What’s the value of a mousetrap (or two) in the bush? Hitting the road to spread his message of energy independence, Bush announced that the US was on the verge of an energy breakthrough (story):
“Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people,” Bush said. “We’re on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs — breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States.”
I’ve spoken about the fallacy of better mousetraps before (mousetraps), but to recap–the numbers just don’t pan out. Of the 4400 mousetraps patented in the last 170 years or so, only a few dozen have made any money, and only 2 dominant designs are on the market (the snap trap and sticky trap). The world does not, it turns out, beat a path to anyone’s door for a better mousetrap. Nor will it for a better energy technology: solar, nuclear, hydro, geo, biomass…these were and are all good technologies. But that’s not enough.
Technological revolutions don’t happen overnight. to take hold, they require relatively slow and incremental changes in the behavior of individuals and markets. Edison’s light bulb (arriving as it did 40 years after the first incandencent bulb) still preceded the true age of electricity (in the homes and factories) by another 40 years.
So here’s the dilemma: the more we talk about a great technology just around the corner, the less we take responsibility for the harder work of changing our behaviors to exploit the alternative energy technologies that are out there today. The danger of believing in an energy mousetrap–that a technology will suddenly rescue us from our addiction–is that such a belief only enables our complacency. Don’t worry, be happy, and a solution will be along shortly.