I came across a really interesting observation by Silicon Valley VC Peter Thiel from a debate/discussion he had with Google's Eric Schmidt, as reported in CNN.com.
Responding to Schmidt's discussion of Moore's Law and its benefits, Thiel noted that although Moore's Law and computing in general has seen progress, this has not translated into broader economic benefit; he states that real wages in the US increased by a factor of 6 between 1932 and 1972, with little if any subsequent increase in the past 40 years. Thiel went on to say:
"if I had to sort of simplify it, we've had incremental but relentless progress on the computer side. And on the other hand, we've had basically no progress on energy. And if you think about where oil prices were in 1973, it was $2 or so a barrel, it is now at north of $100 a barrel, and so you've had sort of a catastrophic failure of energy innovation. And it's basically been offset by computer innovation. I think that's sort of the simplified account of what's happened in the last 40 years."
This kind of comment really helps to bring the macroeconomic aspect sustainability issue into focus. No one, including Thiel (who was the first investor in Facebook, and founder and CEO of PayPal) would dispute that IT is an essential driver of economic value. However, it's clear from his comments that we need to manage energy better, to translate this economic activity into higher levels of real personal income. Moving beyond that, we also need to (or soon will need to) deal with the deleterious effects of fossil fuel-based energy consumption on the environment, which will have its own set of economic consequences.
It wasn't the focus of the debate - in fact, the word doesn't appear in the transcript - but sustainabiliy matters in many contexts, including this one.
Here's a link to the debate transcript
, if you'd like to read more...