Sunday, April 11, 2010

Future of Energy?

I went to a lecture at Harvard the other day. The speaker, Prof David MacKay, said, "This is a lecture about visualizing life without fossil fuels." Great, I thought. That's what I'm doing in my novels.

MacKay, of Britain's University of Cambridge and their Department of Energy and Climate Change, has just published a book, Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. It's meant for the layperson, and you can even download it for free.

Delivered in a brisk, dramatic tone, the message of his lecture was very interesting, as far as it went. We heard that Americans use twice as much energy per person as Europeans, that we'll need a 90% cut in this use by 2050, and that even to begin to match today's use through alternates, we'd need so many wind turbines and solar panels, they'd crowd out people. We also got information about technofixes like underwater windmills, solar heat storage and transfer, and smart grids that control demand.

But the visualizing never got around to what life will be like. Prof MacKay did not try to picture for us what our grandchildren face. Perhaps he didn't dare. What a downer it would be! So we were informed and entertained, but not scared out of our wits.

I wonder, does Prof. MacKay ever really visualize the future? I'll bet he does. And I'll bet it keeps him awake at night.

P.S. Using the word "energy" to mean fuel is only about 30 years old. But energy just sounds so much more cheerful and innocent, don't you think?

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