Murphy's Musings: Editorial
This is a highly irregular, and often irreverent (if not irrelevant) set of editorials reflecting my views on a wide swath of issues. You might wonder why I don't just use a blog; I have my reasons.
A few of you (if there is indeed anyone reading this!) might remember my first editorial back in March 2001, which expressed frustration at the efforts of the US Administration and Congress to "effectively castrate the US Nuclear Fusion Research Effort". What I had not realised at that time was the degree to which the global oil industry, or at least the barons who run the oil companies, seem to have influence over, and a friendly ear in the current US Administration.
It is clear to me now that the so-called Energy "policy" adopted by this administration has been to sideline any effort to develop energy supplies that do not involve oil. In the short term, this virtually guarantees large profit margins for the barons of said oil companies, as oil is "all there is" in terms of energy supply. In the longer term, this strategy is completely and utterly disastrous, not only for the nation, but for the planet as a whole.
In the very long term (I speak of millenia and longer), fossil fuels are, by their nature, not even remotely interesting as a source of energy. They are a blip on the curve, a distraction from the task at hand. Think of Humanity's journey through time on this planet as if it were a trip across the North American continent. Then fossil fuels as an energy source are like passing a single gas (petrol!) station at the start of the voyage, where they offer a whopping two gallons (that's all they have). Is that going to last the entire journey? Of course not.
It saddens me to find out that yet again, the US Government has failed its people. Not only has research on fusion — the one really viable long term energy source we could use to augment wind and solar power — been cut to the bone in the US Scientific Community, we have added insult to injury by Zeroing out the US contribution to ITER for fiscal year 2008. In fact according to Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), most Members of Congress do not realize the awkward position the United States is in because ITER received no funding this year (2008). The decision to zero out that budget item smacks of " El Busto" economics in my view; not only is it totally incompetent, it is negligence on a scale that is shocking and appalling at a fundamental level.
So what's the big deal about Fusion, ITER, and so on? It's really simple. If we (humanity) want a continuing source of energy from which we can generate electricity and/or make our cars run, we have these sources:
Maybe I've overlooked a source of power (if so, let me know). But I don't think so.
To plagiarise a little from a mainstream press article, In order to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity in a day, you could burn 9,000 tons of coal, liberating 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the process. Or you could take a few pounds of deuterium and tritium, and turn that into a slightly smaller amount of helium — without producing any greenhouse gases.
I can't argue with that logic. I don't think you can either.
— Pat Murphy, April 6th, 2008.
Patrick P. Murphy
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA