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Cautious Optimism
The Green Promise of the Information Economy

There are a lot of inefficiencies in modern economies that new technologies and smarter processes could correct, which, as the FT reports, could lead to greater economic growth with a smaller environmental impact:

“[S]aving energy is not often thought of. It’s not political, not big projects, not glamorous, but it reduces costs for industry and contributes greatly to solving the climate equation,” [said Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman and chief executive of Schneider Electric.]

It could be as simple as throwing a switch, he says. A school, for example, is typically occupied only 50 per cent of the time, so technology that turns off lights and heating can save half its energy use. […]

Mr Tricoire is at pains to stress that he is not talking about insulation, or “passive efficiency”, but using the internet of things to make buildings more efficient, the capacity to connect every energy consuming element in the building to its users using simple principles.

Malthusians envision a dystopian future in which technology run amok leads to the rapacious overconsumption of natural resources. They fail, however, to account for the ways technological progress can streamline processes and boost efficiency.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak: as the developed world continues its transformation from a manufacturing economy to one predicated on the manipulation of information, energy-intensive industries will fall by the wayside, and growth will necessarily be less environmentally damaging. We’re already seeing this in the United States, where our economy’s energy intensity (the amount of energy consumed per dollar of GDP) continues to fall, and we can reasonably expect that trend to continue.

The future is a lot brighter than your average green alarmist would have you think.

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  • MarkE

    First, the toxic by-products from old style manufacturing have merely been sent off-shore. What happens if China or other countries get wealthy enough to want to clean-up their environment?
    Second, the information economy may have energy demands and toxic by-products that become more obvious as their scale continues to increase geometrically, e.g., power consumption by memory storage and germanium doping of silicone.
    Third, the new technology of manufacturing by “3-D copier” has completely unknown toxicity and environmental impacts as does the evolving nanotechnology.
    I believe all of the above things are terrific, but perhaps we are to the time in history when it should be expected that some thought to mitigation strategies will be developed with new technologies. This would require a cultural change probably involving an ethics of anticipatory forethought for technology.

  • Fat_Man

    Malthus takes one more hit.

  • Andrew Allison

    Energy intensive manufacturing accounts for about half of the 31% of energy consumed by industry ( Unless we plan to do without, e.g. cement (16%) and steel (6%), there’s not a whole lot to be gained there. As M. Tricoire points out, the 41% consumed by commercial and residential is ripe for efficiencies. The juiciest target, however, might be the 28% consumed by transportation. Moving long-haul trucking to much more energy-efficient rail transportation might be a good start.

  • Alexander Scipio

    If Greens painted a realistic picture of the future (constant productivity gains, more wealth = more care of the environment, capitalism = more wealth), they couldn’t be Greens any more than if Blues took a good look at the results of their economic policies (constant degradation of the human condition), and stacked those results next to their rhetoric – what they SAY they are for, they couldn’t be Blues. As Maggie said – the facts of life are conservative; the inability of the kids on the Left to comprehend this is the problem. Not the facts.

    • FriendlyGoat

      “The facts of life are conservative.”

      If the World Trade Center is knocked down with American airliners on the watch of a Republican president, the liberals are to absolutely to blame for weak national defense.

      If Republicans can enact a collection of measures in the statehouses to discourage millions of votes from poor people, then we’re a;most sure that a couple of dozen illegal immigrants won’t cast votes and “disenfranchise” a couple of dozen Tea Party members.

      If the Supreme Court gets five Catholic Republican males, we absolutely will not have gay marriage in this country.

      If the five hundred corporations of the S&P 500 are allowed to amass $3.590,000,000,000 in cash and marketable securities, they will hire the young and old, black, brown and white. Unemployment will end because low taxes left enough behind in private hands to create jobs.

      If corporations are allowed to handle communications, then none of the children in America will access porn or send nude pictures of themselves to their friends AND all the technology wizards of the universe.

      After we’ve had enough high-end tax cuts for older folks that half the young adults cannot get the jobs they need to be able to afford to raise kids, then we’ll see an uptrend in traditional marriage and family.

      After the churches take on aura of political clubs in gated communities, we’ll have a new wave of the Holy Spirit in America.

      “The facts of life are conservative”, you say?

      • Tom

        A summary of the assumptions behind your post:

        If things go bad on a Democrat’s watch, it’s the fault of the previous Republican. If things go wrong on a Republican’s watch, it’s his fault.

        If someone is stopped from voting by having to get a free ID, it’s a matter of mass disenfranchisement.

        Anthony Kennedy has never been a waffler.

        Corporations love noshing on their own seed corn. It’s their favorite pastime.

        If the government oversaw communications, teenagers would stop doing stupid things.

        If we raise high-end taxes high enough, then jobs will spring up from the ground and large families will thrive.

        If monopolies are maintained, the quality of their goods and services will rise.

        After the churches are all converted to leftism, there will be peace and harmony in the land.

        I don’t think Mr. Scipio is completely right, but if you got any further out in left field, you would only be in position to catch fouls.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Every once in awhile this blog ignores the Chicken Little Warmists and their scientifically invalidated “Global Warming”, and recognizes the truth that the “Feedback of Competition” present in free markets will continue to improve mankind’s existence.

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