It’s an IQ test: We’re flunking
As long as we’ve got the Aspen Ideas Festival going on this week, here’s an idea for you:The current energy crisis is an intelligence test for our species – and we’re flunking it.Badly.By “energy crisis,” I mean all the problems resulting from our reliance on fossil fuels – oil and gas.That includes: war in the Middle East (Israel-Palestine, as well as Iraq); Islamic terrorists with enough money to cause real trouble; Iran’s potential nuclear bomb; the fact that we care more about “oppressed people” in the Arabian Peninsula than in, for example, Darfur; climate change that might render the planet uninhabitable or perhaps just destroy entire nations; the fact that we’re looking at a major house-of-cards disaster when the oil runs out; and, way, way at the back of the pack, $3-a-gallon gasoline. (As if, in context, that’s really even a problem.)It’s a heck of a list of problems and the truth is they’re all pretty much unsolvable.Unless we change the rules of the game.The mess in the Middle East (and I don’t care what side of any issue you’re on, you have to admit it’s a mess over there) is too politically charged to dig into right here. But you do have to admit that the conflicts in that region would not be taking center stage in world affairs if it weren’t for our desperate reliance on the oil found in such abundance beneath the desert sands. Without their death-grip on the world’s economy and their billions of dollars in oil wealth, the very real social ills of the nations of the Middle East would intrude on our consciousness about the as much as the problems in, again, Darfur or Rwanda. (Remember Rwanda?)So let’s skip down the list to global climate change.We know it’s happening.The fight seems to be over whether it’s caused by human activity and, if so, to what extent. But the potential risk (the end of human life on earth, for example) is so vast that we can’t ignore it.The problem is, hypocrisy and political posturing aide, we can’t do much about it, either.We can fight over alternative energy and conservation here at home, but it’s a global problem. And, worldwide, the undeveloped and underdeveloped nations are unlikely to give up hopes of the good life – no matter what we piggish “First World” nations decide to do.We Western nations may or may not actually do anything about cutting back on our greenhouse gas emissions. I’m guessing “not,” but, development in China and India alone would probably overwhelm any of the efforts we’re too selfish to make anyway.So the bottom line is that we can only solve the problem – all the problems – by finding a new way to power our world.Solar energy is nice, but I don’t think it’s the ultimate answer. Nuclear energy (through fission) is scary, but powerful – but I suspect it too is at best a stopgap. Nuclear fusion? Who knows?What we really need is one of those genuine breakthroughs, an act of true genius that leaps beyond what we know, beyond what most of us can even imagine.We have wandered down a dangerous dead-end path that looked oh-so-inviting way back when we began. Now we need to leap to a brand new path and we have no idea which way to leap.As I said, it’s an intelligence test for the human race. And we’re flunking it.And the price of failure isn’t a bad report card to take home to daddy. Or a rejection letter from the Ivy League school of our choice. It’s the death of our species.Just by the way, in case you’re worried, the planet itself will do fine. With us or without us.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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