Whenever we talk about pushing for 100% renewables, naysayers start arguing that we can never run our current economy without energy intensive fossil fuels. But they forget one simple thing:
We don't have to.
In a world where you can address a conference from your own bedroom, or order your groceries or even publish a book without ever getting dressed, the old way of doing things just seems, well, increasingly old.
Cheap Fossil Fuels Shaped Our Worldview
The economy of today is structured the way it is because it was built on the false assumption of cheap fossil fuels. If we choose to take responsibility for the true cost of those fossil fuels (admittedly this is still a big "if"), the economics of how we organize our lives will start to look radically different.
Don't Replace Fossil Fuels. Make Them Irrelevant.
True, it will mean fewer cheap flights to far off countries and a likely increase in the price of meat, to name but a few "hardships". But it will also mean that taking control of our own power supplies will become increasingly feasible. It will mean smarter (not bigger) housing solutions will become more-and-more accessible. And our cities will evolve to become cleaner, more pleasant and productive places to live.
Just because the dinosaur economy is coming to an end does not mean we can, or will, return to a pre-fossil fuel economy.
Virtual Industries Create Real Jobs
For the last 6 years I've operated a viable business using little more than a laptop, a desk, a lamp and an internet connection. I haven't commuted. I've rarely traveled. I've peed in my yard. I've given webinars, conducted interviews and hosted live chats from the comfort of my own home. And I've created considerable economic activity and real jobs in the process.
Yes, these activities have their own impacts—from heating a home office to running a host server—but they are pretty insignificant compared to the old-world economy needs of even a business like mine, which would have required a separate office with its computer, furniture, the energy to keep it running and the infrastructure needed to get me there.
In a Dumb Economy, Everything Can Get Smarter
Undoubtedly, such virtual (or at least minimized) industries have initially been more feasible for us beardy creative types. But even that is changing. 3D printing could revolutionize manufacturing. Collaborative consumption is blurring the lines between product and service. Soilless agriculture is creating hyper-productive, climate proof farms in the heart of the city. And the smart grid is transforming how we think about energy supply and demand. Heck, even the ever growing stable of alternative economic theories could be framed as a "virtualization" of economic growth, honing in on the end "service" of providing human well being, rather than the "product" of increased GDP.
I'm not saying the shift to a smarter, cleaner economy is inevitable. Nor is it easy.
I'm just saying that we can't talk about running our economy on renewables unless we also discuss what that economy will look like. Regardless of what we do, the future will be radically different to the past.
Let's use some intentionality in how we shape it.