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Steve Koonin

“Steven Koonin, physicist at Cal Tech and chief scientist at BP Oil, …focus(ed) on the major forces shaping the world’s energy future and the technologies required to respond to them.” He spoke to a large audience of mostly older university people here on the Cal Berkeley campus. The lecture will be posted on events.berkeley.edu in a few days so I won’t go into much detail of what he said, because when it is posted  you can [now] watch it yourself. But I would like to comment on his various projections of energy availability. He said—and he is a world class authority on the subject of energy—that, “there is plenty of energy for the next couple of decades”. That there is plenty of carbon based energy stored under the ground which is available at an increased, but doable price for hundreds of years.

It is mostly political, and physical problems above the ground which need to be addressed such as war, water, population, and CO2. The people, and their politicians, need to be made aware of these problems so they can respond to them with tolerable laws, and enforcement of those laws. He skipped rather jauntily over the real problem of population increase by acknowledging that it was serious, and needed to be addressed. He dealt with war as if that was a thing of the past, and we needn’t concern ourselves with it. He handled the CO2 problem by talking about various lab experiments that are being looked into, but by the tone, and the manner he talked about it made me feel like there were only a few underfunded technicians with not much in the way of fundamental ideas working in a dispirited fashion. He says that we have to do something now, but as I see it, saying that just isn’t enough, and may even be counter productive because it dilutes the efforts of those who are trying to actively do something constructive. One person in the audience spoke of how what is being said now is essentially what was being said thirty years ago, and that nothing had changed except the amount of CO2 in the air. Dr. Koonin said that things can change and noted how Los Angeles air thirty years ago was barely breathable, and now it is much better. It was a change in pollution laws which brought about that improvement. That legal change was of course vehemently fought against, and it was being dealt with by a single reasonably effective American legal system. A global law would be concerned with enforcement upon hundreds of self interested sovereign states, which is near impossible.

After the lecture I spoke to Dr. Koonin for a while about the Earth as a heat engine, and that most of the energy in that heat engine is being transferred from the equators toward the poles, and that nearly all of that energy was being transmitted either in the oceans or over them. He agreed with that statement, but when I tried to discuss ways to capture that energy he appeared a bit impatient, and referred me to the Germans and Scandinavian research in high seas wind capture. I said that I had just talked to the Ambassador from Holland, and that he didn’t seem to have any knowledge about high seas wind energy capture that would eliminate the global warming problem. The other problem questioned, is how do you bring energy in from the high seas to a market place. It never seems to occur to them that they go to all the trouble of getting other stored forms of energy into ships, and then hauling them great distances right over the sites where I intend to capture the energy. So my energy has to be transported only half as far as theirs. Dr. Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was right beside us while we talked, but I wasn’t addressing him, so I don’t know if he was following what I was saying. This was a huge oversight on my part because he is one of a handful of people on the entire planet with the connections and power to make these things happen. I should have spoken to Dr. Chu!