Troubling Times, Interesting Times

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Illustration by Fotolia/Kwest
In one simple image, here's the challenge and the opportunity we face in these interesting times.

Welcome to a crossroads in history. These are interesting times. A great challenge stares us in the face, one of the most significant the human race has ever known. But every great challenge is accompanied by great opportunity, and this too stands front and center.

The challenge is global warming. The opportunity before us is the chance to create a new, sustainable energy paradigm for human society.

As anyone who drives a car or heats a home knows, the prices of gasoline and natural gas are rising at an alarming rate. And Al Gore argues in our excerpt from his new book, An Inconvenient Truth, that global warming is causing climate changes at an equally alarming rate. But the good news is that the technologies we will need to resolve these problems already are at hand. In Easy Solar Power we report on a simpler way to use “thin-film” photovoltaic (PV) laminates to produce clean, renewable electricity. This thin-film PV isn’t yet less expensive than traditional PV, but its cost is likely to drop now that there is enough demand to support expanded production.

Even at current prices, a solar roof is a solid investment in many areas, as solar payback specialist Andy Black makes clear in The Cost of Solar Power: You Can Afford It. Soon we’ll have entire cities with PV roofs producing clean, sustainable electricity from the sun.

Energy Efficient Mortgages: Making Energy Upgrades Affordable describes a financial tool that can help you purchase a new energy-efficient home or pay for energy upgrades to an existing home.

If public awareness had been aroused earlier, today we could all be driving vastly more efficient electric vehicles that don’t contribute to global warming. As renewable energy expert Steve Heckeroth details in his article, Why We Need Electric Cars, the electric car most definitely is not dead. In fact, it will be a key part of the sustainable energy paradigm that is now emerging. Heckeroth is a master at explaining the big energy picture. For example: “It took 3.5 billion years of plant photosynthesis to create world oil reserves that contain about 1,000,000 terawatt (trillion watt) hours of energy. But each year about 350 times as much solar energy (350,000,000 terawatt hours) strikes the Earth.”

You can read about Stan Ovshinsky, the remarkable inventor of both thin-film PV panels and the rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries that power hybrid cars, in Meet Stan Ovshinsky, the Energy Genius.

There’s more good news about sustainable energy everywhere you look. Wind energy is booming all around the globe, and fuel cell technologies continue to advance. The tools we need are out there, now. Learning about them and bringing them into our lives can be great fun and enormously satisfying.

True, we live in troubling times. But more important, we live in inspirational times, when each one of us can make choices that will lead us to a more secure future.