What impressed you most, positively or negatively, in 2016, and why?
I’ve been impressed and excited by the unrelenting ride down the price/performance curves for photovoltaics, electric vehicles, battery technology, sensor technology and so much more. These represent the foundation for profound technical, business social disruption ahead.
Most people can’t see it; legacy industries will fight it; but the shift is clear. Fossil is over, renewables win; the only question is how long the transition will take to play out, and with how much pain and struggle along the way.
What technology makes you hopeful about the year hear because of its potential impact?
In addition to the rapidly falling price of renewable energy, and the almost unavoidable advent of autonomous vehicles (my hopefulness is tempered with mixed feelings), I’m surprised and delighted by the growing attention to the potential role of living soil as the ultimate carbon sink, and therefore the potential role of sustainable agriculture, forestry and range management as macro, not niche, strategies.
Imagine it’s 2030. What technology, trend policy or other development made the biggest difference?
First, the key was putting a price on carbon; that provided market signals that reflected the real costs of energy alternatives, which in turn guided investment, drove innovation and fueled market capture across almost every economic sector. Those who were able to read the signs early and bet on proxy prices before they became “real” prices led the transition, and benefited greatly from it.
Second was the emergence of the blockchain and its descendants, providing complete, end-to-end, supply chain transparency and capture of embedded energy and externalities. These provided visibility into the invisible “wastes” in the global economy, and a pathway to massive profit for those who could see them.
Third was the constellation of distributed energy, storage and management systems, which drove the deep disruption of the utility industry, transforming it from a slow-moving commodities and infrastructure industry to a data, financing and services industry. This was not an easy transition, and was battled over in courts and legislatures for decades, but ultimately it was compelling business logic (supported by “getting the prices right” that won the day). (P.S.: I offer another possible 2030 vision here.)
La lutte continue. Without context, numbers are just data. With context, they have a chance of being information.
I fondly remember a talk by then EPA Administrator Steven Johnson some years ago. Last year, he bragged from the podium, we recycled 600,000 tons (or some large number) of municipal solid waste. He beamed. I fretted. Was that a lot, or a little? Don’t know. Was it better than last year, or worse? Don’t know. Have we learned anything. Clearly not. Accurate data that’s absolutely useless. It’s everywhere.
Same problem with graphs in newspapers — even the venerable NY Times. You’ve seen it: a view of the top of a tall column chart, with the context of the full chart, so a 1% change looks like a 60% change. Sure, the detail’s there in the legend for those who look, but who looks?
(I laid out some of the principles in
2008 1998 in Environmental Quality Management: EcoMetrics: Integrating direct and indirect environmental costs and benefits into management information systems [924k PDF] and explored their application in 2004: Key sustainability KPIs: The simple, the sobering, the significant.)
Prompted by Sprint vs. AT&T: Dialing up the metrics that matter by Marc Gunther, and an ongoing conversation about “sustainability context” with Bill Baue, Mark McElroy, Allen White and others.
Be sure to think this day (every day?) about what you are thankful for. And who you are thankful for. And be sure to tell them.
Let me start: I’m thankful for you – friends, family, colleagues, coaches, mentors, teachers, guides, clients and readers. Dancers and party animals. Chefs and dinner partners. Poets and pundits (well, poets).
For the blaze of sunlight, and the web of life that coils sunlight into flowers and slugs, peacocks and lions, sharks and ants and symphonies.
For acceptance. And resistance. And compassion.
For obstacles. For abundant possibility.
For the infinite mystery at the heart of all being.
For my breath this day.
For the one breath. Of all life. Every day.