The Hidden New Energy Debate: Will We Want to Use It,
Abuse It, Not Use it or Continue to Deny It?
That is a question we must ask if we are to survive.
© Brian O’Leary, Ph.D., July 19, 2006
In a world gone mad with mendacious domination and greed, how can we as a species possibly get a grip on the problems that threaten our very survival? How can we truly solve global warming, global dimming and catastrophic climate change? Clearly, we must drastically curtail our incineration of fossil fuels and research viable alternatives.
Some environmentalists are beginning to resign themselves towards weak solutions or nonsolutions such as drastically reducing our energy consumption while desperately increasing the use of solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cells, biofuels and even nuclear power. The whole environmental movement is fractured into discord because no viable solution seems to be forthcoming even if we were to magically stop dumping carbon and particulates into our atmosphere. The routine burning of fossil fuels is creating the climate instabilities many of us planetary scientists conclude will lead to global catastrophe if we don’t do something about it soon. We have played God with our planet for too long. Yet our politicians, corporatists and media pundits keep fiddling while the Earth burns.
The fact is, conventional renewables won’t solve the bulk of the problem when we consider the full life-cycle environmental and economic costs and benefits. Solar and wind energy are materials, capital and land intensive, diffuse and intermittent. Hydrogen fuel cells are expensive and require more energy to produce the hydrogen than you get out of them. Biofuels such as ethanol use a lot of land and compete with agriculture, for example, deforestating ever more the Amazon. Biofuels also consume a lot of energy to grow and transport and they still dump carbon into the atmosphere.
As a result of this gloomy outlook, some environmentalists such as James Lovelock and Stewart Brand have therefore resigned themselves to nuclear power, in spite of the fact that it is unsafe (remember Chernobyl?), polluting (what do we do with millennia of radioactive waste?), and lead to the manufacture of doomsday technologies that are now spreading throughout the world. Nuclear “hot” fusion Tokomak reactors have proven to be unfeasible, radioactive, and too centralized to be practical. We have already spent tens of billions of dollars over decades of trying. It’s a boondoggle.
Other “solutions” such as sequestering carbon or injecting particles into the atmosphere to offset greenhouse warming are band-aids that can only lead to further instabilities in our already-overburdened environment. I for one do not want to terror-form the Earth.
So we will need to go outside the box for our solutions, free of vested interests and geared towards creating a sustainable future. With every passing moment, this vision slips away from us as we jump off the cliff lemming-like and the privileged ones amass an ever greater share of power. These “leaders” prey upon our ignorance, confusion and inaction. Divide and conquer.
Economic arguments such as Peak Oil, while supporting
our overall need to become unaddicted to fossil fuels,
also rewards the oil giants as they reap ever greater
profits because of the perception, whether true or
not, of increasing scarcity in the face of increasing
We are dealing with physical problems that demand physical solutions, and by process of elimination of conventional alternatives and ignoring the possibility of innovation, we seem to be facing our demise from our own destructive practices. At least, that is our current perception, just like when, around 1900, we all thought the future of air travel would be solely dirigibles and balloons. Scientific American in 1905 denied the reality of the Wright brothers’ maiden flights, witnessed for over a year by thousands, because “they weren’t reported”. What they didn’t know was that the reporter-witness from the Wrights’ own hometown newspaper was fired from his position because the editor felt ‘heavier than air flight was impossible”. He hadn’t noticed what birds do, I guess. And the number of media bumps and cancelled recent talks I was to give on new energy is daunting. It’s as if I had contracted a highly communicable disease.
We need a revolution. We need an entirely new perspective. As in many other instances of profound social change based on necessity, most of us are afraid to think anew . We are looking backwards when we should be moving forward. Instead, it makes sense to look at the broader picture and seek ways of letting innovation help us rather than to destroy us.
Enter new energy. The formal definition of new energy is energy heretofore unrecognized by mainstream science. These include innovative manipulations of the water molecule, advanced hydrogen chemistries that permit much larger energy transitions in the presence of catalysts, tabletop “cold” fusion or low energy nuclear reactions catalyzed in solutions of water and heavy water, zero point energy using solid state devices, plasmas, charge clusters, exotic materials, Tesla technologies, supermotors using supermagnets, and energy from the thermal environment.
For the past fifteen years I have made a careful experimental and theoretical study of new energy options that appear to break the “laws” of equilibrium physics. But we do not seem to have the collective imagination to get beyond invention to actually building practical devices. In fact, the research has been actively suppressed by those in control. From observing demonstrations of a wide range of technologies, I can be sure that one or more of them could provide us with a quantum leap in having clean, cheap and decentralized energy for the whole world, thus eliminating poverty and restoring the environment.
As a physicist myself with forty years after my doctorate having had many different positions in research, teaching and writing at leading universities and independently, I believe I have acquired some sense of the history of technological breakthroughs that have overturned the old ideas. I am aware of the enormous resistance and suppression that has gripped new energy science ever since the time of Nikola Tesla. The history of science is replete with such examples.
