Putting Moore’s Law to work for environmentalism
Jeremy Faludi has an interesting essay over on Worldchanging. It’s a bit tricky to distill, but the basic point is that policies that require incremental, year-by-year improvement are preferable to the usual "20% by 2020" goals, which are more mediagenic but frequently promote procrastination and last-minute gaming.
Here’s the nut:
So let’s take the same goals and rewrite them to be incremental deadlines: you need to be a little better by the end of this year, and then next year improve by the same amount, ad infinitum. This may not sound exciting at first, but if you improve by the same percentage every year, you skyrocket into exponential growth. It’s Moore’s Law for sustainability, the law of accelerating returns.
One big advantage of this approach is that if the improvements have to be constant over years, they can be planned for–companies can set up programs or departments to deal with them in a way that’s integrated into normal production and R&D, rather than throwing together a one-time task-force to change things from the outside. Truly effective institutional change often requires years, and often requires systemic measures. Setting small but frequent deadlines also tightens the feedback loop so you know whether you’re on track and can correct earlier. It’s like Kaizen, the Japanese method of continuous improvement (which is a large part of what’s made Japanese manufacturing the highest quality in the world).
The other main advantage of this Moore’s Law approach is that it’s an easy back-of-the-envelope way of making policy targets, using backcasting with simple exponential-growth math. Just decide your desired target amount (of toxins, of power use, of whatever) and your target year; then find the current amount, and plug it into the exponential growth equation.
With this kind of approach, says Faludi, it’s not that crazy to imagine getting to "100% green" relatively quickly. Worth a read.