»Imagine a world where the power is always on. A world in which there is not just enough energy, but too much. Too much, at any rate, to worry about it. So much that we can forget about it and relax, because it’s just there, all around us, all the time.
Imagine a world of abundance. Not just of energy, but also of water, food and space – for everyone. Everyone who’s already here, and everyone who’s going to join us over the next few decades, be that another billion or another ten billion people.
Imagine a world in which our use of natural resources is not going to deplete the planet, or damage it beyond repair, but in which we and the cities we build, the nature that surrounds us and the resources we have are put to such use that we can stop obsessing about them and instead turn our attention to other, more interesting, more imaginative, more fantastical things, such as what to do with all that energy we’re bathed in.
Such a world is no Utopia. It is a possible reality. And we can attain it within one generation. Between 25 and 35 years from now we can, if we put our minds to it, be in a situation where we can look at our ‘energy crisis’ today as the end phase of the age of resources and the beginning of the age of the network. And ‘putting our minds to it’ is the key. Resources are not our problem, our way of thinking is. And while no amount of untapped oil, carbon-captured coal or shale gas will move us to the next level in the long term, our intelligence most certainly will.
Genius Planet offers an accessible but detailed and insightful perspective on how we can free ourselves from our dependency on natural resources and adopt ways of generating, trading, and using energy that open up untold potential and effectively lift us onto a new plateau, on which carbon footprints, nuclear waste, air pollution and the cost of supplying sufficient power to populations in any part of the world are no longer an issue.«
This is the proposal of GENIUS PLANET – FROM ENERGY SCARCITY TO ENERGY ABUNDANCE, a book I have been working on since 2009, and which I co-author with Ludger Hovestadt and Sebastian Michael. It will hopefully be forthcoming towards the end of the year 2013 (finally).
The core argument we develop is that information technology is taking a primary role now in every aspect of our lives, including energy. In fact, energy technology and information technology are fusing together and this has extremely far-reaching consequences for everything we do with energy: how we ‘produce’ or garner it, how we distribute, channel and trade in it. Crucially, it also means that some of the principles that apply to information are beginning to apply to energy. ‘Kilobytes as kilowatts’ might be the catchphrase. And the most startling, most potent parallel between kilobytes and kilowatts, and one which is entirely new, is this: the more we use, the cheaper they become. With kilobytes we recognize this to be the case immediately: Moore’s Law postulated exponential growth for data processing combined with ever decreasing costs five decades ago, and it has been proved correct all along. So if, for the first time ever, the same is true now also for energy, then that means we are dealing with a genuine game changer.
No matter which philosophical context we apply, there’s one particular aspect about nature that is common to them all: what we call nature is the place from which we take our energy, where we find our resources. And yet there is only one actual and infinite source of energy: the sun.
Considered from an energy perspective, “nature” is a multilayered system of conversion and storage processes for the sun’s energy stream, in which the earth happens to orbit. All organic forms on earth—whether they are animate or inanimate, archaeal (microorganisms), botanical, or animal—are encompassed within a system in which energy that ultimately stems from the sun is captured and stored, accessed and used, and thus reintegrated into earth’s lifecycles.
The cultural techniques with which we humans have learned to “cultivate” nature, and which we have used to access ever-more natural energy stores ever-more efficiently, tend to rely on the exploitation of various “compartments”—resources like wood, coal, or oil. Now, however, for the first time in our history, contemporary technology makes it possible for us to bypass nature, and, instead of drawing on these energy stores, access the solar energy stream directly. Solar technology is not “renewable” energy. It rather taps into and draws from an infinite stream directly. And just because of that, it is additional energy, additional to that capsulated and stored in what we have learned to call nature. Each day, the sun stream delivers about 10,000 times as much potential energy to earth as all humanity currently uses in a year from nature’s storages.
This is – in a nutshell – the background story to our abundance initiative. There are many themes springing from this which we want to discuss with intellectuals from politics, economics, science, philosophy, and cultural domains more largely.
