|Q: Some of the critics of “Limits to Growth” said that you focused too much on population growth and energy crisis. Do you still consider these two problems to be the most critical?
Energy consumption is at the heart of the problem. We are past the problems of population growth. The population has been growing for many years and has reached enormous proportions. The size of the global population is so big that if we would like to have a reasonable living standard pr. head the planet would be too small. Is this a problem caused by population growth? We have a population problem in North-America and Western Europe. We use the most energy. One billion Chinese doesn’t matter compared to one hundred million gas-guzzling Americans and Europeans. China will use at least fifty years to reach our level of energy consumption.
Q: A while ago large parts of northern America experienced energy black-outs. The problem was blamed on old technology and lacking standards of energy exchange. Do you think energy scarcity will lead to more black-outs? What does this say about infrastructural vulnerability?
Your question doesn’t make sense. You’re mixing a short-term technical problem with a long-term imbalance. If you ask the question: Do you think there will be times when we don’t have enough energy for every person and company compared to what is normal? The answer is “yes”. We might get there because the capacity is increasing too slowly, and will continue to be slow. Nobody wants a nuclear plant in their back-yard; nobody wants wind-mills on their hills. Your next questions would be: How do we rationalize the energy? You can do nothing and get a problem. You can increase the prize of energy. You can set a limit of kilowatt hours pr. head. Are we able to develop a system for rationalizing when the time comes? This is a very technical question that is very interesting for the engineers that work with the infrastructure. How do you adjust to a period of increasing demand and decreasing supply on the net? The question remains unanswered.
Q: At a talk you held at NVE you conclude that the best way to solve the energy crisis is through gradually increasing energy prices. This would push industry into more effective production. Alternative energy source amount to 3% of the global consumption. Some experts predict that we will reach peak production as early as 2030. How do we adjust in time?
We can adjust in time through gradually increasing energy price and rationalizing. OPEC tripled the price of oil in one day in 1972. It was uncomfortable for a while but the world didn’t end because of it. Some countries forbid cars on Sundays. This is a small cost compared to doing nothing. Many disagree with this. Many consider Sunday rides with their cars and heated swimming pools as bare essentials. By consuming less we can develop better alternative sources of energy. The few years with insufficient energy will be hard to measure in historical terms.
Q: Scenario planning isn’t about predicting the future but creating a better understanding of uncertainty. There is much critical uncertainty in the coming 20 years; fuel cells, robotics/A.I., stem cells, gene therapy, molecular manufacturing etc. Big changes often come unannounced. Don’t you think such disruptive changes make many scenarios as much a fantasy as a basis for sound decision making?
It’s much easier to look at the big changes in the last 30 years. The Personal Computer didn’t exist when we made the models in 1972. I say my first PC in 1979. There have been many fantastic technological breakthroughs, but the scenarios we made 30 years ago haven’t been much affected by the PC or mobile phones. We look at fundamental and heavy processes. There’s continuous progress done with alternative energy and if this enables us to change from fossil fuels in 5 years we will get different scenarios. This is not how things work. It will happen over 30 years with incremental transitions.
Q: Don’t you think catalysis of coal to gas and oil might lead to big enough changes in 5 years?
This is fascinating research. I’m educated in physics and was doing a Ph.D. on fusion. We were working on fusion reactors instead of fission reactors. 32 years ago I was walking across the street at MIT and met a professor that was sure fusion energy would supply the world with energy in the future. Things like this takes a lot of time to develop. So will nanotechnology.
Jørgen Randers gave a quick answer to my question about the consequence of energy shortages on security issues: “USA owns Saudia Arabia”. He didn’t know the anti-globalist pet Immanuel Wallerstein and said that “Many system-gurus are just doing verbal exercises. We are the only ones who model the world right”.