OK, some of you may not believe what I say. You may want to go to your favorite hand-picked physicists who would declare “that can’t be” because it would break the “laws” of thermodynamics. Some will demand a definitive demonstration not realizing we are in the early research phase of an R&D cycle. These myopic mainstream scientists are too busy protecting their specialized careers to bother looking, because it would threaten their own worldviews.
The truth is, many physicists and I disagree with these scientific fundamentalists, who have formed an unwitting alliance with those in charge of current energy policies. Similarly, the Peak Oil people are in unwitting alliance with the oil companies and their obscene profits. In other words, those of you aligned with conventional scientific wisdom have not yet acquired a more complete story. You’ll have to dig more. The physcisits in denial are in fact ignorant about the experimental and theoretical evidence for new energy. As throughout the history of science, the true innovators are often pushed away and debunked. The pioneers of new energy could become heroes, but only after the ridicule ends and the culture chooses to adopt it.
In reality, there are no laws in science, only theories. Often the new paradigms are accepted by the high priests of establishment science only after years to decades of denial. But we don’t have the luxury of time on this one.
Quantum physics, low energy nuclear reaction experiments, and chaos theory describe results in which the “laws” of thermodynamics are clearly violated under nonequilibrium conditions. If you are a skeptic, please don’t go down the path of exclusive naysaying without taking a peek, without venturing outside of your own Plato’s cave. Don’t relay on the scientific double standard “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Don’t believe simplistic bromides such as “there is no such thing as perpetual motion.” This thinking will only lead you into a retrogressive cul de sac where there appear to be no real solutions to our energy dilemmas.
Let us back off the question of scientific credibility for a moment, because it is so easy to be stuck there and not pay any attention to the bigger issues raised by the possibility of having new energy. As a thought exercise, let’s say that practical prototypes do become available in the not-too-distant future. Let’s say these technologies offer orders of magnitude improvement in price and cleanliness after full life cycle costs are considered. Let’s say we could, if we so choose, have power packs decentralized from the authoritarian grid system and available to everyone on Earth. What should we do? Should we go ahead with this or not? Can we use it wisely to save our planet? Or should we just let the warmongers and energy barons now in charge abuse this one too? Or should we not use it at all?
In asking these questions, we all need to join the debate, because the possibility of a new energy society might be the most important discussion affecting the future of man and nature. Clearly we want to explore these questions more deeply.
I have seen for myself several forms of new energy produced in laboratories around the world and well-documented by many of us in peer-reviewed papers, websites, books and articles. The number of concept proofs is overwhelming. Therefore, we should explore what it would take to implement new energy, even if the issue is only hypothetical to the skeptical inquirer. My analysis indicates that a secured R&D lab exploring the principal options using teams of scientists and engineers, might require $200m in funds and we could have something viable to use in homes, buildings and transportation systems in about five years. This is less than a day of American taxpayer spending on the devastation of Iraq or two days of current profits for Exxon-Mobil.
Let’s say you are still skeptical of this even after
putting in your due diligence. Are you 100% sure it
won’t work? (a highly unlikely outcome of doing your
homework.) Would a day in Iraq exchanged even with a
remote possibility such as this be worth considering?
Above all, the consideration of new energy for our future goes to the core of what democratic discourse means. Surely the public needs to become aware of some of the most important choices that we face, staying ahead of and forever vigilant of the transgressions of our “leaders”.
Some critics claim I am a fanatical new energy advocate using naïve science or having a megalamania for such “technological fixes” that would only create another Faustian bargain like nuclear energy. Some environmentalists have pointed out that new energy could be weaponized, overused, and otherwise abused.
None of these assertions needs to be true in a healthy democracy. They can only distract us from the bigger issues. I am an advocate of democratic debate of what we should do about new energy if it were brought forward, if at all. How would its implementation affect current institutions, our power structures? How can we make the necessary economic and social conversions? Could we trust the Bush Administration or Exxon-Mobil or General Electric to manage all this? Most thinking people would say no to that, that they would not want to see this innovation be co-opted. Instead we should look towards new forms of publicaly-mandated oversight and regulation of the new technologies.
In short, the mega-issue of what choices we must make
on which source(s) of energy we want force the issue
of wise management of future energy policy, regardless
of our personal or institutional preferences. It is
something we will have to do anyway. Put differently,
In these times, the core of democracy within the U.S.
has fallen to new lows. The awakening we will need to
have mandates an open discussion of the full range of
energy options. Meanwhile we should remove from
power those who have led us astray, who have lied,
We need to awaken not only to new energy, but to reasserting our power, our intelligence. This is literally a case of “power to the people”.
But we also must let go of our preconceived ideas and promotions, roll up our sleeves, do the research and development Apollo-style and have the democratic discussions. This is the only way I see we can move forward, even if your perception may be that new energy is, at best, a longshot. Or, after reasoned discussion and debate, if we willfully and respectfully reject the new energy option, we should know why, because such a decision might be to our collective peril.
Should we use, abuse, not use or deny new energy? The choice is ours to make. Let the debate begin!
