Consumer empowerment

Without denying the undoubted advances that technology and innovation have brought in the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, its shift to concentrate power in the hands of huge corporations, and the emergence of the Keynesian “grow or die” imperative, have got us to a point where – in sustainability terms – we can no longer pay our bills. As David MacKay (Chief Scientist at DECC, professor at Cambridge University, entrepreneur and all round good egg) says: we have squandered 2 billion years of solar energy (fossil fuel) in only 200.

Somehow, in the mix of all this, we must find a new way to organise ourselves. I don’t believe that we will passively accept what looks to be rather a bleak fate.  Perhaps – probably – there is a way, as yet not fully understood, in which our own instincts for preserving both ourselves and our communities can be harnessed to turn things around. I certainly hope so. Perhaps the most exciting promise of the Internet is the shifting of power from the corporate to the individual. Some are sceptical that this is happening, or even possible, but I remain optimistic that we ain’t seen nothing yet.

In 2010 I was privileged to be asked to participate in a debate at the Foundation for Science and Technology, which is the advisory body for the UK’s House of Lords, alongside David MacKay. This gave me my first opportunity to think about these topics, and has started me on an interesting journey of exploration which goes beyond science and technology to psychology, with us the consumers at the centre.

The talk (PDF slides and audio) can be found on the FST website here (volume is very quiet but a complete transcript is shown on the same page)

[Dec 2011]Someone recently pointed me at Jeremy Rifkin’s thinking, which seems pretty relevant to all this and I plan to read some of his books over Christmas.

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