How Close is the World to Unlimited Energy, Water and Food?

Mike Gillam, 27 April 2015

In Peter Diamandis’ book, Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, he makes the case that the future is better than most in the media would have us believe.

At the foundation of Peter’s premise is the observation that our minds are very good at linear thinking and very poor at exponential thinking. As an example, take 30 steps linearly – and most people can guess you will be across the room. Take 30 steps exponentially, each step doubling the distance of the step before, and most people have trouble guessing that takes you 10 times around the earth.

What is most remarkable about exponential trends is how long the “stasis” period is where it appears nothing is happening and how fast the “detonation” occurs at the end. For example, imagine sitting in a baseball stadium filling with one drop of water every second and doubling with every drop. How long would it be until you drown? Many people have trouble guessing that the water would barely cover the pitch at 45 minutes. Most people also miss guessing that they would drown just 4 minutes after that.

The result is that corporations, industries and people are often completely taken unaware by exponential trends. One day we have phones with buttons – the next – every phone has a touchscreen.

Recently, Ray Kurzweil pointed out the the trend in solar cell production has been doubling every two years for the last 38 years (graph below.)

Look familiar? Some countries are leading the way. Germany met 50% of their energy needs from solar power again this summer. The total world’s energy supplied by solar today is 0.5%.

The staggering implication of 0.5% energy from solar is that is just eight doublings away from solar power alone being able to supply over 100% world’s energy needs.

0.5% of the world’s energy from solar is just eight doublings away from solar power alone being able to supply over 100% of the world’s energy needs.

If we add the exponential increases in other energy sources in addition to solar then it appears that the world is just 15 years away from energy that costs just pennies on the dollar compared to today.

Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh. 97% is salt water. 40% of the water for the United Arab Emirates is supplied by desalination plants. With inexpensive energy, desalination becomes economically viable for countries bordering oceans across the world.

With fresh water and inexpensive energy, suddenly moving the water for irrigation becomes possible. Arid areas become farmland.

Why is that important to health? If energy continues its exponential trend, then it means that the world could be witness to the greening of the world’s deserts. The delivery of clean water and sanitation to villages everywhere can be the end of drought and famine.

Just like Moore’s Law enabled the world to become globally interconnected over little more than a decade, trends in energy could have a bigger impact on human health than almost any effort in human history.

Who are the people who will usher in the efforts and the companies that help lead the greening of the world’s deserts?

It is up to us today to decide because not only could the future be much better than we think – but much closer as well.

Mike Gillam, MD, FACEP 2015

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