THE BLOG
02/05/2014 11:14 am ET Updated Apr 07, 2014

Solving the Problem Means Actually Solving the Problem

A simple paradox is preventing us from solving some of our most urgent problems: The unhealthy choice is dirt cheap and convenient. And the healthy choice is pricey and inconvenient.

That's sad.

When I flip the light switch on in the morning, the light that wakes me is made possible by a coal-fired plant 21.5 miles from my fingertips. And I flip it morning after morning, not because I'm dumb or uncaring, but because it's cheap and convenient.

And when my Dad walks the grocery aisles on Tuesday to buy mayo or chocolate-chip cookies or eggs, the inputs that make them possible often come from bizarrely unhealthy places. He fills his cart in this way, not because he's dumb or uncaring, but because cheap and convenient will always fill his cart.

Pricey solar panels and electric sports cars for my friends in San Francisco and New York City might make people feel good (and sexy), but it doesn't actually solve the problem for everyone, everywhere. And the growth of local, organic food and farmers' markets is phenomenal, but it doesn't actually solve the problem for my Dad and the billions in China and India that are even more more price sensitive than he is.

Here's the thing: Everyone, everywhere really matters. We will only solve my personal conundrum, and ultimately (and more importantly) our urgent problems, by creating healthier food and cleaner energy that is cheaper and more convenient.

Our simple paradox requires a simple question: What would it look like if we just started over? See, when everyone else was trying to improve horse-drawn carriages, someone looked at the basics of transport and the combustion engine in order to create something better. The question forces us to think in leaps, rather than in incremental steps.

Back to my Dad, aisle eight, and one of the items in his cart: a carton of eggs. 99 percent of the world's eggs are caged-eggs from unhealthy places. We certainly could (and should) encourage him to choose eggs from family farms. And we should -- except for one little problem: He'll never, ever buy them. Like the vast majority of the U.S. and the world, he doesn't have the means to pay $5.99/pound for eggs. And solving a problem means actually solving the problem for most people -- not just the folks that can afford to pay $5.99 for organic, ethical eggs.

What would it look like to start over here? What if we looked at the fundamentals of food and biology in order to create a new, well, egg? What if we took the animal out of the equation entirely and just used hyper-affordable plants from open fields?

The world requires profound and urgent changes in energy and education and food and healthcare. And whether chicken eggs or cars or cookies, it requires all of us to toss stale, incremental thinking back on the shelf.

And, well, that's exciting.