Peace through Prosperity -
In the latter half of the 20th Century humanity became technically capable of sustainably providing complete physical comfort to all humans. We can now end the hatred that breeds terrorism by mobilizing and delivering a fair share of earth's physical wealth to all, as quickly as possible. Nothing less will work.
We will need a carefully crafted sustainable prosperity, one that comes from an all inclusive frame of mind and heart. There are no technical constraints to doing this in a durable, environmentally sustainable manner. The major constraint is ignorance.
Energy is the key concern of our time. A man working physically can sustainably produce about 15 kWh of work output in a year (8 hour day, 250 days per year). The energy released by a gallon of gas is 2.5 times that, and if it is utilized at 39% efficiency, it does as much work as the man can do in a year. 200 years ago a king needed months of slave labor to do the work now delivered by one gallon of gas. When you 'filler up' you're exercising a physical power beyond the capability of most kings of history. If we define a man-year's equivalent of work done by inanimate energy to be one energy slave, and assume the machinery's overall converting-to-work efficiency is10%, then the annual per capita energy consumed in the USA is now on the order of 650 energy slaves. The energy available to a person in rural Afghanistan is roughly sixty times less. None of the industrial world would exist without energy. The fossil fuels are the current lifeblood but they are inherently polluting and increasingly scarce.
Let's first envision the kind of world we want, then ask if it is possible. Abundant energy is the power that can set us physically free -- free to feed and shelter all, create a general plenty, and stabilize population. Is it possible to sustainably supply each planetary citizen, using machines that:
We all intuitively favor these criteria. We're apprehensive about anything less, because anything less puts somebody in jeopardy.
Fortunately, it is possible. We have the machines. The gentle giant of solar electricity can deliver 650 energy slaves to everyone. This sustainable abundance of clean, renewable energy is not only technically available now, but also the most economically, environmentally, and socially viable choice. By choosing wisely, nations can generate abundant, resilient and clean energy supply, completely within their own borders.
The first energy step is efficiency. We didn't solve the energy crisis of the 1970's, but we learned efficiency works. Since then we've "generated" four times as much in energy saved than we've added in new power generation. Today, efficiency remains the cheapest way to double our energy performance. It provides more jobs and delivers less expensive environmental impacts than any alternatives. Large reserves remain to be tapped by properly insulating homes, redesigning industrial processes, and building ultralight, fuel-efficient cars.
Step two is supply. How do we sufficiently generate this energy we'll use evermore efficiently? Here are three technologies that stand out:
Wind electricity costs have dropped 80% since the 1980s. Wind turbines are now often cheaper than new natural gas plants. And this price doesn't take into account the health, environmental and strategic benefits of wind generation! Wind systems are reliable, jobs intensive, and dispersible. The wind energy resource is huge and likely largely underestimated. In 1995, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory cited enough wind potential in the U.S.A. to provide 30 percent more electricity than the entire country used in 1993. Wheat farmers and grain associations can manage and maintain wind farms with no more difficulty than they now manage and maintain combines.
Photovoltaics (PV) converts sunlight to electricity by exposing semiconductors, like silicon, to sunlight. While the physics of the PV semiconductors may be rocket science, the distribution, installation, and maintenance of them is not. Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) now gets 8 megawatts from PV solar panels with more than 750 rooftop PV systems on homes and churches. In 2002, SMUD expects their PV to produce electricity for what their residential customers paid before the current California energy debacle. The energy available is enormous. A gram of silicon in a solar cell produces as much as does a gram of nuclear feedstock in a breeder reactor. This is because the uranium atom fissions only once before it's gone, but the silicon atom in a PV panel works again and again over 30 years. There is 5000 times more silicon for PV in the earth's crust than there is uranium for nuclear electricity. And, the PV process is so much cleaner.
Solar Hydrogen (SH) can provide energy for home heat, jet fuel, and intensive industrial processes. Solar Hydrogen is generated by passing a solar generated electric current through water. Existing natural gas pipelines can be retrofitted to deliver it. PV panels can be placed in Southwestern USA desert areas, use the water equivalent of onsite rainfall, and generate enough hydrogen to meet all USA energy needs.
If hydrogen is combusted - for example for heat or jet propulsion - it produces no atmospheric carbon. If hydrogen is used in a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell - for example to heat and power your home or business - it produces only electricity, usable heat, and potable water. SH currently costs roughly three times what Hawaii and New York pay today. But the promise of a solar hydrogen economy is so complete and so engineeringly assured that large scale development strategies should be initiated.
For the first time ever, we have an opportunity to establish quality of life worldwide through abundant generation and use of energy. We can produce sufficient housing and food, reduce population without coercion, increase environmental and climatic balance, and increase the self-reliance of nations -- thereby reducing the pressures leading to conflict. This would enable a world more conducive to cultural tolerance, reduced crime, and social stability.
Today's real question is not whether these technologies are cost effective, but how fast can we grow them? Regional, national, and international initiatives can make a difference. Carefully crafted policies and programs could spur movement toward a sustainable future by making it more affordable for you and I to put PV panels on the roof, more desirable for utilities and businesses to invest in the right machines.
Let's grow a publicly accountable global coalition that explicitly targets elimination of energy scarcity for every nation, and equally delivers to each in incremental stages until energy abundance is attained (potentially within a decade), a coalition greater than the Apollo space initiative of 30 years ago, the one that got us to the moon within a decade. Let's do it because we share basic needs for peace, security, and protection from suffering. In our time, we can only satisfy those needs by applying our know-how with wise design. Then we will have done something wonderful for both ourselves and future generations.
A longer, fully referenced version of this article, one that also suggests how both Israel and the US can calm the anger now directed at them, is available on the Internet at http://www.teleologics.org/chance.htm.
Author Mike Nuess has worked for the Washington State Energy Office. In 1988 his home won national awards for both energy efficiency and indoor air quality, demonstrating that the two were not only compatible but complimentary. His current home in WA State heats for about $100 per year. He has also worked to develop the Geodesic Bioship , a concept prototype for industrial housing.
© Copyright 2001 by Mike Nuess