The stories we need to tell

In order to develop images and visions of the direction and methods for change, we do not only need analysis and dry conclusions. We need vivid accounts of the transformation process and methods.

In the same way that novels and stories of earlier generations have ushered in new ideas and helped us give up out-dated ones, we need stories that tell us how to build the society of the future. If we look at current movies and literature it seems as if we are not approaching a dramatic challenge. It seems as if film makers and authors are entirely unaware of the impending change, or it may be that they refuse to help in the transformation process.

We need stories that provide seemingly realistic accounts of the transformation process. These could be:

– Thrillers that present different aspects of the transformation process as a struggle between ideals, systems, nations, companies or individuals.

– Epic stories that tell of the difficulties of changing society and building communities and the struggles that people will encounter on the way to a new future.

– Artistic and creative attempts to present ideas through metaphors or that create multi-faceted stories that challenge us to interpret them in different ways.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, provided images of “The American Dream” through images of upper middle class life styles of the “Jazz age”. We need similar images of the future that may complement attempts, such as Global Energy Transformation, to analyze the transformation challenges.

Friday, August 14, 2009 by Mats Larsson

The power of literature

I have been thinking about how literature has contributed to form society and its values. This process has been on-going and it works two ways. Of, course literature is also formed by society, as in the painting by MC Escher of two hands that draw each other.

“The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald described the values and life style of the “Jazz age”, through a piece of immortal literature. In the 1950’s we had novels like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, and “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger. These were novels that questioned the values of the society of their time.

One of my own favorite novels is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. This was published in 1974 and it discusses the concept of quality. It influenced me greatly when I read it in the early 1980’s.

We need the images of great literature and good movies to guide us into the future. We know that society will need to change, but we don’t know exactli in which ways. Creating the society of the future could not only be a task of “left brain” analysts. We need authors of fiction and movie makers to help us with this effort.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 by Mats Larsson

We need stories

Last week I read a book in the field of History of German Literature by my friend Dr. Anna Helm (The Intersection of Material and Poetic Economy – Gustav Freytag’s “Soll und Haben” and Adalbert Stifter’s “Der Nachsommer”, Publisher: Peter Lang, Editor: Jeffrey L. Sammons). Anna has studied two German novels from the 19th Century. One of them is the novel Debit and Credit by the German author Gustav Freytag. This was one of the most read novels of its day and it was translated to all European languages.

The main character of the book, Anton, is learning to become a businessman. The novel relates his efforts and his feelings as he learns about business, and the book sets his values and abilities in contrast to those of another apprentice, who builds his business success on less righteous values.

When I read this book, it struck me how literature and film, and the stories, values and characters that we receive from them, help in forming society and our future. In our present effort to create society along more sustainable practices, the entertainment industry and the cultural elite need to contribute.

While Global Energy Transformation provides necessary components of analysis and reasoning, this type of book will appeal primarily to experts and people who are used to linear reasoning and conceptualization. In order to spread visions, ideas and images of how to recreate society along new lines, we need to involve the right side of our brains, which works in a holistic manner. By evoking strong images around important subjects related to society, technology and the future, more of us will become also emotionally involved. By doing this, he search for solutions may become wider, involving more people and a larger part of their consciousness.

This type of effort was important in the mid 19th Century when Debit and Credit was written. It will become even more important today as we stand on the threshold of a new era.

Saturday, August 08, 2009 by Mats Larsson

Building the future by reflecting on the past

I’ve recently reflected on how our present society has developed through the past few centuries from an agrarian society, largely based on self sufficency and local markets, to a society in which market based interaction and global trade has become the norm. Past generations have experimented, learned from their successes and mistakes, repeated successful patterns of behavior, and through this sometimes chaotic, sometimes structured, process, we have developed the society of the present.

Now we are facing a new challenge. We need once more to rebuild and restructure society, based on the assumption that we will have access to less fossil energy in the future. In this effort we will need to evaluate many of our present habits and routines and we need to better understand the reasons that have made us, through generations, develop society into what we have at present. We need also to understand the forces that have formed our society and bring with us into the future useful aspects of past achievements.

