Thursday, May 06, 2004


It's been said many times that we live in an age of great change and it's not difficult to see how true that is. A comparison of life today with life 50, 30, even 20 years ago will show up great differences.

Certain periods in history change the world so much that they gain names for doing just that. The Industrial Revolution is the obvious example and the Atomic Revolution would have been the same had humanity not shied away from that change because it feared the potential problems it could have brought with it.

So far in my life, I have lived (am living) through one such revolution: that of Information and Communication. Even ten years ago it would have been difficult to foresee the consequences that the internet and mobile phone technology would have on our lives now. I would guess history will look back on the last few years of the 20th Century and the first few years of the 21st as a time of great change indeed.

The problem with these revolutions is that they are so difficult to predict in advance and therefore, it is almost impossible to evaluate all of the implications, both good and bad. Such as the health problems that you get when you live in the vicinity of factories belching out toxic smoke. The internet is a prime example. I'm sure, that if we were to scrap the web as it currently exists and build something from scratch to replace it, the W3C would make sure that the problems of security, standards and disabled access (among others) would be addressed from the beginning to ensure what we ended up with would be as stable and secure as possible.

So, what will the next revolution be? Will we foresee it enough to be able to avoid the pitfalls and make a complete success of it?

Surprisingly, I think the answer to both of those questions is yes, this time. In fact, the next revolution has already been predicted and warnings are starting to ring out that if we don't start thinking about it now we could be in serious trouble.

What am I talking about? The Energy Revolution.

Commercially viable oil production has a limited amount of time left. The most pessimistic people say that, in as little as ten years, oil prices could be forced through the roof as the production becomes more difficult. More realistic estimates put it more like thirty years away. That's still not very long.

If we do nothing, the world as we know it will grind to a halt. Most of us, I'm sure, aren't aware of how much oil affects our lives at the moment. There are some very obvious ways; fuel for transport and power stations; but there are also other, much more subtle uses for black gold. Such as plastics, synthetic clothing & upholstery, fertilisers and medicines. Can you imagine what the world would be like if it suddenly couldn't generate as much electricity as before? If we couldn't drive our cars any more? If we couldn't grow food so efficiently? If we couldn't manufacture the synthetic materials that so pervade our every day lives? It would be chaos.

We have a golden opportunity, right now, to start looking for alternative sources for all of these things and making the decisions that will stave off any problems.

There are still big obstacles in the way, though. The first is the power of the oil companies, especially in the US, and their reluctance to really commit to finding viable, limitless alternatives. The second, more dangerous obstacle is in our own minds. It's all very well hoping that governments will get up off their arses and make real commitments to finding solutions to problems that may not yet occur for decades, but if we remain largely apathetic to the potential issues then those governments will take any excuse they can not to bother.

We need a revolution in the minds of the public. And we need it soon.

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