We all hear about how our generation is supposed to save the planet for generations to come, but what is it that we are supposed to do? All become scientists and create sustainable biofuel? Or will reduce, reuse, recycle get us out of this mess? That is, ignoring the fact that the politicians in charge with their fingers on the nuclear button do not blow us all away first. Global warming is becoming an increasingly poignant issue, especially as our world relies on increasingly unsustainable sources of power to run. This worsens as human population just keeps increasing, which all need fuel for their lives in the forms of coal, oil and gas.
These fuel sources are ‘unclean’. They produce hazardous gas waste, and this is basically forming as a cloud around the earth, holding in heat like a huge greenhouse. Not good.
My answer is simple, we can trust in physics. Overuse of processes like the burning of coal and oil got us into this, and so creating more processes with science will get us out. Admittedly, all we should have to do (in theory) is just ban using fossil fuels and everything should return to normal. Yet it is not that simple. The middle east would never accept that their largest source of income should just be cut off; not forgetting that nearly everyone with a car would have to buy a new one. Even electric cars or hybrids like the Toyota Prius cause more damage when making their batteries than a petrol car would be to run. No one would accept oil and gas just disappearing from their lives. So, the way to solve the crisis cannot simply be to stop using fossil fuels, humanities dependency on them is far too great.
Many governments have already tried looking into alternative sources of power. Nuclear fission is one of the UK’s major suppliers of power, but everyone knows about the glowing green hazardous waste that is left behind. Although the waste does not glow, and is not green, it still can be extremely harmful. This should not be the price we have to pay for clean fuel, a hazard that needs to be kept sealed shut for thousands of years. What about wind or solar power? These are two of the most unreliable sources of power supply that you can think of. Although you would not picture it, our wind comes and goes on a regular basis and turbines are extremely expensive. Solar power is even worse; not only is our sunlight rare, the process of collecting energy from the sun is inefficient and because the light that we do get is not intense enough for an acceptable level of energy production.
There are some other options. Hydroelectricity. This can involve a dam at a reservoir or even the movements of the sea. Water can be forced through a dam to turn turbines and generate electricity. Wonderful, if you live near a dam. Yet not everyone in Britain does, so what can we do to turn away from that menace of finite fuel and onto the path of clean energy for all? We can trust in physics.
Nuclear fusion may sound as harmful as fission, yet it is physics’ loophole to our energy problem. What has enough energy to heat an entire planet? Our sun. This massive ball of gas is actually a fusion reactor in space. It combines gases like hydrogen and helium by smashing their atoms together, and this creates an enormous amount of energy. The best part is, no harmful waste is produced! The hydrogen and helium combine to make heavier elements, like lithium or other forms of hydrogen. They are not hazardous in the slightest, and can even be put back into the reactor as fuel. Nuclear fission can produce over a million times more energy than in chemical normal reactions; uranium as fuel produces 24 million times more energy per kilo than coal, and 12 million more energy than oil per kilo. Fusion is up to 5 times more powerful than fission. If fusion power was in place today, our need for fossil fuels would be over.
So why haven’t we galvanised our workers into action? Why do we still use the outdated coal, oil and gas? The problem is, fission power does not have the funding it needs to get off the ground. The whole process of nuclear fission requires lots of heat energy to kick-start, and this requires technology that does not exist yet (although lots of energy is required for fission, the reaction is self sustaining) Many governments are working on small scale fusion projects, but it is not a focus of their resources. In fact, our own government spends more on Trident than our sustainable future through fusion.
So, what can we do to in an effort to solve our global energy/warming crisis in one fell swoop? My answer, let physics have its day and work together to fight an issue that really needs fighting. Let our generation solve the energy crisis, so future generations can have a world without a greenhouse cloud of gas covering and envelop our world.