"I think God lives on the Sun, don't you?"
More resisting apoccalyptic thinking: researchers at MIT improve solar cell performance:
As a result, rather than covering a roof with expensive solar cells (the semiconductor devices that transform sunlight into electricity), the cells only need to be around the edges of a flat glass panel [e.g. a window]. In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell "by a factor of over 40," Baldo says.
The real solutions to all of humanities problems are energetic in nature. Currently, as we confront an end to the burning of a billion or so years worth of stored photosynthesis that we dug out of the ground -- that's what oil, coal and natural gas are, really -- we look in new directions. The future is in fusion, and while there are some exciting things (which aught to get funding) happening with small-scale earthbound actions, we have a pretty functional fusion reactor up and running in the neighborhood. It'll burn you too, if you're not careful.
The Sun is the root source of almost all energy, of all life on our Earth. With the exception of geothermal, tidal, and nuclear power, everything else comes exclusively from the Sun. It's a mind-bogglingly huge thing, a mas of incandescent gas emitting literally incomprehensible amounts of energy. There is no scale of reference that can even begin to convey the reality of what the sun is, it's power.
It is truly the most God-like for 35 light years around. We should do a better job of worshiping.
And we will, I feel. Along with getting smarter and more efficient about how we organize ourselves, the biggest problems we all face -- water, food, atmospheric carbon -- will all be solved with better energy. They're all at their core related to the availability and side-effects of power. Not (except tangentially) of the political sort though, but rather in the way that physicists talk about: the ability to do work.
Five or six thousand years ago, you had to organize an agricultural system that could feed thousands of enslaved workers in order to build some pyramids. Nowadays we have better alternatives, and new options such as desalinating water are on the table, just as long as there's enough energy to get the job done cheaply.
The 21st Century will be made or broken by our ability to harness more energy while reducing specific negative impacts like carbon saturation in the atmosphere, to cheaply and cleanly put more joules in more hands. Better solar panels, industrial photosynthesis (think algae farming), clever ways to tap into ambient sources -- waves, tides, wind, temperature differentials, etc -- and real breakthroughs like neighborhood fusion are all a part it. So too are improvements in how we transport and store energy, such as superconducting power grids, nanotube capacitors, and the ability to use hydrogen fuel cells (which requires figuring out how to safely create and transport hydrogen). We should, as a species, be focused on these kinds of issues like no other: funding basic research and bringing new advances into the real world, retooling the first world and building up everywhere else with safe, clean, reliable, sustainable ways to generate and transport more power.
All this is made possible by expanding the scope of our knowledge as human beings, of things very small and impossibly large. As we peer into new realms and begin to manipulate complexities that were heretofore only roughly and approximately modeled, fantastic possibilities emerge. Fantastic dangers as well (with great power comes great responsibility), but I like to think that these challenges and the advances we undertake in meeting them are helping to manifest a practical (as in real, not spiritual or figurative) global consciousness, a global Public.
It's true, I'm hippy-dippy in a lot of ways, and I believe in the enduring goodness basically simple things like growing your own food, riding a bike, etc; but there's no going backwards, and a rapture-like Fall and return to primitivity is both unlikely and undesirable, seductive and pervasive though the idea may be. To put it bluntly, if we don't figure this shit out collectively, but your ass that we will in a factional way -- though that might result in everyone speaking Mandarin by the year 2108, so maybe collectively is better -- because those who do will be the undeniable winners of the globe.
We can be heroes, as they say. All of us. And God, looking down from the Sun, will no doubt be smiling.