There is no energy crisis, just a crisis of ignorance. – Buckminster Fuller Our material world is nothing but energy.
Contrary to what economists say, we don’t produce energy and we don’t consume it; we just reorganize it. When we talk about energy production, we’re referring to converting energy in our environment from its existing forms into different forms that we can use to power certain technologies. The amount of mass or energy we expend and the by-products we generate while doing this is a reflection of our relative knowledge or ignorance. We see evidence of this knowledge when we look at how well we’re able to reorganize energy into forms that we can use to enhance our wealth. The big questions are, how many tons of resources are necessary to get the energy we need and how well are our products designed to minimize the energy required?
We’ve been relying on specific forms of energy during the past 150 years because it was the only way to meet our needs with our nascent knowledge of how nature works. Fuel is energy mass that is arranged (or configured) by nature in such a way that a portion of its embodied energy can be released with limited technology. Oil was discovered in vast quantities in the ground where it was easy to procure and we figured out how to release a portion of its energy by burning it. Since then, technologies have evolved around finding new and better ways to access and use that oil and similar fuels.
What we call a shortage or an energy crisis is a shortage of certain fuels that we’ve figured out how to get from the earth's crust and move around and burn with all kinds of undocumented costs. But all of physical reality consists of a variety of energy forms; there is no shortage of energy. If there's a shortage of anything, it’s in our ability to take our best knowledge about how nature works and apply it to designing usable forms of energy.
How will we do this? Our energy future will not be about finding new ways to move around ever more of the earth's crust. The next big thing will look quite different. The next big thing will in fact be a lot of small things - very, very small, unimaginably small, even invisible things.
The future of energy will come from our new-found knowledge of how nature rearranges itself at the most fundamental level of reality. It will be informed by the knowledge of how invisible, weightless energy fluctuations become matter and how minimal matter organizes into complex substances that we use to solve problems. It will involve understanding how the most basic life forms organize energy to solve their problems. With this knowledge we can eliminate our dependence on massive mining, refining, and marketing of fossil fuels, along with most other materials we use to manufacture products.
Already, we're applying this knowledge and replacing the technologies we use daily with new ones that use a fraction of the embedded mass per delivered unit of value. Nearly waterless washing machines. Houses that don't need furnaces. Rooms that don't need bulbs or fixtures. We need more people to recognize that this is the future and intentionally work toward minimizing mass in design and drastically increasing resource performance.
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Explore our earlier blogs, especially in the design category.