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My old friend and work colleague Brian was an academically qualified scientific researcher before he retired. He spent 55-plus years performing, supervising and managing a selection of scientific endeavors and programs sponsored by the Western world governments, industry and philanthropists during the last half of the 20th century. He worked in England and all over the USA and still travels extensively to Europe and the Far and Middle East. Brian tries very hard to keep to posted speed limits and only drives his automobile at maximum speeds of between 55-70 mph when possible. He claims that this enables him to get 10-15 percent better gas mileage from the imported gasoline that he and all of us are forced to purchase.
As we drink our coffee from sustainable cups on meet-up mornings, we always seem to get into why the world has got itself into some of the predicaments it now finds itself in, i.e. incessant wars, burgeoning population growth, food shortages for huge segments of its population, insatiable demands for energy and materials coupled with diminishing sustainable sources of them, the effects of globalization and how it evolved etc. etc. It is absolutely obvious to us that these problems result from poor decisions in the past.
The question of who made them and what caused them to be made seems to be a complex, highly interwoven mixture of lawmakers, multinational corporations, bankers, Wall Street, religions, the media etc. However sad to say, we the voting public, may be the biggest culprits. We who wittingly or unwittingly do not think it all through we who go along for the ride and we who ultimately let these now potentially catastrophic world predicaments all happen.
Brian and I only feel able to comment intelligently on the more scientifically related predicaments. For example, we understand that in the future it might be possible to generate enough electricity by nuclear breeder reactors. If we understand its proponents correctly, we easily have enough unprocessed nuclear waste and source material from disassembled nuclear weapons to provide the industrial uranium required.
One of Brian’s daughters is a doctor who has spent time treating members of the Navajo Indians and others who have suffered crippling lifelong ailments derived from the uranium mining efforts in the 1950-70 era. This would actually appear to make the recent Traditional Cultural Property Designation and wilderness bills S874 and S1689 by the New Mexico Legislature a potentially good decision for the long-term future of us all. Previously involved mining interests might be better employed extracting metal and other industrially useful items from the mountains of much more concentrated mineral resources in our municipal waste dumps.
Incidentally, Brian’s daughter is married to an architectural engineer who has insisted upon putting photovoltaic and passive solar units on their house. By all accounts, their electricity and heating bills have been more than halved. Maybe this was a good decision?
For the next hundred years or so, coal is touted as our energy supply savior. Sadly, every ton of coal used generates at least 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide, particulate matter and noxious gases that must now not be released into the atmosphere. England, during the 1950s “smog years,” foreshadowed the consequences of these emissions, even more visible now in a visit to China. The EPA decisions to encourage sequestration, cleaner-burner generation, the introduction of carbon number recognition and eventual elimination of coal as an energy source could be a good one.
The world’s continuing reliance upon the world’s diminishing oil resources may be its poorest choice yet. It’s now thoroughly understood by a critical few that it’s only a question of maybe 10 years as to if, or when, peak oil has happened, or will. At best, the remaining resources are going to be far more difficult to extract and are not predicted to last beyond the next generation’s lifetime.
Surely a choice is needed by all the decision makers alluded to above to promote sustainable fuel and energy resources from the seemingly inexhaustible supplies of sources such as algae and biofuels, solar, wind, tidal, possibly nuclear, recycled materials and waste and a host of others.
Gerald Ansell is a retired former LANL employee and now a sustainable energy and policy consultant.