One idea that caught my eye while reading the essays compiled in Visions of the Future, a book from the grandiose Lifeboat Foundation, was the so-called “enernet”.
Much like the “internet”, the enernet would be a network designed to make something freely accessible everywhere in the globe. That thing would not be information, however (which is not entirely free, except where the brave rebel pirates have gotten ahead of the high court orders, to our everlasting satisfaction). It would be energy. Free electricity, everywhere, as a fundamental human right?
At first, while reading of this (I forget the author’s name but he will be credited accordingly in my eventual review), I had reservations. Wouldn’t this enernet be based yet again like that other strategic energy-domination dream, on giant cold fusion reactors securely in the middle of Europe and North America, thus preserving global inequality and allowing the west to carry out energy sanctions against any individual, household, firm or country of its choosing? No, according to the essay I am addressing. The enernet, like the internet, would be highly distributed in form. It would lead to renewable energy sources scattered all across the world. Solar arrays, wind farms, maybe even your own household-based or village-based energy mills and other highly localised energy sources.
That would be a sure form of economic and political liberation, if only it proves to be technically feasible in the decades far, far ahead. It is likely, though, that the type of global political unity needed to install the infrastructure of this thing globally is far off. Even the internet is fractured and with good reason. By trying to spy on every person in the world through global fibroptic cables, the United States showed that it was not a trustworthy minister of any type of global economic or social change. It is just looking to extend its own power and authority over every living soul in the world, for crazy nationalist reasons dreamed up by flag wavers obsessed with that stripey bit of red, white and blue cloth invented a few centuries ago.
Of course, the manufacturing centers of much of the alloys and other resources needed to make renewable energy technologies would still be part of a highly centralised and unjust production process centered in the western world taking a great deal of economic and industrial might away from the billions of hungry children who are destined to inherit the earth. That is regrettable, but solar panels and other energy technologies are sufficiently long-lasting (it’s the battery and other power storage technologies that are the problem in such a scenario) that the result of an enernet would still be radically liberating compared to present technology when it comes to the world’s poorest peoples and national economies.
What is more promising still is something much older: the genome. Master of the human genome, the first to fully decode human DNA, J. Craig Venter, believes his discoveries are the answer to untold amounts of suffering, and I share that view.
The looming breakthrough in synthetic biology I am waiting patiently for will create a true decentralised energy revolution making the “enernet” seem far too timid. Synthetic life will be everywhere in the future. Nothing will contain its spread, as the world’s biology is re-engineered to suit human needs. As determined by its carefully tweaked and reprogrammed DNA, it will automatically extract and efficiently refine fuels capable of retaining incredible power, everywhere. The effects of that revolution will be far greater than those promised by the enernet, even though I would love to see the enernet become a reality.
That’s the energy solution, the solution to the energy crisis, that the economic power elites of the world would dread most. It’s something I like to encourage, ever since I wrote my own finely tuned futurist thesis Catalyst (2013) predicting and prescribing exactly the solution to global energy power-politics.