Most approaches to “solving” our climate and resource crises focus on technology: replacing fossil fuels with a different technology (solar, wind, ethanol, nuclear), or increasing the efficiency of our current technology. We focus on increasing the efficiency of things which would then be used in the same way – adding insulation to single-family homes, or doubling the efficiency of single-user cars that sit idle in the garage and parking lot for the vast majority of their lives, or harnessing renewable sources of energy that would then continue to be used unnecessarily and wastefully. While these solutions may marginally slow the velocity of an economic and energy descent, they can’t seriously apply the brakes to the very unpleasant net energy free-fall that may be in store for our society.
Among the various solutions proposed to our predicament, the most promising innovation may be social innovation. Over the past one hundred years, we have manufactured vast amounts of things – houses, buildings, infrastructure, cars, machines, equipment, supplies, computers, networks, and so on. But these things – our already built resources – are often underutilized, or inefficiently used, due to our social customs, norms, habits, and expectations, and the psychology of status, privacy, and entitlement.