FINDING THE HOLY GRAIL
I remember a very effective ad campaign years ago for the investment firm of EF Hutton, a company which was later absorbed by larger fish in the investment sea. In each ad, people were in a crowded area talking about their investments and one person says, “Well, my broker is EF Hutton and EF Hutton says…” and suddenly there is a hush, all background noise is silenced and every ear is fixed on what EF Hutton has to say.
That is the way I felt when Dr. James Fenton, the director of UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center said, “We didn’t get out of the ‘stone age’ because we lacked stones, but because we found something better than stone, and we will get out of the ‘oil age’ for the same reason.”
He is right, and we won’t get there moving backwards to attain sustainability. As Matt Ridley observed, “The Dark Ages were a massive experiment in the back-to-nature hippy lifestyle (without the trust fund).”
Remarkably, though a completely sustainable society seems like the Holy Grail, we are making substantial headway. Consider this one fact: Today we farm just 38 percent of the land area of the earth, whereas if we were still relying on 1961 yields, farmers would have to cultivate 82 percent of the land to feed our current population. Think what that can mean to deforestation! Also, ponder this trend: When I was in high school, no one who was “earth-friendly” sang the praises of cities with dense urban populations. Now high- rises are seen as our best option for an eco-friendlier future – in fact they are experimenting with hydroponic high-rise farms in some cities along the Pacific Rim.
Finding sustainable solutions to our water and energy needs impacts me on another level. Imagine for just a moment that you have no lights or power, not for a one or two-hour power outage, but permanently. I’m not describing some zombie apocalypse, but the reality that nearly 1.3 billion people – 18 percent of the world’s population live in every day.
Electricity and clean available water enables the work/life phenomena we call the modern world to exist, and nighttime satellite imagery paints a vivid picture that where people are able to enjoy the creative, inventive and opportunistic benefits of these resources, cultures and progress flourishes. As one writer put it, “Without access to energy, the poor are stuck in the dark, denied all of the economic, social, and health benefits that come with power.
So if we really want to help the world’s poorest families, we need to find a way to get them access to energy they can afford.”
To multi-billionaire Bill Gates, this is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Why? Because once there is affordable power and clean water, as Gates says, “You can run hospitals, light up schools and use modern farm equipment to grow more food.” Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he puts his money where his mouth is, to the tune of nearly $4 billion a year.
Though government is a player in this quest, it is the innovative businesses who have the ideas and are propelled by altruistic and opportunistic incentives that will not only find the solutions the world is looking for, but bring them to market and to the masses in an affordable way, like it did with transportation, personal computers, the Internet and cellular phones.