When I ask myself what really makes the world go round, I begin to appreciate our intimate connections with explosions. As you can see, all the energies in the universe are derived from explosions, nuclear or non-nuclear, controlled or uncontrolled.
The Big Bang theory that explains the scientific creation of the universe is the single source of all energies. Everything starts out from this unimaginably huge explosion that took place some 14 billion years ago. The resultant energy is so great that the universe continues to expand, and the stars and planets continue to orbit.
Our solar system began to form about 5 billion years ago. Although the Big Bang is hard to visualize, we can see clearly the sun’s massive inferno of nuclear fusion emitting light and heat that give us life and drive the changing weather on earth. Biologically, our bodies derive their energies from the slow burn of the food eaten. Our food chain ultimately originates from the earth’s vegetation that grows by absorbing sunlight coming from a star 93 million miles away.
The above are the primary energy sources of nature that are far distant in both space and time. Although the energies of nature cannot be controlled, we have learned to harness them to improve our living conditions. Examples are the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the nuclear reactor, and the electric motor/generator. Without these inventions, human activities must depend mostly on muscle power.
At present, the energy we harness is mostly based on controlled explosion on earth. The best example is the internal combustion engine in automobiles and airplanes. The engine burns gasoline in a controlled explosion to generate power. At the same time, it also yields pollutants such as soots, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The visible soots do relatively less harm than the invisible greenhouse gases that cause climate change. So the world is now struggling to arrive at a balance between the energy we need and the stable and clean environment we want to maintain.
This tug of war between energy and environment now becomes the major issue for the future. The urgency is that while we may debate forever about what to do, the warming climate cannot wait. It will worsen to a tipping point which is the point of no return. When will the tipping point arrive? Most scientists agree that it will occur within the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren if not our own.
A new vision is required to solve the conflict between energy and environment. Since our energy is explosion-based which carries environmental dangers, we must de-couple from the use of explosion energy on earth. How? It may appear impossible since explosion is the source of all energies in the universe. Fortunately, there is one last recourse we have not seriously considered — the sun where powerful nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms occur constantly. When we employ the sun as our primary energy source, we effectively relocate the sites of explosion from inside the billions of combustion engines on earth to 93 million miles away in space where we need not worry about any environmental dangers. Thus we phase out the human invention of controlled explosion in an engine, and go back once again to the natural uncontrolled explosion of the sun. We still rely on explosion energy but the explosion does not occur on earth.
The sun’s energy has been employed by all plants and animals biologically since the beginning of time. Long before the invention of the combustion engine in 1859, humans have been employing windmills or sailing on wind which is a result of the sun’s heat that creates air flows between different locations. The combustion engine represents only a short detour away from solar energy but its environmental consequences amount to an existential problem for mankind. It is time now to return to our solar roots by harnessing wind and direct solar energy on a large scale.
Besides the sun’s light and heat, another natural energy is electricity which can be generated in many ways without an explosion. First, electricity is generated by the interaction of two forces — magnetic and mechanical. An example is hydro electricity based on the flow of water such as waterfalls, currents, waves and tides. Second, electricity is directly generated by sunlight on light-sensitive materials, silicon or others; for instance, rooftop solar panels. Third, electricity is generated by focusing sunlight reflected from thousands of mirrors to heat up a water tank to make steam that drives a turbine. Fourth, the so-called wind energy is in fact using wind power turning a turbine to generate electricity. Fifth, electricity is generated from a hydrogen engine by mixing hydrogen with oxygen; for example, the hydrogen car is basically an electric car. As time passes, more ways to generate electricity will be invented.
Compared to fossil fuels, electricity is clean, unlimited and less expensive. An electric revolution is gradually unfolding before our eyes. One excellent example is the bullet train and subway train. The progress of worldwide electrification could have been much faster without the obstructions from the fossil fuel industry. Our dependence on the internal combustion engine is phasing out for it becomes too environmentally costly thereby rendering itself obsolete. We are coming back to the embrace of the sun — our reliable primary energy source which is very massive and violent, but very benevolent from a great distance.