An article on Forbes by Richard Martin astounded me in that it’s almost unbelievable that anyone could be that short-sighted. If humanity is to have a future, we need to overcome this kind of thinking. To summarize, “If there isn’t a quick buck in it for me, then there is no reason to do it” is the mentality that went into that article and which will doom mankind if we can’t move past it.
The long term survival and development of mankind and civilization requires several things. It requires that we establish ourselves on more than one planet because planetary scale disasters happen and sooner or later we will go the way of the dinosaurs if Earth remains our only home, that’s nearly impossible using chemical propulsion. In the long term, it really requires that we have the ability to make a home for ourselves on planets orbiting distant stars because events that sterilize regions of space several hundred light years in diameter with intense gamma radiation do happen from time to time and the sun will only sustain life here on this planet for so long, perhaps another five hundred million years if we’re lucky. And yes, the sun won’t run out of fuel for perhaps another five billion, but as it evolves it will become redder and expand and that will evaporate the oceans and make this planet uninhabitable.
Another thing that our long term survival requires is that we have the ability to adapt to a changing environment, both natural changes and the more rapid changes we make ourselves. One necessary part of this adaptation is the education necessary to exist within today’s technological society. We’ve created a world of gadgets that we’re dependent upon but our educational system is still mostly churning out ditch diggers. So we create these huge “infrastructure” projects to keep them employed, while the real needs of society go unfilled because nobody has the education necessary to fulfill them.
We need the ability to feed ourselves, and today’s huge commercial mono-culture farms that relay heavily on artificial fertilizers and waste huge amounts of water, are not sustainable. Planting rice in the desert and then spraying water on it from 100 feet away, isn’t going to cut it as the world’s population approaches 9 billion.
Energy is another problem, closely related to the others, for if we have adequate energy than water becomes a non-problem because the oceans are plenty but they’re salty, energy can remove that salt and make fresh water. Fracking isn’t the solution, it’s a temporary bandaid that only slows the bleeding for a short time. And while it slows the bleeding, it’s poisoning the patient, contaminating ground water, bringing up radioactive materials to the surface, and geologically destabilizing the planet. They tell us that we’ve got 100 years worth of cheap natural gas. Actually, they’ll get at the cheap gas in the near-term and then what remains becomes increasingly difficult to get at, just like oil. We can not keep burning hydrocarbons indefinitely.
This research being done at the University of Washington is valuable because it aims to address at least two of these problems, to give us the means of viable interplanetary travel, and to solve our energy problems, and at the same time some folks are getting educated in the process.
I’m not suggesting for a second that we rely solely on hydrogen fusion, Solar and Wind have become much more economical, and solar is often most economical near where it’s going to be used, such as in California or Arizona, where the solar peak corresponds nicely with peak-load since much of that peak load is air conditioning. Wind power is a little more problematic since some of the best wind resources are not where the grid is. I think we need to make the investment to build the grid out and take advantage of wind where we can.
One renewable that one doesn’t hear much mention of, except in Hawaii, is Geo-thermal. That’ s a shame because Geo-thermal is uniquely able to provide the kind of base-load power that the utilities are so quick to criticize Wind and Solar for being unable to do, although both the Netherlands and Germany have proven that solar and wind can reliably provide a much larger portion of our power needs than the utilities here will admit, by virtue of geographical diversification, and the United States has much more territory to diversify over than either Germany or the Netherlands.
Presently, we have a moratorium on power production in Yellowstone, but it is both our largest and potentially most dangerous Geo-thermal source, if not tapped. We’re better off taking any heat out of that system that we can. Yellowstone, if it were to have a major eruption, would instantly depopulate about 1/3rd of the United States while causing food production problems for the remainder of the globe.
All the wealth in the world isn’t going to do Richard any good if there is no food, water, or energy to be purchased. We really need to start thinking about how we’re going to survive as a species and recognize our dependence upon the rest of the life on this planet, and give some serious thought to what kind of a future we want to have. The path we’re on now is going to take us to more death, disease, destruction, and poverty, but we can make other choices.