Nature is elegant. It solves problems. In nature we find the ears of the bat, the neck of the giraffe, the legs of the cheetah and the eyes of the hawk. It experiments and finds new ways of doing things. Failed experiments die away, whilst successful experiments reproduce themselves and become more populous. Nature is the way it is because it hosts the greatest competition of all: the competition to survive. That same competition underpins every competition between complex systems. Those complex systems may be countries, as in the cold war victory of the US over the former Soviet Union, or animals, like the gazelle that must flee and the lion that must eat, or the rivalry between businesses competing for scarce resources, market share, and revenues. There is no bigger idea than the simple idea that the fight for survival promotes change, and grants prolonged life to those that make the right changes, whilst killing off those that do not change or make the wrong changes.
So what lessons can be learned from nature right now? The human race has woken up to the greatest fight for survival since Homo sapiens first emerged. Our species has done wonderfully, and has expanded rapidly in living memory, growing from a little over 1.5 billion at the start of the twentieth century to over 6 billion by its end. We have learned to make more and more food from the same amount of land. We survived the Black Death. Our own predilection for war caused great losses, but the human race kept recovering and replacing the dead with more living. Problem after problem has been overcome by science and technology. The irony is that our very success now poses our greatest threat to survival: that we might destroy our climate, torching our Earth and turning it into an inhospitable husk. The battle against global warming is the struggle which will increasingly grip our attention and inspire our creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is no greater necessity than to preserve our world.
We can wage the war on global warming at both the macro and micro levels, and we will devise plenty of strategies. This will generate an incredible variety of opportunities for all kinds of enterprise, at every scale. By the same token, governments will be increasingly focused on the goal of saving the planet, not least because of the biological drive that says every citizen, whether President or peasant, wants their offspring to survive. Governments will be looking for ways to back potential winning solutions, both big and small. Businesses will imagine, pioneer and perfect many new kinds of solutions to solve energy problems we previously did not know we had. Good solutions, like creating new kinds of renewable energy and devising more efficient lifestyles, will survive beyond what a normal business would call long-term. By recasting the human struggle for survival, we are also redefining the economics of the human race, changing the index for prosperity from increased consumption to more efficient consumption. In the process, we are rearticulating the objectives of every business.
What strategies will the human race explore, as it fights against global warming? Some strategies will be about cleaning up the mess we created, like removing the carbon that is already in the atmosphere, whether through mechanical scrubbers or genetically modifying plant life to breathe in more carbon dioxide. Others will be about doing the same things as we do now, but with diminished impact on the environment. This includes finding replacements for oil as the portable fuel source for vehicles. We will innovate about how to achieve our same overall objectives, whilst doing fewer things that consume energy. This will promote technologies for homeworking, teleconferencing and organizing people in remote groups, so they can work together without needing to be in the same room. It also means organizing ourselves so that food is grown locally, and not transported over vast distances. Yet other strategies will involve supplying our energy needs without using fossil fuels, which involves both harnessing resources like wind, wave and sun but also storing energy efficiently, so we can save the energy we make to be used when we need it. As well as efficient creation of energy, there will also be more enterprising solutions for efficient distribution of energy, through innovations like installing smart meters in homes and businesses, or by improving the cost-effectiveness of microgeneration, so electricity is produced where it is being used.
Nature solves problems through constant innovation in the relentless fight for survival. The human race will do the same; harnessing its innovative gifts and finding ways to keep nature on a constant course, and hence ensuring our planet remains inhabitable. It is the biggest idea of all, as true in a recession as it is during a boom. This single big idea will give birth to countless ideas of every kind imaginable, and probably many more that we currently cannot imagine. The only sure way to fail is to duck the challenge and do nothing to innovate for a low-energy, sustainable-energy future. Some businesses may decide to ignore the fight on global warming, and will only react when energy prices force them to react. The winners in the recession, like in all enterprise, will be the businesses that turn a threat into an opportunity. The businesses that will prosper in the long run, will be the businesses that are in the vanguard of the war on global warming.