We need to better understand the role of money and how we have come to look upon money and form our capitalist economies in the way that we have. We need to better understand the role of energy in the formation of the present. It is abundant and cheap energy, harnessed in fossil fuels, that has made the present society possible. Few of us are aware of this, and more of us need to grasp this and its implications.

We also need to understand the role of ambition in forming society, and the willingness to learn in order to create a better future, not only for one individual, but for all of humanity. Most of all perhaps, we need to better understand values. We need to discover once more what we really value in life and in society and strive to maintain as much of this as possible. This is what Global Energy Transformation is about.

Thursday, August 06, 2009 by Mats Larsson

In an article in today’s iddue ot The Independent, Dr. Faith Birol of the International Energy Agency warns of imminent price increases for oil and a production peak that will arrive much earlier than experts have previously estimated.

The Washington Post carries an article on green energy technology by the CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, and venture capitalist John Doerr. They argue that the United States is falling behind in the race to develop green technology and that stronger efforts will be needed to regain the leading position in this area.

Monday, August 03, 2009 by Mats Larsson

Peak Coal

I read the recently published book “Blackout” by Richard Heinberg. It goes into detail about the challenge of “Peak Coal”. In the past, similar to oil, coal resources have been overestimated. Experts have estimated that resources would last hundreds of years into the future. This, however, according to Richard Heinberg, does not seem to be the case.

The reason for the mistakes has been that estimates have not taken into account the relevance of the peak in production and the fact that the resources that are the best quality and the easiest and least expensive to mine, will be the ones that will be used firts. Much of the coal will be expensive or impossible to mine and we are tapping into resources of lower quality.

Many countries that rely on coal for electricity production experience blackouts due to coal shortages. Oil refineries are sometimes idle in countries that can afford to use the oil, but that do not have enough electricity to refine it.

Heinberg goes into detail about coal resources in the most coal rich countries, such as the US, China, India, Russia and Europe. He argues that while it may still be possible to increase production, quality will decline and this will lead to reduced reliability of energy production. For countries that still have large amounts of coal that could be exported, such as Russia, transportation infrastructures need maintenance and expansion.

The book ends with three brief scenarios for how to deal with the Peak Coal, Peak Oil and Peak Gas developments. One of them is the Transition scenario, which seems to be relatively similar to my own Energy Systems Transformation alternative.

Friday, July 31, 2009 by Mats Larsson

On the potential of new technologies

When I went to university I used to work as a travel guide on tours to Berlin and other cities in Europe. On tours to Berlin I went past one of Sweden’s first two test wind turbines, which was located outside of the city of Trelleborg on the south coast of Sweden. This was twenty-five years ago. By now wind power still delivers less than one per-cent of all the electricity in the world. In some countries it is considerably higher, but in most countries it is lower.

While technologies like wind and wave power have huge potential, it takes a lot of time to perfect the technologies, develop cost effective solutions and increase the capacity of turbine production. The same is true for other technologies, such as biofuels for transportation, electric vehicles or other new technologies. It will take years, or decades, until any of the new power sources deliver one per-cent of the power of any large country. In the case of tried and tested technologies, like nuclear power or a new technology like tidal power, the time it takes to produce a large plant is a decade or more.

When I say that we need to analyze the need of renewable fuels and the potential of new technologies, we need to estimate the time it takes from now until we can expect a new technology to deliver significant amounts of energy. Even if we ran out of energy entirely tomorrow, the market would not be able to speed up the development and expansion of new power sources to cover the demand.

We need analysis, startegies, plans and managed change in order to develop new technologies at the pace that is necessary to cover future energy demand.

In my book Global Energy Transformation, I provide an outline for a large scale transformation program:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 by Mats Larsson

The emperor’s new clothes

Despite the increasing interest in sustainability we are not even close to solving the problem. Technology development on its own is not the solution. Technology needs to be combined with change management.

Increasing investments in technology development are similar to the emperor’s new clothes. How nice! Well done!

I keep saying: The emperor has no clothes. Without a comprehensive analysis of the need for renewable energy, a strategy and a plan based on this need, and a program to realize the potential, we will not progress fast enough.

Sunday, July 19, 2009 by Mats Larsson

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