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The magic bullet



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There isn’t one. …

There is no “magic bullet.” 

We have an inflated view of the power of technology to solve our problems. Especially in our art and thought, fantastic futures are only a few years away.

Consider the movie (and book) 2001 a Space Odyssey. (Your author went back to see it fourteen times in his youth, and didn’t realize that Clark had died within hours of the posting of the original version of this story.) The technologies so fantastic–an artificial intelligence with human level understanding, space ships and space stations with such marvelous advancement. (Your author did some research that is taught in “Artificial Intelligence” classes around the world, by the way. Arthur C. Clark is credited with the original description of the geosynchronous communications satellite, part of our communications revolution.)

The movie came out in April 1968, the 40th anniversary is just days away. What an optimistic view of technological development. How does the pace of technological development actually track the vision?

Artificial intelligence research is in disarray. The space shuttle is on the back burner. We have reached Mars with a robot. Much has been learned about biology, genetics. The computer revolution… (Your author has designed many computer systems, but computers an communication systems can only help in limited ways with our problem here.)

Since the turn of the last (20th) century, what have been the essential new technological developments? The automobile was already in existence. Television appeared midway into the century, and is about to undergo it’s first real change in over 50 years to a new digital transmission medium. (Old style analog television will be discontinued on February 17, 2009.)

Yes, the computer, Internet, and communications revolution… (Actually there are some significant opportunities in communications and computer based technologies: Bus Rapid Transport costs only a fraction of “light rail” and can be quickly deployed to provide mass transport. Larger systems can have driver-less operation. Scheduling and routing can be “smart” depending upon where riders want to go at the moment, as a bus with two passengers uses much more energy than an efficient automobile. Computer based energy management can have a significant impact in conservation–such as remotely activated thermostat controls to help with load peaking and coordinate use of wind power. And information based jobs can be done at home with less travel. One of Arthur C. Clark’s three wishes was for “the world to embrace cleaner sources of energy.”)

The atomic bomb, atomic energy, is the sole essential new change over the last century that could by itself have a very large affect on our ability to achieve the goal of 80% reduction of carbon emissions–but that at such a cost in environmental danger and dollars that its use must be seriously questioned.

These developments, though exceeded by our dreams, have typically taken many decades. Action on global climate disruption needs to start now and can’t depend upon some hoped for future. The good news is that we have the essential technologies we need right now. Start with energy conservation and wind power.

The electric car is not new, it was around at the beginning of the 20th century. (Wind charged electric vehicles could help.) Mass transportation concepts are old hat. Energy conservation is not new, but there are emerging technologies that will help, especially efficient lighting like compact fluorescent and LED lighting just on the horizon. By the way the compact fluorescent is not really new, it is just a small version of the fluorescent light that like television started major deployment just after World War II. Wind charged electric cars, better mass transportation, better city planning, better insulation, ground contact heat pumps and solar heating all provide opportunities. Biofuels are beginning to do better than break even–and can be used in some very important cases such as mass transportation and farm energy use. These all provide a good start, from the technological side.

The changes need to occur across sectors of our lives, even including changes in our behavior. Read the IPCC report on “Mitigation of Climate Change” and many good Internet resources for more ideas.

But don’t hope for a future advancement so we don’t have to start work today. Technology is not advancing anything like the pace of science fiction, especially in areas that relate. If anything, our technologies have sped our race to climate damage. The IPCC reports show that in many cases our economies improve when we get started. And the solutions that help climate problems often help with social and other issues–making them well worth the effort. (Not to mention energy independence from foreign influence.)

The problem is not so much technological as it is human. Human will to change direction, to make decisions to achieve an energy-independent future.

Don’t wait for a magic bullet–the job is based on knowledge we already have. It spans many sectors and levels of activity and our lives.

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