Thirty years ago Peter Schwartz created at Shell Oil the first future scenario planning exercises. He later refined his work into a book, The Art of the Long View, and an amazing career working with Stewart Brand at the Global Business Network. When Peter left Shell, they continued his discipline of scenario planning and now have released two scenarios for Energy in 2050. Given that U.S. energy consumption per capita is so much greater than any other country (chart above) we need to take these scenarios seriously. The first scenario is called “Scramble” and is embodied by the ideas of our current administration and political elite along with some of the libertarians who frequent this blog.
In the Scramble world, events outpace actions. Security of energy supply and fears of losing economic ground shape decision-making. For the next 10 years, people from all walks of life join in the debate about energy and climate change. But no one seems truly wedded to action on a large scale. Governments generally choose solutions that are politically straightforward, and local. They prefer to rely on indigenous energy sources. So coal makes a big comeback in some regions, despite its higher emissions. Drivers stay with liquid fuels. With oil becoming harder to find and produce, biofuel use grows rapidly. Energy efficiency improves only gradually. Trading in emissions credits remains patchy and ineffective. Without a meaningful price, business lacks direction for technology investments to improve emissions management. In the Scramble world, no one is prepared to change the status quo. Dealing with today’s problem takes priority. By the 2020s, life has become volatile and uncertain. Energy availability is often tight. Severe weather events are blamed on a lack of previous action on climate change.
The other scenario is called “Blueprints”.
The world of Blueprints shows what can happen when actions outpace events. Groups of seemingly disconnected people in California –- venture capitalists, farmers, politicians –- collaborate around opportunities for profitable action on climate change. Publics put international pressure on governments for change. Smart investments in modern facilities improve air pollution, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas emissions all at the same time. This isn’t a sudden outbreak of altruism. It’s a recognition of shared interests, new opportunities for profitable business, and the benefits of taking action before it’s forced by circumstances. In the world of Blueprints, local actions spread and join up –- like the C40 megacities pact of mayors and others, experimenting and sharing good practices around carbon emissions, transport and energy efficiency. During the next decade, the Blueprints world is diverse. Different parts use different approaches to promote energy efficiency, and technology development. Some choose taxes. Others use mandates. Some look for voluntary action by businesses and consumers. The most successful approaches spread.
Although Shell has never “picked” a scenario before, they vote strongly this time for the “”Blueprint” choice. Quite frankly, I don’t think we have a choice but to abandon our current Scramble for a Blueprint for a sound future.