On June 20th the Solar Roadways campaign ends -- having achieved more than double its $1 million goal. The project seeks to develop a modular paving system to transform every roadway, parking lot, landing strip, bike path, driveway and playground into giant solar panel. A solar grid like this would generate clean power -- three times more than is needed and among other things cut carbon emissions by 75 percent.
The animated debate about the feasibility of Solar Roadways is not really the key issue and sure, we may not pave America with Solar Panels anytime soon. But the campaign tells us something important about the fight to progress that is built-in to people around the world. It illustrates pent up demand among growing numbers of people to seek innovation solutions by themselves. It was as if 46,000 people said "Hey, governments don't seem to be making progress on climate change, and that crazy inventor couple might actually be on to something. So why not spend 50 bucks for a Solar Roadways mug to pitch in?"
The campaign also points to a very big idea that could well be the key to solving problems of fuel and resources for a growing global transportation marketplace.
Up until now the world's biggest ills have been addressed by gatherings of nation-states. The model we have for global cooperation was forged in the aftermath of the Second World War, 70 years ago -- July 1 1944. Forty-two countries met at Bretton Woods, NH -- and subsequently created the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, followed by the United Nations, the G8, the World Trade Organization, and more.
Once state-based institutions like these had taken hold, it became hard to imagine that there could be other ways to address territory-spanning social challenges -- the human problems that, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "do not come permanently attached to national passports." But over time, it has also become clear that these institutions are unequal to the tasks. Progress on many fronts is stalled.
Today, people can take the bull by the horns. The advent of the Internet has created the means for enterprises of all sizes, down to individuals, to communicate, contribute resources, and coordinate action. We no longer have to wait for government officials to convene in order for the rest of us to align our goals and efforts, and the function of government is becoming obsoleted, and less necessary on such fronts.
The combination of these developments yields a new model. Multi-stakeholder networks as opposed to state-based institutions, can now achieve global cooperation, governance, and problem solving -- and make faster, stronger progress on many issues than those state-based institutions ever could.
We are in a new world where inventiveness and ideas can be pushed ahead by the excitement of investors and collaborators of all kinds from all nations, and boundaries seem to dissolve for the propulsion of an idea. Localized patents cannot hold fast against the global rising of popular demand, and from one country or another, viable forward thinking projects will continue to emerge. One individual kicks off the bandwagon, and others will follow. Being that in the 1950's, we thought that everyone would have flying cars by the year 2000. The big let-down, and the feeling that auto makers and governments have stagnated technology in the name of profits has given rise to a people-based system that should allow technology and research to freely grow and accelerate without hesitation.
The Solar Road campaign shows self organization, inclusiveness, and action will be effective and when we all demand it and get involved with our pocketbooks. I am however excited to see where this particular road leads.