Here is a case study done for the conference Addis 2050 – An Alternative Pathway into Ethiopia’s urban future (held on October 9th and 10th 2012 at the campus of the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development EiABC in Addis Ababa) by Jorge Orozco, one of my colleagues:
Addis 2050: A rethink of Ethiopia’s Energy Future (read on issue)
Based on the thoughts that moved us to write Genius Planet, we began with the Abundance Initiative an ongoing series of interviews, conversations, lectures and writings to address and discuss the themes and challenges put forward in our book. We have met with Michel Serres, Bernhard Stiegler, Gregg Lambert, Manuel deLanda, Georg Christoph Tholen, Hans-Dieter Bahr, Bernhard Siegert, Ludwig Jäger, Geert Lovink, Derek de Kerckhove among many others. The conversations are ongoing, and up to now, the material is so vast and rich – we simply have not found a proper way of presenting some of its content to a broader audience. But all the conversations start out, in short, from a kind of declaration of interest:
The Abundance Initiative
»Climate crisis, energy crisis, financial crisis, war, exploitation, pollution, famine, disease… in the face of all this, how can we be launching an initiative on a culture of abundance?
To our minds, the often cited limits to growth are not limitations to the actual capacity of our planet. We can’t, in fact, even know for certain where these are. The real limits lie in our own capacity to think, in our conceptions and models, and in what appears to be an exhaustion of our imaginative powers. And these limits are neither permanent nor are they fixed.
It is not necessary to revive the largely naive and therefore potentially fatal faith in progress that characterised the early 20th century to realise that – in direct contrast to the currently prevalent atmosphere of crisis – we’ve never had it so good as today. More human beings than ever before are out of poverty, able to pursue their ambitions and do more or less whatever they feel like, and can grow to a ripe old age. Of course, not everybody in the world has the same opportunities, but more people have far greater opportunity today than at any point in history. The situation is at once exhilarating and depressing, because with its unprecedented potential it also presents unheard-of problems.
The concept of an existential crisis caused by scarcity serves us ill as a basis for finding new solutions to these new problems, because it by necessity restricts us. It spreads fear, propagates struggle and understandably demands for a just distribution of resources. So the call is for saving energy and for reducing our consumption, and it’s a call that has remained, for decades now, unheeded, while all the time the spectre of ever-more threatening statistics grows. But above all, the concept of scarcity represents an attack on our urban culture. And this is not only unnecessary, it is also unreasonable: there are more people living in cities today than there were people alive on the planet in 1960. So urban culture is now more needed than ever.
With the Abundance Initiative we seek to launch a discourse on the extraordinary, even fantastical possibilities that are open to us in our world today. The cornerstones of this discourse are the pragmatism of engineering sciences on the one hand and the inventive forces of philosophy on the other. And the direction we aim for is learning to cultivate the potential that lies in a global digital logistics whose information technology networks provide us with an infrastructure that allows for radical new symbolisations in our way of life.«
To see the latest directions this initiative has led our thinking, cf. especially the posts:
Towards an Economy of Entropy (or how to substantiate liminitudinality), lecture held at Deleuze 2013 in Lisboa
Videos of the Metalithikum Conferences organized in Collaboration with the Library Werner Oechslin in Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Info flyers of »printed physics« (Summer 2010); »domesticating symbols« (Winter 2010); »symbolizing existence« (Winter 2011); »popularizing insistence« (Winter 2013).
The first volume of our Applied Virtuality Book Series has been published by Springer in December 2012. It documents the first workshop and is entitled Printed Physics (amazon.org)
Or here you can find some of our early early attempts at finding a way of documenting and sharing:
View a short sneak preview clip from a lecture given at the Energy Festival in Riga, fall 2010:
and more technically, an excerpt from Ludger Hovestadt’s lecture at the digitalSTROM developer’s day in Zurich in 2010:
here is a short sneak preview of the interviews we did, and of which I might post here more excerpts later on.
here are some samples of student works when asked to develop “serious stories” for a future of abundance: