Last Friday, I’ve spent quite a chunk of time on the “E=H2O” simulation that IEEE Spectrum had organized together with the Institute for the Future.
Actually, it earned me a “Heisenberg award”.
While I’m extremely happy about that recognition of my contribution, the Heisenberg award could be a mixed blessing: It is awarded to “The player that had the biggest impact of the conversation”. I sincerely hope that there was as much quality as there was quantity to my contributions. The blog article about the award confirms that there was some substance to what I wrote:
Grainger scoured the card stack for interesting ideas […] successfully pushing other players to elaborate on intriguing ideas and consider alternate scenarios.
Enough about that. Here is my personal shot at the insight from the simulation. I’m looking forward to some kind of official outcome.
- Unlike my attitude before I joined the simulation, mankind isn’t facing a water challenge and an energy challenge in isolation. The two are actually closely linked. (that was a piece of insight from the briefing)
- Fairly early in the simulation, the emergence of wars about water was declared common knowledge. That’s good… presumably, this reflects that people have understood that the situation is serious. Somebody suggested to google “water wars” to get an overview over how much of this is already happening today.
- From a “problem” point of view, quite a controversy sparked around the role of world-wide population growth. My point of view: No kind of exponential growth is sustainable. (“Exponential growth of responsible citizens still leads to exponential growth of overall resource consumption – even if at a slower rate.”)
- The coupled water-energy challenge plays out very differently across the regions of the world. Europe, for example, is placed fairly well with water, but does rather poor in terms of energy resources. The North-African deserts, as a prominent example of the opposite, have lots of energy potential, but practically no water.
- This imbalance is a driver for migration. People need both water and energy, so they tend to move where both is readily available.
- Consequence of that: Once Africa gets its act together and turns “energy potential” into “energy at your finger tips”, overcoming the water challenge there might be a lot easier. Today, energy travels more easily than water, but that might change. Then, potentially, everybody would want to live in Africa.
- In the context of the simulation, I have spent a lot of thinking on politics, policies and political decision making. It turns out that I’m rather pessimistic in that respect: I believe a lot of decision making is not centered around the ideal solution, but around the interests of those in power, such as being re-elected. An example became apparent in the BP oil spill. (“Spiegel Online: US-Inspektoren ließen sich von Big Oil schmieren” – sorry for the German reference)
- Unnecessary transportation of all kinds seems to play a major role in the energy-water challenge – or at least in its solution
- One of my favorite attempts at cracking the energy-water challenge: Split the planet into areas that are mostly self-sufficient and have defined resource-interfaces with their neighbors. Material and energy exchanges only with immediately adjacent neighbors. No transportation beyond immediate adjacency. Apply this concept of mostly self-sufficient areas recursively, align administrative boundaries (such as states or counties) with resource availability. The smallest mostly self-sufficient unit could be a house or an apartment, equipped with a biogas plant, a CHP and water treatment.
- I also like the idea to cultivate sea weed and process it offshore, harvesting biogas and – ideally – fresh water.
Last but not least, it was a lot of fun! – Thanks to all who contributed.
Wanna know the official outcome? – Use the force, read the source. The full data from the simulation is available for download!
For those of you ultimately curious: Here’s the final status of my profile. Yes, I am proud of having contributed 😉
Image Credit top left: manfred-hartmann – Source: Flickr