Keeping me hopeful, year after year.
I call my husband The Energy Czar, as you might remember. I do it with affection and awe, not derision or disdain, even though sometimes that awe works against me. I have gotten two permits in seven years to build my dream lap pool, and each time it has become a dream deferred, dried up like a raisin in the sun (if you’ll pardon my homage to Langston). I just couldn’t follow through because I knew in my heart that an energy-sucking lap pool would be a sucker punch to The Energy Czar’s soul-er-plexis.
Living with a fellow for 55 years, watching him go from an optimistic, easygoing, water rolling off his back kind of guy, to a person shaking his head in disgust and repeating, “I don’t get it, I don’t get it” has been, to say the least, remarkable, worthy of remark. So I’m remarking.
What he doesn’t get is why more people aren’t in a panic over the fact that 150 species are lost every day, and, to his panicked mindset, we are most certainly next. He points out that the temperature has risen at least two degrees celsius over the 1850 baseline, and with one more degree, food won’t grow. And if food won’t grow … well, come on, it’s not rocket science.
Speaking of rockets, Branson, Bezos, and Musk almost made The Energy Czar apoplectic. What did make him apoplectic were all the excited phone calls he got recently from friends saying, See? Everything’s gonna be fine now that they’ve achieved a controlled fusion reaction. His reaction? Good luck, Charlie. To get fusion up and running as an energy source will take a minimum of thirty years. Which he doesn’t think we have.
For a few years he’s been talking about self reinforcing feedback loops. He repeats these facts enough times so with each repetition I understand a little more of what he’s actually talking about. Here’s one you might be familiar with: Due to the slowing of the jet stream and other warming-related phenomena, temperatures are rising in the Arctic circle and forests are more susceptible to burning; and because more forests are burning, you not only get more CO2, but you also get black soot that rises and drops down onto the Arctic ice. So now, instead of the ice reflecting some of the sunlight back into space, it’s absorbing it, ergo, more heating. And with more heating, the permafrost is melting, allowing more trapped methane to be released, which makes wildfires get bigger, and the bigger fires beget more soot, and the more soot, the more sunlight absorption, and the more heating of the planet.
That’s just one big irreversible feedback loop. According to my husband’s source of depressing news, Guy McPherson (some say he’s a nut job; he’s my husband’s planet guru), there are 65 more, equally bad loops.
But now, for the first time, my husband is seeing some light at the end of the polluted tunnel. Now, he says, there is one possibility stemming from those ego-driven, indulgent space flights that could reverse this impending disaster. Maybe it’s an unintended surprise benefit, but, for the first time, The Energy Czar is cautiously optimistic.
It’s called the MEER (Mirrors for Earth Energy Rebalancing) Reflection Project. Ye Tao of Harvard’s Rowland Institute and the project’s principal investigator says that about thirty percent of the earth’s sunlight is reflected back into space; and because we are losing that reflectivity due to the loss of arctic ice, the atmosphere is absorbing more heat energy.
The MEER project would place reflective mirrors on land, on oceans, and in space (hello Jeff, hello Elon, hello Richard). They would reflect a portion of the incoming sunlight back into space, which could keep the atmosphere from continuously heating. And maybe save humanity and the world.
My husband and his brother have been talking about going to John Kerry’s house and giving out flyers with info on the MEER project, as well as on their favorite energy solution — small, safe thorium molten salt reactors. (Kerry is a Vineyard resident, but also President Biden’s “Climate Czar.”) Combining thorium reactors with wind and solar, they believe, could solve the energy crisis in five to ten years (if we took a World War Two production approach).
Sadly, there are probably no passersby at John Kerry’s house, and the would-be leafletters would likely get arrested anyway. I’d like to keep my husband out of jail, but both brothers seem to be ok with the idea.
What really gives me hope is that I know that there are other people out there like my Energy Czar — people who fully understand the peril we face but don’t get bogged down by despair, people who keep looking for solutions, ways to change, ways to adapt; people who believe that we can save the world, and who won’t give up until we do.
Hi, Nancy — I’m wondering if Joel knows Don Sadoway at MIT. He’s made great strides with molten salt batteries. See http://donaldsadoway.com/. Email [email protected] And please give both Joel and Don my best regards.