In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned a great presentation given by Steve Chu on Monday and I’ve finally found some time to say a little more.
In his talk he described the current plight of the planet and gave some fantastic insights into the problems we face. He highlighted predictions that have been made about various environmental markers that were frightening. The one that scared me the most was a prediction that Chu said amounts to “unplugging the refrigerator in the north and allowing everything to rot”. He was referring to a positive feedback mechanism that will kick in if the permafrost of the northern hemisphere melts, releasing enormous amounts of methane and carbon dioxide.
On a related cold-storage theme, he gave data that showed that the energy saved through the manufacture of contemporary high efficiency refrigerators is greater than that produced from renewable energy sources! That’s not to say we should be just making better refrigerators though. He spoke about several “transformative” technologies that are required to provide step changes in the way energy is created and distributed, arguing that incremental steps won’t solve our problems. The technologies he mentioned included energy storage in batteries, cheaper photovoltaics, a green revolution akin to the “transformative” Haber–Bosch process, and artificial photosynthesis (which took a large step forward recently). And as Katherine pointed out in an earlier post, chemists will play a central role in these developments.
The talk was a massive eye-opener; I knew we were in trouble but when you’re presented with hard facts by such an authoritative and passionate guy, you listen. But, equally he showed there is hope, and that it lies within scientific research.
Gavin Armstrong (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)