“The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” (William Gibson) I thought of this quote when I saw what is happening with the war in Ukraine and Putin using natural gas against European support of Ukraine. Russia has been fighting the war with old 20th century thinking. (They are slowly learning.) My perspective says change is happening but it is not always seen, because change first happens in select groups and early adopters.
Let me explain why I think the Russian leadership is behind the times.
The Ukraine war started with a massive show of overwhelming force, but the Russians moved in slowly and had logistic problems. The Ukrainian army was able to stop the Russians, and it was small drones and commercial satellites that were able to inform the Ukrainians of the Russian movements. Because of the information, the Ukrainians were able to stop the Russian advance by making targeted attacks. Today drones and satellites are important information sources in a variety of circumstances.
Recently, the Russian army with Iranian technical support is now using “kamikaze” Iranian drones to deliver explosive payloads. In the past, I would think of planes dropping bombs and missiles being fired. The Russians have done that but that is old school. Remotely piloting drones to targets is the latest method. Drones can play a major role in warfare whether it be shooting at targets or blowing them up.
And Putin is attempting to punish Europe by withholding natural gas. That will cause pain, but it is nowhere near the pain as it would have 5-10 years ago. Renewable energy, wind and solar, will and can carry a major load this winter. Europe has lessened the pain with renewable energy resources, as well as importing natural gas from other sources. In fact, right now Europe has an oversupply of natural gas due to warm temperatures and increased shipping of liquid natural gas to Europe from other sources.
Russians are thinking that the world has a petroleum based economy and they are still right, but the world is changing to an electricity based economy, so the impact of their withholding natural gas is less than it would have been. I believe that we are headed to an electricity based economy and we are moving away from a petroleum based economy. Why? Because battery technology has been improving a lot. Remember when garden tools were gas powered with few electric tools that required an extension cord. Now everything is battery powered. When I look at all the devices I have that are battery powered, I am amazed. I count 5 battery powered devices that I use at least once a day, and there are many more battery powered devices in the house.
There are also the dropping prices of wind and solar energy. DOE in a report for 2021 (before the recent hike in gas prices) says that solar is competitive with “the cost of burning fuel in existing gas-fired generators.” So it may be cheaper to build a solar farm instead of paying for natural gas for an existing gas-fired generator. From a purely economic perspective, solar and wind are well on their way to become the cheapest option. The future can be seen in the trends. The future is here now, but it will take awhile before the future is realized everywhere.
The “future is here” has shown up in other places. I think of the company O’Reilly Media whose “mission is to change the world by sharing the knowledge of innovators.” They track trends by watching “the alpha geeks”. Alpha geeks adopt or innovate the technological future, and by watching them you can get an idea of what the future may look like. The company has been at the forefront of many tech trends because of it.
A philosophical cultural trend today is this focus on looking inside oneself to find the authentic you. Back in the 1980’s my wife, Gail, was at a “Christian” retreat center where participants were encouraged to “Be still and know”. Back then she felt it was odd that they did not include the rest of the verse in the instructions and to her the whole exercise seemed like an exercise in futility. That Bible passage starts with “Be still, and know that I am God …” (Psalms 46:10). Today, finding yourself by looking inside at your feelings is very popular, but back then it was found only with the early adopters. And those four words, “be still and know” are still being misused to promote finding yourself without God. The future took a while to spread from the early adopters, and yet this trend took me by surprise.
What does the future hold? I do not know, but I can make some guesses based on what I see happening now. Not everything happening now will be in the future but some of it will be. Besides an electricity based economy, I have some other guesses. Government will go much more online. Estonia is creating a digital society by embracing the internet for its citizens as the way for the government to interact with its citizens. Web3 and blockchain technology appear to be in the future, but I think it might look different than it does today. And today the West is post-Christian and I see Christian missionaries coming from the Third World to evangelize us here.
“The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”