people with security, it would not overpower the established chains of demand and supply when it comes to necessities such as specialist foods and telecommunication services. Therefore niche markets can coexist together with global ones.
At the end of the day the question may not be about asking why the consumer should adopt a more energy efficient lifestyle but how can technology mimic the cycles of life that work so efficiently in nature to generate, use and replenish the resources we rely on day to day.
Tagged 3D printers, buildings living organisms, cradle to cradle, energy grid, energy needs, future buildings, globalism, localism, Oberlin College, peak oil, Population, resource efficiency, self sufficiency, Sustainability, technology, waste, William McDonough