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combine sizzle in your brain, fire in your belly, perseverance rooted like a redwood, and soul as light as a butterfly. According to the Internet, one Michael C. Muhammad said: “Everything works out right in the end. If things are notworking right, it isn’t the end yet. Don’t let it bother you-relax and keep on going.”
So in this tranquil but unwavering spirit of applied hope, let me tell you a story. In the early 1950s, the Dayak people in Borneo had malaria. The World Health Organization had a solution: spray DDT. They did; mosquitoes died; malaria declined; so far, so good. But there were side-effects. House roofs started falling down on people’s heads, because the DDT also killed tiny parasitic wasps that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. The colonial government gave people sheet-metal roofs, but the noise of the tropical rain on the tin roofs kept people awake. Meanwhile, the DDT-poisoned bugs were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The DDT built up in the food chain and killed the cats. Without the cats, the rats flourished and multiplied. Soon the World Health Organization was threatened with potential outbreaks of typhus and plague, which it would itself have created, and had to call in RAF Singapore to conduct Operation Cat Drop-parachuting a great many live cats into Borneo.
This story-our guiding parable at Rocky Mountain Institute-shows that if you don’t understand how things are connected, often the cause of problems is solutions. Most of today’s problems are like that. But we can harness hidden connections so the cause of solutions is solutions: we solve, or better still avoid, not just one problem but many, without making new ones, before someone has to go parachuting more cats. So join me in envisioning where these linked, multiplying solutions can lead if you apply and extend what you’ve learned and take responsibility for creating the world you want. Details of this business-led future will be described this autumn in a book my team and I are now finishing, called Reinventing Fire.
Imagine a world, a few short generations hence, where spacious, peppy, ultrasafe, 125- to 260-mpg cars whisper through revitalized cities and towns, convivial suburbs, and fertile, prosperous countryside, burning no oil and emitting pure drinking water-or nothing; where sprawl is no longer mandated or subsidized, so stronger families eat better food on front porches and kids free of obesity, diabetes, and asthma play in thriving neighborhoods; where new buildings and plugged-in parked cars produce enough surplus energy to power the now-efficient old buildings; and where buildings make people healthier, happier, and more productive, creating delight when entered, serenity when occupied, and regret when departed.
Imagine a world where oil and coal and nuclear energy have all been phased out, all vanquished by the competitors whose lower costs and risks have already enabled them to capture most of the world’s market for new electrical services-energy efficiency, distributed renewables, combined-heat-and-power-and optionally by small amounts of advanced biofuels that use no cropland and move carbon from air to tilth; where resilient, right-sized energy systems make major failures impossible, not inevitable; where the collapse of oil’s demand and price has defunded enemies, undermined dictatorship and corruption, and doused the Mideast tinderbox; where our advanced economy is no longer fueled at all by … Next Page »
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