Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Energy Cannot Be Destroyed

A young, brilliant economist with whom I am acquainted (he is my nephew) recently wrote a column in his blog. He maintains that nothing needs to change because energy is not destroyed, but merely altered through its use. Admittedly, he has a point. What is sadly lacking, however, is the technology today to derive energy from the discharged results of, say, the internal combustion engine. Today we call those discharges “pollutants.” We know that pollutants will eventually destroy our environment and ability to have any existence.
If we review available energy alternatives, most reviewers agree that use must be made of all known alternative sources in the future. Even then, economic growth will never equal what we have known during this age of fossil fuels.
Many look to cold fusion to fuel civilization in the days to come. If that theory can be brought within the realm of the practical, it may well provide the answer that will send man to the stars and beyond. Today, unfortunately, practicality of cold fusion is elusive.
Energy from the use of nuclear power plants has its own set of problems that technology today cannot resolve. In addition, the cost of such plants is prohibitive in today’s economy.
Most of the population does, however, assume that yesterday’s truths will always be truth. It happened yesterday, hence it will happen tomorrow. This has been dubbed the “recency” effect by persons studying human behavior and their acceptance or denial of inevitable change.
The God of technology has served our species well to date. It may well be short-sighted to think that there are limits to what we can achieve through known technology. But, the laws of Thermodynamics are immutable. When you have converted all the energy in fossil fuels to another unusable form, the human species will be in deep do-do unless replacement alternatives are developed. Economic growth will not continue at the current pace.
Present indicators do not portend a form of available energy at that time in adequate amounts to permit folks to live in the same way in the future that they do today.
The impossibility of distant future living in the same way that we live today may not be bad. Life in the future is not without hope. While that life will be different than today, it may well be a better existence if everyone lives in a more cooperative fashion.