I’m a strong advocate of thinking long term when trying to solve problems in government, not to mention business and personal activities. Very often problems result from not thinking long term enough.
This reminds me of the time way back in prehistory (1992, to be precise) when I was a Computer Specialist at Radio Shack. A father came in wanting to buy a computer for his daughter who was graduating from High School. “I want a computer that won’t be obsolete when she graduates from college,” he told me. It was all I could do to keep from laughing.
My recommendation to him? Buy something that was not quite top of the line at the time. The top of the line cost several hundred dollars more, didn’t provide enough extra performance to justify the cost unless you simply had to have the latest, and might not reflect the way the industry would go.
In IT, it is often hard to be forward looking, simply because the industry changes so fast, but there are many ways in which you can. In 1992 it was hard to anticipate keeping a computer in a business environment for a very long time. Software upgrades could easily demand new hardware. Today I manage several networks which include several year old machines at some points.
I was reminded of this when I read this MSNBC.com article on air taxis, which is way off the point, but presents some of the same issues. As a general rule we think about solving our energy problems with existing technologies, or ones that are nearly ready to go. New ideas are often held to an impossible standard. I don’t know how many times I have heard somebody remark that some individual technology won’t really solve the problem.
But a combination of new technologies and creative applications can make things much better. One of the things that the owners of small businesses I work with would like to ignore is the capital issue. It’s quite easy to see the benefits in the workplace to new, faster workstations. The problem is that the business may not have planned to have the capital to buy that equipment.
Similarly one of our biggest problems in reducing energy expenditure is simply capital–buying equipment and building infrastructure. For example, I’ve replace my regularly used light bulbs with more energy efficient ones. It’s only a few dollars a month, but it’s something. I could replace some of my computers with new, energy efficient machines. That would save me a few dollars, but my business isn’t in the position to replace everything right now. It will take time. I would love to buy a hybrid and get some extra gas mileage. Fuel costs are a killer for me right now, but again capital is an issue.
Sometimes you have to make the choice to spend something extra, unplanned, now in order to save money and free things up down the road.
What does all this have to do with air taxis? Well, one could improve energy efficiency quite a bit with changes in the equipment, but of course that is going to cost something. Airlines, businesses that involve travel, and governments must undergo some hardship in order to adjust. With the rate at which technology is changing, we should simply expect this.
This is why, even though fuel costs cut into my business painfully, I don’t think high gas prices are entirely a bad thing. They are forcing us to do some adjustment to the future. At the same time, this is why I don’t think that new production is the long term answer. New production will help us get through this moment, but new ways of using (less) energy are the better long term solution.
Pain is sometimes valuable–it warns us of problems that have been a long time in developing.