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On October 14, 1998, science fiction author Bruce Sterling stood on the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and announced his plans for the new millennium. Y2K was going to come and go, he predicted, and then in early January, journalists were going to be desperate for novelty. A new millennium needed new ideas and as a noted science fiction author, he expected they’d be ringing his phone off the hook (phones were on hooks back then — in 1998, everyone still had a landline)
A team of designers and scientists at Cambridge University will be exhibiting a novel moss table at the London Design Festival later this week. The prototype table will showcase an emerging technology called biophotovoltaics (BPV) which uses the natural process of photosynthesis to generate electrical energy.
The short version of the environmentalist value proposition is: don’t shit in your own back yard. Ecosystems are complex and exhibit non-linear behaviour; it’s a bad idea to disrupt the natural balance, lest we find ourselves suffering from crop failures due to pollinator die-offs, for example. And because this is a complex, knotty, gnarly field of interdependencies, the precautionary principle should be applied: take disruptive action only with extreme caution.
If Germany succeeds in making the transition, it could provide a workable blueprint for other industrial nations, many of which are also likely to face pressures to transform their energy consumption. “This Energiewende is being watched very closely. If it works in Germany, it will be a template for other countries,” says Graham Weale, chief economist at RWE, which is grappling with how to shut its nuclear power plants while keeping the lights on. “If it doesn’t, it will be very damaging to the German economy and that of Europe.”