“A Congress, Not a King…”

Treehugger points us to a thorough and thoughtful article from National Geographic on efforts to develop the next generation of energy sources. Much of this will be familiar to sustainablog readers, as writer Michael Parfit discusses solar power, wind, biomass and nuclear fission and fusion. I found the article interesting not so much for the discussion of these technologies, but because the author never forgets the political and social contexts within which these technologies are being developed. Thus, he also considers the almost universal claim among energy scientists that no one energy source will replace fossil fuels, but we’ll always have to think in terms of a combination of technologies. The political landscape, and not just in the US, is fraught with peril — Parfit observes “As all energy experts will tell you, [the debate over siting of nuclear fusion experiments] proves a well-established theory. There’s only one force tougher to manage than plasma: politics.” Parfit also discusses the economic challenges of each technology, and demonstrates how those economics vary from region to region of the globe. Despite the challenges, the writer ends on a hopeful note:

Fifty years ago, I thought, there were still bombed-out ruins in the cities of Europe. The Soviet Union was planning Sputnik. Texas oil was $2.82 a barrel. At the most, we have 50 years to make the world over again. But people change, adapt, and make crazy new stuff work. I thought about Dan Shugar [president of PowerLight Corporation, a California-based solar power company] talking about disruptive technologies. “There’s a sense of excitement,” he had said. “There’s a sense of urgency. There’s a sense that we cannot fail.”

Is this a “techno-utopian” fantasy, or can we remake not only the ways we power our lifestyles, but the frames we employ when we think about energy?

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