An upbeat Earthday message for everyone - technology rules.
[i] GREEN & SMART
By GLENN HARLAN REYNOLDS
April 22, 2008 –
I HAVEN’T been able to get very excited about the big global-warming debate - but I am excited about some solutions to global warming. These are just as worthwhile even if you don’t believe that human-created climate change is a big problem, or even a reality.
While the religious wars rage on between the Church of Green and the Church of Carbon, a few things have become pretty clear:
Reducing carbon emissions by making people poorer will never happen. Just ask people in China - now the world’s No. 1 carbon emitter - how interested they are in returning to the economic conditions they suffered a few decades ago when their carbon emissions were lower.
Burning fossil fuels is a lousy idea for reasons that have nothing to do with global warming. These hydrocarbons offer important applications as fertilizers and chemical feedstocks, making it foolish to burn them for fuel.
New technologies are generally cleaner, safer and more efficient than old ones.
All this aims us toward a solution that doesn’t involve impossible sacrifice.
Even many scientific champions of global-warming theory are admitting the first point, by shifting their focus from cutting emissions to “geoengineering” - by which they mean responding to global warming by doing things like injecting particulates into the stratosphere to block sunlight, or fertilizing carbon-absorbing algae blooms in the tropical oceans.
These are drastic steps, worth researching in case the worst happens, but nothing we should rush into. But then, impoverishing the world would be a drastic step, too, and it’s one that’s not likely to sell.
But what if we could reduce greenhouse gases without impoverishing the world? That would be worth doing anyway, because along with those greenhouse gases come all sorts of other nasty substances we’re better off without.
That point is catching on, too. Even some environmentalists are already looking to nuclear power as, ironically enough, more environmentally friendly than coal, oil, or natural gas, and we’ll likely see more such sentiment in the future.
But nuclear power is just a stopgap - as more advanced technologies like nanotechnology offer much greater prospects via solar energy and reduced energy consumption.
MIT’s Vladimir Bulovic calls nanotech a potentially “disruptive technology” in the solar-energy field, offering a complete shift from today’s fossil-fuel environment. And famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil projects the current rate of progress in solar power forward and argues, “The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years.”
Solar research is progressing rapidly, and recent research suggests that “quantum nanodots” may offer dramatic improvements, perhaps on the order that Kurzweil predicts.
Nanotech offers dramatic improvements on the side of energy consumption, too: As computing and other devices become smaller, they become more efficient - and nanotech will allow drastic improvements in both size and efficiency.
Nanotech is starting to yield super-strong, super-light materials, too. Imagine how much more efficient a family car could be if you cut the weight in half, even if you kept burning gas. But nanotech is also likely to produce better batteries and better motors, meaning that your lighter car may also be electric, powered ultimately by those nanodot solar panels.
All of these things are in the works now to greater and lesser degrees, but they could happen faster if there were more research and development support.
Ultimately, we’re probably better off putting our energies into promoting cleaner, more advanced technologies like these than in trying to get people to reduce the scope of their lives through “hair-shirt environmentalism.”
Hair-shirts have always had their fans, but have seldom been widely adopted. On the other hand, most people would like to lead cleaner, better, more efficient lives. Why not give 'em what they want, and help the planet at the same time?
A focus on cutting energy consumption with today’s technology isn’t going to make much of a difference. Let’s work on replacing current tech with something better, instead.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee and the publisher of the blog InstaPundit.com. [/i]