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“Fire Ice” – Our Future Energy Source? An Interview with Jim Lee

Jim Lee, an authority on emerging technologies and social trends, claims that methane hydrates, also know as fire ice, will be the next big energy source after fracking. But, as any good futurist will tell you, there’s always a few trade offs to consider.

Check out his chapter in The Future of Business for more.

Below, Jim talks about his chapter, the other futures topics he’s currently researching, and how replacing apocalyptical visions of the future with utopian ones could lead to our preferred futures.

What is the focus of your chapter in The Future of Business?

Here is an interesting question.  What are the alternatives to alternative energy?  While there has been much focus on solar, wind, and other renewable sources, mainstream energy companies have a few ideas of their own. Given that they have a significant financial interest in fossil fuels, it is useful to consider the conventional industry perspective when we think about the future of energy.

Certainly, fracking (drilling and injecting high-pressure fluids to release natural gas from shale formations) is already controversial. On one hand, it provides a cleaner-burning fuels than, say, coal or petroleum. On the other, fracking opens up a whole new set of challenges when it comes to water use and the allocation of natural resources.

But even more controversial is what comes next, which may be the mining of deep-water methane hydrates. This could provide a significantly greater source of energy than all of the world’s existing shale formations, but also poses significant environment risks. So, my chapter is a preview to what will be a very public conversation by the 2030’s.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I apply foresight to the process of investing. In addition to being academically-trained as a futurist, I also have a boutique investment advisory firm where I identify patterns and emerging trends for clients.

What future-oriented topics or issues are you focusing on currently?

While individual life expectancy is rising, organizational life expectancy is continually getting shorter. This implies that the old career models of stable employment and retirement are no longer applicable. Despite all of the change and uncertainty, there is some good news here. We all get a “do over” and can work through a series of very interesting careers over the course of our lifetime.

We’ve seen three career models that we’ve seen over the last 50 years. Each generation seems to be taking a slightly different approach.

Ladder (Silent Generation): Start at the bottom, work your way to the top of a single organization.

Lattice (Baby Boomers): This works the same as a career ladder, but includes lateral movements to other organizations.

Patchwork Quilt (Millennials): Stitch together multiple simultaneous work opportunities in a way that is flexible and covers your needs.

It is worth mentioning that the GenXers are hitting a “concrete-ceiling” in their career trajectories, as many Boomers are working much longer than expected. The result is that many GenXers are leaving the corporate world to build their own companies. So, in this regard, the Boomers are unintentionally creating a much more entrepreneurial culture within the U.S.

If you could bring about one change in the world to ensure a positive future – what would it be?

In the field of foresight, we explore three types of futures: the possible, the probable, and the preferred. The goal here is to the make our preferred future the most probable one, too.

So, I’d like to replace apocalyptic narratives with utopian visions. This is one thing that is really exciting about start-up culture right now. It is OK to fail (and fail often) if you can create a better outcome in the end. Utopias aren’t always perfect, but always engaging and evolving.


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