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Posted by on Nov 22, 2008 in Science & Technology, Society | 12 comments

A Bold New Way

There is no dispute that fossil fuels are finite. It took millions upon millions of years to give us the oil reserves we have today. And we aren’t exactly replenishing the oil supply, unless we halt all life on this fine planet of hours (including mankind), break down into our carbon and hydrogen components over millions upon millions of years in order to form oil. Then we can all come back and fill up our automobiles! Acceptable and realistic, eh?

Transhumanist Michael Anissimov recently writes about the vast quantities of matter and energy in our grasp that dwarfs what we have in fossil fuels:

Part of the rationale for being a “transhumanist”, or, more broadly, having grandiose dreams for humanity’s future, is the extremely simple and mundane observation that the available matter and free energy in our general vicinity is far larger than what we have utilized of it thus far. The incoming solar energy is about a million times greater than global energy consumption, and the available hydrothermal energy to be extracted from the energy gradient between the mantle and the upper crust is many times that. These energy sources far exceed that available from all fossil fuels, uranium, and thorium combined. In the long run (less than a century?), solar and hydrothermal will become our primary energy sources, simply because nothing else will be able to meet our exponentially growing demand.

I concur 100% with his observation. Our planet Earth offers ridiculous amounts of energy that we just aren’t making use of. And add the Sun to the mix, you add over a million more Earths in energy output. One of my big gripes with my wonderful country known as America (don’t fret patriots, my gripe list is shockingly off the norm and low) is that we don’t get excited as a nation about grand innovation and discovery much. The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply to America when it comes to energy research and energy independence. This phrase fits much better:

If it’s broke, keep patching it. That will fix it!

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, that attitude just doesn’t fly these days. Solar energy is dismissed by many as too hard to obtain or impractical. Really? Look how hard the brave men and women who have built, currently work on, and maintain oil rigs work! Those platforms are difficult to build and the oil extraction process is always fraught with risk and danger. But oil extraction is considered normal and a viable business regardless. Then there are some of us talking about overcrowding and overpopulation being a barrier to alternative energy sources. I agree with another of Michael Anissimov’s points on this issue (from the same article):

The current impression that the planet is overpopulated is a selection effect resulting from people living in crowded cities, concentrated by technological and economic necessity. Decentralized manufacturing and high-resolution virtual communication will allow a more evenly distributed populace.

Just look at the population density of the United States in 2000 (lower 48 states only; the darker the color, the greater concentration of people per square mile):


There are natural features such as mountains and such to contend with but even with that we are far from a more-evenly distributed populace. If manufacturing is decentralized and we use techniques like vertical farming (performing agriculture in high-rise buildings) we can increase food output and optimize energy production and use. This isn’t Star Trek, this is the now.

I challenge us to lead the world by adopting the attitude of “normal and viable” in pursing those other forms of energy that are so much larger than fossil fuels can ever provide. Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe patriotism is limited to the War On Terror and wars in general. But I can’t think of anything more patriotic than setting the future standards for the world in energy research, innovation, and discovery. Thus telling the world that the USA is breaking away from the tired old ways and engaging in bold new ways.

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