This is a piece I wrote for my old web site a few years back. It's still relevant to my outlook today, and I'll be expanding on this hopeful theme of focusing on solutions to environmental crises in future entries to come, so I thought it would make a good launching point for this blog.

This entry is about hope; a celebration of human creativity. We need hope. Human society faces many challenges. People are outstripping the ability of the earth to replenish itself and are dumping tonnes of toxic materials into the land, air and water. The rapid release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is causing global warming1 and acidifying the oceans2.

There are many who argue that the gap between the problems that humanity faces and the solutions to these problems is too great, that it is beyond our ingenuity. The research I have done on sustainability tells a different story. All over the world, people are (re)learning how to build homes and buildings that are environmentally sustainable and energy neutral. Many of these techniques draw on ancient knowledge that has been neglected in recent decades: the use of straw-bale, cob (mud and straw), adobe, etc. as building materials; the application of simple structural design principles to encourage the passive cooling and heating of buildings; the resurrection of the wind mill to harvest energy from the air. Many of these techniques draw on new technologies: solar cells which generate electricity from sunlight; water circulation for heating and cooling and for providing a large 'thermal mass'; highly-efficient windows to trap the heat that sunlight can pour into a building; geothermal heating and cooling.

We do, of course, use energy beyond that used to support a comfortable living environment. Recent advances in many sustainable energy technologies promise to satisfy much of this demand through the delivery of energy from the sun, wind, waves, tides, and vegetation. Fusion remains a distinct, if seemingly ever-distant, possibility. It is my belief that the solution to many of our problems lies both in the pursuit of new scientific or technological modalities and in the implementation of existing technologies to save vast amounts of wasted energy, and provide sources of energy that do not overburden the earth. We need only divert a fraction of the money and resources poured into oil extraction, nuclear fission (which arguably carries too many environmental and geo-political dangers to be viable in the long term) and war-mongering toward sustainable energy modalities to realize a revolution in our global energy economy.

That so many solutions lie within our grasp gives me hope that people can start to turn this mess around. It won't be easy, but it is possible.

  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: www.ipcc.ch.
  2. Ken Caldeira and Micheal E. Wickett, "Oceanography: Anthropogenic carbon and oceanic pH", Nature 425, 365 (23 September 2003).