I could continue this series on the future for several weeks, giving you my theories about where I think we’re headed, and I could weave some of the concepts Kirby put into his work as part of the mix, but I think I’ll wrap this interlude up with one final simple concept. Solar power.
First, the future is not looking good. It looks like a significant number of people on this planet are going to suffer horribly in the future because our generation is destroying irreplaceable natural resources at a shocking pace. In a thousand years there will be no more oil left. Now I know, yeah, there will be a pocket of oil here and a pocket there, but by around the year 2200 there will not be enough oil left to power the entire planet. Eventually this once seemingly endless natural resource will virtually cease to exist on the Earth. Sort of like the American Buffalo.
So the next important step in human history is going to have to be the invention of a new affordable energy technology. I know experiments are being done to harness air and water and other substances to create energy (and I think all of those approaches will bear fruit, and they can all supplement solar power) but there’s nothing in our general vicinity more powerful than the sun, so if civilization is going to continue after the oil is gone we’re going to have to learn how to cheaply and effectively use the energy of the sun to power our planet.
If we don’t, humanity will fall into a dark age that will probably never end. We can’t have another industrial revolution to pull us out of the next great depression: there won’t be any more oil to fuel it. Oil is the single thing that has allowed our population to explode to around 6 billion. Without it, the planet can only reasonable sustain about 1 billion people. Maybe not even that.
And if the oil is gone and we start burning our forests and homes to keep us warm, where will that lead? Probably full circle to a planet with only a few million people living here, raising their own crops and hunting and gathering. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I just feel sorry for the billions of people who are going to have to suffer needlessly in the transition because of our greed and over-consumption.
Surely today we can use all this technology we’ve created to solve one of our most basic puzzles — can you create energy out of thin air? Solar power obviously is the solution. And we have made great strides. But we’re not there yet. I think we’d have to cover every square inch in the entire state of California with solar panels if we wanted to power the United States — so clearly we have a very long way to go. And let’s face it, we may never really crack the code. We may never come up with a solar cell that is as efficient and inexpensive as oil. Which means we better get started on it now.
This was a once in a lifetime event. We took a substance that took nature millions of years to create and in a period of about 200 years, we burned it all up. All of it. So if we even want to pretend we care about future generations (which clearly we do not) I think we have an obligation to at the very least pool our resources and work with other countries to design a solar panel that works. Now. We need to put a tremendous amount of our financial and human resources into the project this minute while we still have some oil left to run the light bulbs over heads. Unfortunately this country is incredibly divided. We can’t even agree on letting two women sign a marriage contract. It’s embarrassing. Most experts agree it’s going to be tremendously difficult (if not impossible) to put our remaining national resources behind an organized effort to invent a new solar technology and transition to that technology unless there is some horrible, major disaster that brings us together.
But as the Second World War showed us, if there is a global catastrophe Americans can put their differences aside and come together to work for a common cause. I hope it doesn’t take something as cataclysmic as a war to start the process, but there is no question that we as a planet are going to have to work together to build an affordable solar panel ASAP or we are seriously screwing over every human being who ever walks on this planet after us. I’m an optimist so I think we can pull it off. But I’m ashamed of us as a species if we’re going to wait to seriously transition to solar power only after we’ve used up all of the Earth’s oil. By then it may be too late.