Monday, September 13, 2010

When Coal is Gone

Crystal ball forune telling
In the future people will still want fresh food, light and heat in their homes, and the ability to travel. These things, and virtually all else that we now take for granted requires energy--lots of it. Our energy composition is changing, and will change much more in our lifetimes. But put that aside a moment:
What’s the best way to address a politically charged topic such as the future of energy? Remove the politics. “We’re going to skip over the politics,” Robert P. Laughlin, who won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1998, told a rapt audience of young scientists and others here at the 60th annual Nobel Laureate Lectures at Lindau. “I’m not interested in now but in the time of your children’s children’s children, six generations into the future and 200 years from now,” when all carbon burning has stopped because it’s been banned or none is left, he said. “Thinking about a problem this way is so simple. Instead of arguing about what to do now, I want to talk about what will happen when there’s no coal."
It's a superficially appealing idea: focus on the eventual endpoint without arguing over exactly when we get there. Solutions are easier to discuss, and to contemplate, when the impacts and the sacrifices happen long after we're gone. However, it removes any urgency about beginning needed change, and allows deniers to pretend the outcome is too far in the future for us to have confidence in the accuracy of our crystal ball. No need to worry! Let's go shopping!

Oh, and coal might not last anything close to 200 years.

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