Finnish reader Dr. Antti Roine argues that population and energy dwarf climate change as global problems requiring urgent action
Climate change is not the most pressing issue facing mankind today. Hunting down the perpetrators of the greenhouse effect not only wastes time but focuses our attention on the wrong issues. We should instead be looking for new energy sources, new technologies and new means to manage population growth.
The importance of ensuring sufficient energy for the future is almost impossible to overestimate, because energy directly and indirectly affects the price of virtually everything in society. Energy is needed throughout the whole production chain; expensive energy simply means expensive products, food, medicines, pure water and services, and it is also likely to keep wages and salaries down.
Birth regulationAffordable and sustainable energy can allow us to maintain a fair standard of living for the whole of mankind, and thus allow us to focus on preserving our natural environment, biodiversity and even world peace. Massive population growth is the main reason for the exorbitant energy demand. The birth rate must be regulated, otherwise it will lead to further degradation of the environment and a worsening of problems in society, foiling all our other efforts.
Hunting down the perpetrators of the greenhouse effect not only wastes time but focuses our attention on the wrong issues
Misplaced energyIdentifying sustainable energy sources seems to be the main problem. The 'right choice' is always easy to identify with hindsight, but it is possible to make more rational choices in advance too. For example, today we can easily say that companies investing ten years ago in cathode ray tube TVs or photographic film misdirected their investment in mature and obsolete technology. The wise companies identified the tremendous development potential of new LCD television monitors and digital photo sensors, and today they are reaping the rewards.
Solar futureA similar scenario is now evident in the wind and bio-energy sector. Wind turbines and wind farms use technology that is today relatively mature, whereas solar energy still has tremendous development potential. The sun provides more power (1366 MW/km²) per square kilometre than a large nuclear power plant. According to annual net estimates, the density potential of solar energy may be one hundred times greater than that of wind and bio-energy.
Solar energy 300 MW/km2
The Kyoto agreement has only succeeded in transferring industry and jobs to those countries which care little about environmental problems
Wind turbines 3 MW/km2
Bio-energy 2 MW/km2
Wind and bio-energy production wastes valuable areas of land and spoils landscapes. The farming of bio-fuels in particular destroys natural carbon sinks and biodiversity, and also pollutes water systems with fertilizers and insecticides. Their real net efficiency may in fact be negative, especially if the entire life cycle and necessary reserve power plants are taken into account.
Those in the rich countries will not be able to save enough energy to compensate for the growing requirements of the world's poor
Solar cells require less land, as they can be placed in sunny deserts or on rooftops, where they will not destroy carbon sinks and pollute the environment. The entire energy demand of Europe could be satisfied with an area of solar cells that is 110 by 110 kilometres in size. Correspondingly, an area of 250 by 250 kilometres could supply energy to the entire world. Wind or bio-energy would require one hundred times more land area.
Cheap and cheerfulThe time of cheap energy is not past; it is ahead of us. If we do not wish to be dependent on potentially unstable oil-supplying countries forever, waiting for them to gradually empty our coffers, we must invest in solar technology. We must increase the efficiency and decrease the price of different types of solar cells, heat pumps, insulation, energy storage and transportation methods. New industrial photosynthesis cells, for example, offer the prospect of increasing the efficiency of hydrogen or sugar production to a level fifty times greater than wild plants could ever offer.
One billion people in rich countries consume 7.6 kW of power, while the other 5.5 billion people in the world have to manage with only 1.3 kW. Those in the rich countries will not be able to save enough energy to compensate for the growing requirements of the world's poor. Of course, small personal energy savings by people in rich countries ease their conscience, but this does not solve the real global problem.
Beyond KyotoThe Kyoto agreement is now ten years old and the depressing results are now available. The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is increasing faster than ever, along with food and fuel prices and population. The Kyoto agreement has only succeeded in transferring industry and jobs to those countries which care little about environmental problems. Agreements like this are also dangerous because they give a false sense of security. New post-Kyoto agreements must channel emissions trading funds to the development of new solar technology and commit to curb population growth.
Only a brave soul is willing to honestly admit and fearlessly face the truth and the undeniable facts, which are out there for anyone with a sincere and logical mind to discover. We now need such people to overcome the world energy crisis. We need green idealists who will make our failures visible; we need open-minded citizens who will vote for change; we need wise politicians who will pass the necessary laws; and we need realist green engineers who will finally solve the problems.
Building Sustainable Design
Dr. Antti Roine, Ulvila, Finland