Too Green to Be True

Renewable energy sources could allow for a prudent decrease in CO2 emissions while still powering a populous, electrified global economy. On The Pump Handle, Mark Pendergrast examines the proverbial canary in the coal mine, Japan. Wary of imported fossil fuels and burned by nuclear disaster, Japan is looking toward solar, geothermal, wind, water, and biomass-powered alternative energy sources. Wind, for example, could provide 10% of Japan’s energy needs, but with blade-busting typhoons and fierce winter lightning storms, turbines must be more robust and adaptable than ever. Mark writes, “wind power could literally begin to replace nuclear power plants, which are all located by the ocean with a good infrastructure in place to deliver power to the grid.” Mark takes an in-depth look at all of Japan’s wide-ranging energy efforts, and has also published a new book on the subject. Meanwhile, Ethan Siegel considers the latest claim of cold fusion on Starts With a Bang! He explains that atomic nuclei are quantum mechanical objects whose wavefunctions can overlap, meaning they “can tunnel into that energetically favorable state, and fusion can occur!” This improbable event befalls 1038 protons every second in the Sun, but has never been observed at cold temperatures. And while Ethan says it’s theoretically possible, the recent claims of Andrea Rossi shouldn’t raise your hopes.

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Hungry, Hot & Crowded

On Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk asks if we can stomach a new kind of cuisine— in case, you know, a massive volcanic eruption wipes out all our staple grains. Instead of wheat, corn and rice, “we probably would begin getting comfortable with acorn pancakes and turnip stew with taro dumplings.” But Sharon says that even barring catastrophe, “something *is* happening, something disastrous. The wheat is being grown often on dry prairie soils that should never be plowed at all. The corn and soybeans are being grown continuously in the midwest at a high cost to both topsoil and the ability of soils to hold carbon.” Sharon suggests we dig into that cassava now—not only will we get used to it, but we’ll help keep bread on the menu as well. James Hrynyshyn also looks to the future on Class M, saying that when it comes to predicting population growth and carbon emissions, “the uncertainty matters almost as much as the trends themselves.” The question is, what can we do now to make our way of life more sustainable?