In the following sections we’ll explore some implications of each choice to further frame the issue.
Using New Energy
In my opinion, this is the only clear choice, after exhausting all other remedies, which is a process many of us in the scientific community have studied over the past several years. The recent works of James Lovelock, Richard Heinberg, John Holdren, Nathan Lewis, Adam Trombly and many others have all made it clear that there are no truly sustainable solutions using currently available technologies when full life-cycle environmental costs are considered. We seem to have no other choice but to embrace new energy.
This then forces the issues of responsible management of the new technologies, and setting the parameters of the transition to a new energy economy. To do otherwise is to abrogate our responsibility as responsible world citizens.
Abusing New Energy
One choice we can make is to allow the U.S. Government or big business to control new energy. I think most all of you reading this can understand the grave dangers of this scenario. Our experience with the abuse of power by the existing war and energy industries and lobbies give ample evidence that new energy will be abused if we don’t create whole new management and regulatory structures. I suggest that this issue will stand over all others once we begin to restore the republic and put it on a more global, peaceful and sustainable footing.
In other words, it is not enough to transform our tyranny in the ways the progressive community suggests. We must do more than that: to become intelligent about managing these new developments considering the common good, to guide us through the transition while considering the ethics and legality of removing power from vested interests while serving the larger interest. This will take time and responsible citizen action during the inevitable chaos of making the necessary changes. Some vested interests will “lose”. The whole capitalistic system and the concept of economic growth will have to be altered.
In a sense new energy is already being abused with the violent suppression of the technologies to date by the powers-that-be trying to squeeze optimal profits from the disastrous abuse of carbon-emitting and radioactive combustion that is throwing our planet so far out of balance. To keep these new developments secret is a crime as egregious as going to war for oil, having nuclear programs, and ignoring the signs of climate change.
We must do more than restore the republic under the U.S. constitution. We need a global green republic made up of accountable leaders, all aligned to the greater goal of providing clean energy for all peoples of the Earth without undue profits by the few. We not only need a housecleaning, we need to rebuild the house. The task is daunting, but not impossible. By definition, these issues must be addressed by founding mothers and fathers of a whole new world.
Not Using New Energy
After due discussion and deliberation, there may develop factions who fear that inevitably new energy will be abused, and therefore shouldn’t be introduced at all. Maybe we will decide that all technologies ranging from hydrocarbons to nuclear power to the new energy concepts are incompatible with nature and that the human experiment has already gone too far. Or perhaps we will decide that no new energy technology is truly benign and that we need to focus on improving efficiency and researching cheaper solar and wind technologies.
These issues are too important to be swept under the rug.
If the decision is a “no” to new energy, it will have to be made by a consensus of informed citizens and not by the current dominant powers. For that, the overhaul of global energy policies will need to be total, going to the roots of the disease. So inevitably the question keeps returning to the roots of human systems, not to the technologies themselves. We need to become educated and make responsible decisions.
Denying New Energy
Even though history again and again confirms the Bertrand Russell maxim “The resistance to a new idea increases as the square of its importance”, it still astounds me that the bulk of otherwise intelligent people still deny the reality and potential of new energy. That denial plays right into the hands of those who profit from Earth-destroying energy technologies.
The denial of new energy appears to be a defense mechanism to avoid reality because of a fear of the unknown. But more than ever, these times call for stepping up to the plate and considering all possibilities even though they may at first appear to be impossible. I know from years of direct experience, observation and study that denial is not only ignorance, it is covering up a truth that will inevitably emerge and be ever harder to face as we plunge ever further into global catastrophe.
Again, we can’t sweep these issues under a rug of denial. The genie is out of the bottle.
When we look at conventional and new energy options, several political and economic factors arise. There is no question in my mind that we must squarely face the question of responsible management of the new technologies. To continue to deny it or to weaponize it are poor choices. But if we carefully assess these technologies and their full implications, alongside the full range of alterternives, free of vested interests, we have a chance to transform our planet back to the paradise we had inherited.
Brian O’Leary received his Ph.D. in astronomy and
planetary science from the University of California
Berkeley in 1967. He then served as a NASA scientist-astronaut, the first and only appointed to go to Mars before the program was cancelled. O’Leary
He was senior staff consultant for the U.S. House Interior Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment and energy advisor and speechwriter for the chairman Rep. Morris Udall, also on his senior issues team when he ran for president. He also advised presidential candidates George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich on space, science and energy issues..
Dr. O’Leary is author of ten books, over 100 published scientific papers and articles on space, energy, the
environment and public policy. His most recent book
is Re-Inheriting the Earth: Awakening to Sustainable
Solutions and Greater Truths, now published in three
Dr. O’Leary has a long history of activism as a protester of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and a citizen diplomat before and during Soviet Glasnost. As an outspoken environmentalist advocating clean new energy technologies, he is co-founder of the International Association of New Science, founder of the New Energy Movement and cofounder with his artist wife Meredith of Montesuenos, a retreat center for peace, sustainability, the arts and new science in southern Ecuador. For more information, browse www.brianoleary.com
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