April 4th, 2007
This past weekend I had the great good fortune to attend a three day energy conference attended by some of the worldâ€™s greatest energy experts. Thanks to the good graces of the Foundation for the Future I was invited to attend the conference as an observer. The Foundation invited 15 of the foremost physicists and energy experts in the world to come together for three days of presentations and discussions on the future of energy. An additional 15 or so people were invited to attend as observers.
The name of the conference was â€œEnergy Challenges: The next Thousand Yearsâ€. The goal was to â€œconsider all potential sources and technologies for energy production over three time frames: the near term (rest of this century), the medium term (next few centuries), and the longer term (thousand-year future), as well as the challenges facing humans on the planet in developing and implementing self-sufficient strategies for energyâ€. This framework was shaped by the mission of the Foundation for the Future, which is to continue to look toward the long term future of humanity, under the umbrella â€œHumanity Three Thousandâ€.
This structure led to two clear results. First some incredibly interesting discussions of long term energy solutions, some that are available to develop, and some that are almost beyond the minds of even physicists to fully comprehend. I will take a look at some of these solutions in future posts. Second a unanimous position that in spite of the title of the conference, new forms of renewable energy must be developed and fully utilized on a global basis during this century or humanity and much of the biosphere is at risk of possible extinction. When Foundation for the Future Executive Director Bob Citron made his closing remarks, he commented that in the ten year history of Foundation conferences that looked ahead one thousand years, this is the first one where the discussions kept coming back to the next one hundred years, and with great purpose.
The main headline of the conference then was that, simply put, a room full of some of the greatest experts on energy in the world are concerned that if the major issues surrounding energy are not dealt with in the next few decades, cataclysms of various types are almost guaranteed to occur. As far as I am concerned, based on the evidence passionately presented at the conference, the discussion on global warming is over. In fact, several times global warming was described as the â€œcanary in the mineâ€ in the sense that it is the advance warning of much greater underlying problems.
To emphasis this point, some random quotes from the conference, all from distinguished and well respected scientists.
-â€œIf the energy consumption of all the countries in the world rose up to that of the U.S. using current forms and means of energy, the world population would need three planetsâ€™ worth of resources to sustain it.â€
-â€œIf all the world gets up to US consumption levels, game over!â€
-â€œ72% of the planet is covered by water, so we should really call it Planet Ocean rather than Planet Earth, but the oceans are dying. If the increase in acidity of the oceans, which is at the highest it has been in hundreds of millions of years is not reversed, and soon, then by the year 2100 the oceans may no longer be able to sustain life.â€
The alarmism was to the point that major actions, across the board must be taken and very soon. It doesnâ€™t have to end badly for us all. There are solutions, there is developing technology, there are possible breakthroughs of historic proportions, there are ways to greatly alter energy creation, storage and usage, but we must start to implement and develop them immediately.
I was greatly honored to observe and participate in the discussion that occurred over these three days. The brilliance of the people in the room was staggering. The ideas presented and discussed could be transformative for humanity. I will try to do my best in the posts ahead to present some of them in an understandable way. The good news is that some of the best minds in the world are working intently on the global energy problems. The bad news is that the work that needs to be done and the changes that need to occur are massive, and we have just begun to address them.