Whither Comes the Power?
We debate many things in our society. We have a natural desire to do the right thing the right way.
One of the things that complicates our modern life is that there are so many options with respect to how to deal with nearly every topic, and nearly that many perspectives about how to find the best alternative. As I write this, ESPN is conducting a debate about who is the best NFL quarterback, and MSNBC is discussing who would be the best president.
The topics we debate are endless, and the simple fact that this wide range of topics is being debated at all is an indicator of how important we think it is to get things right and the entertainment value that these debates provide.
One of the topics we have found necessary to debate is the way in which we source the energy that keeps our country humming along. We've done really well at extracting and utilizing the resources we've been dealt.
Arguably, we enabled our side to win WWII because of our access to iron and the industrial processes that transformed it into weapons of war; we became the wealthiest nation in the history of humankind because we have extensive energy resources right under our feet and we had the freedom and ingenuity to develop them; and because of these features of our society, no country on Earth has ever been able to challenge us.
However, all that being said, the greatest threat to our society is most likely not energy shortages, or threats from foreign powers, or terrorists, migrants, or anything like that--the greatest threat to our society is most likely complacency.
During the period when we were developing our nation, we did not suffer from complacency--the coast-to-coast railways, the development of the industrial base, the interstate highway system--none of these were developed by a complacent society. They were developed by a society that was forward-looking, energetic, working together as one people, and dedicated to a better future for our children.
In some respects, we haven't lost that. We still are the most committed nation on Earth to concepts like economic development, peace, social justice, racial equality, and so on. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that we have become complacent with respect to some of the changes that are occurring in the world around us.
One of these topics of complacency is energy development and utilization. In the early parts of the 19th century, we developed our industrial base around coal and oil. We developed energy production around what we considered to be an infinitely renewable resource--dams that produce hydroelectric power. We're still utilizing that industrial base today.
Yet today, we know more than we did back then. We know that dams destroy species like salmon that play essential roles in the ecosystem. We know that the burning of coal and oil dump pollution into the atmosphere that Earth's natural processes cannot cope with without altering the overall climate of the planet.
We are just now beginning to understand that's it's pretty much impossible to make any significant impact to a system like the Earth's natural processes without the Earth adapting to what we've done with unforeseen consequences that are often more damaging than the derived benefit.
Ignoring this is another complacent pathway to decline.
Let's not decline!
Next up: Modern (and ancient) pathways to clean renewable energy.