The hard part of being a President, they say, is dealing with the unexpected.
The 1000 Year Energy Challenge
Part 1 of 3 part interview with Foundation for the Future Trustee and Program Director, Sesh Velamoor.
By Bill Moore
Sesh Velamoor has a most intriguing assignment. He gets to not only think about the future but to have a role in helping shape it through the education efforts of the Foundation for the Future, a non-profit "operating foundation" located in Bellevue, Washington, which was founded in 1996 by physicist, inventor, and philanthropist Walter Kistler.
The stated goal of the Foundation is "to increase and diffuse knowledge concerning the long-term future of humanity" and that includes the energy humanity uses to perpetuate its culture. To examine what forms of energy humanity is likely to utilize in the near, mid-term and far future, Velamoor invited 16 of the world's leading energy futurists to a four-day workshop held March 30-April 2, 2007.
What set this particular workshop apart wasn't just its unusual format, but who was invited, including several advocates for Zero Point Energy, among them former JPL scientist Dr. Fabrizio Pinto and Dr. Tom Valone.
But then, according to Velamoor, he likes to make the conferences more interesting by giving voices that normally find themselves excluded from conventional dialog, an opportunity to air their views and thus broaden everyone's understanding, with the goal being to reach a well-argued consensus, if not on the merits of each participant's speciality, at least on the need for greater dialogue.
What came out of the workshop, the 66-page Executive Summary of which is in PDF format and available for free download, were several key insights you will learn about through the course of this three part, nearly 60-minute long discussion that I had with Mr. Velamoor. [Bio here].
You can listen to Part 1 of the interview using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page, or you can download the file to your computer hard drive for transfer to and playback on your favorite MP3 device. Be sure to watch for Parts 2 and 3, which will be made available here on EV World over the next week or so.
IN BRIEF: Synopsis of Part One
The Foundation for the Future sees itself as the "market place" for ideas and brings no particular agenda to bear on the topics it discusses other than to encourage open dialog in a private, conversational setting. The goal is to present to the public the issues as transparently and "spin-free" as possible.
The impetus for the Energy Challenges workshop is the convergence of two problems starting with the depletion of fossil fuels, i.e. "peak oil." He noted that there's little point debating the reality of the phenomenon because the earth is a closed system and simply isn't making new oil, gas or coal on a time-scale that humanity can utilize. Compounding this is the problem of greenhouse gases, principally CO2, which has risen from 290 ppm a century and half ago to 370-390 ppm. Because CO2 has an atmospheric life cycle of half a century, if we don't reduce the amount we are pumping into the sky, we are in for serious climatic upheavals.
While the Foundation doesn't actively try to "tilt" the future in any particular direction, it does believe that providing the public with information on the issues will cause society as a whole to make choices that are ultimately beneficial. To do this, it makes available without cost to the public transcripts of events like the Energy Challenges workshop. In addition to the general public, it sends event transcripts to some 190 government ministries around the planet, in addition to libraries, schools and colleges.
With respect to how he organized the Energy Challenges workshop, and specifically who he invited and why, Velamoor began by dividing up the relevant technologies into three time categories: "near" (one generation or 25 years), mid-term (ten generations or 250 years) and far future (40 generations or 1000 years). Next, he considered who might best represent the technologies likely to be part of each era, along with relevant policy makers and futurists.
Near-term alternative energy sources include nuclear fission (not fusion), biomass fuels, terrestrial solar, tidal, geothermal and earth-based hydrogen production. But more critically needed, in the view of the workshop attendees, was the need to carefully manage the transition away from fossil fuels. This manifests itself in the form of greater conservation, heightened focus on renewable energy sources, and the mitigation of CO2 emissions.
Mid-term (in the next 250 years) energy systems include space-based solar, nanotechnology and, surprisingly, Zero Point Energy.
The far future (within 40 generations or 1000 years) energy technologies were, again surprisingly, earth-based fusion and capturing energy directly from the sun (what futurists have called a Class One civilization. Earth today is currently consider a Class Zero civilization because of our reliance on fossil fuels and inability to directly manipulate the energy of our star).
With respect to the question of whether or not the planet faces an energy crisis, the consensus of the workshop attendees was that it is and the first manifestations of that crisis are just now starting to appear. A prime example is the current plateau in oil production which has remained largely static for the last two years at 85 million barrels a day. Projections see demand growing by 50% by 2030, and CO2 emissions by 55% over the same time frame. An even larger issue is the impact of climate change and the environment.
Velamoor picks participants based on the concept of putting himself in the shoes of the average, intelligent person on the street who is asking himself or herself, what are the pros and cons of this particular debate or issue; what is it that I need to be doing or not doing? He stresses that he doesn't try to load the list with people who are on a particular side of an issue.
He tries to avoid two typical flaws in most other conferences where the same people attend and generally end up "preaching to the choir." Because the conventional approach to the workshop tends to re-inforce preconceived notions or points of agreement, countervailing views and opinions seldom, if ever, see the light of day. So, he always invites "contrarians" to the workshops.
The third problem with the conventional workshop or conference is that each has its own language and jargon, which tends of exclude (and bewilder) the non-professional. While of value to professionals, it is of little practical use to the general public.
But Velamoor also admits that the delegate selection process is more art-form than science.
CONTINUED IN PART TWO