In Search of Energy Miracles
From The New York Times
By Justin Gillis
At a legendary but secretive laboratory in California, Lockheed Martin is working on a plan that some employees hope might transform the world’s energy system: a practicable type of nuclear fusion.
Some 900 miles to the north, Bill Gates and another Microsoft veteran, Nathan Myhrvold, have poured millions into a company developing a fission reactor that could run on today’s nuclear waste.
And on the far side of the world, China has seized on discarded American research to pursue a safer reactor based on an abundant element called thorium.
Beyond the question of whether they will work, these ambitious schemes pose a larger issue: How much faith should we, as a society, put in the idea of a big technological fix to save the world from climate change?
A lot of smart people are coming to see the energy problem as the defining challenge of the 21st century. We have to supply power and transportation to an eventual population of 10 billion people who deserve decent lives, and we have to do it while limiting the emissions that threaten our collective future.
Yet we have already poured so much carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere that huge, threatening changes to the world’s climate appear to be inevitable. And instead of slowing down, emissions are speeding up as billions of once-destitute people claw their way out of poverty, powered by fossil fuels.
Many environmentalists believe that wind and solar power can be scaled to meet the rising demand, especially if coupled with aggressive efforts to cut waste. But a lot of energy analysts have crunched the numbers and concluded that today’s renewables, important as they are, cannot get us even halfway there.
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