If Atlas, who in Greek mythology carries the weight of the world on his shoulders,was asked, "What are the world's weightiest problems today?" his answer would
NEEDS OF THE POPULATION EXPLOSION The world population is set to
increase by some 50% or another 3,000 Million people in the next 50
years. All these extra people will need food, water, housing, clothing,
health care, education and the other necessities of life, and, of course,
WATER SHORTAGE Already acute in some parts of the world -- the
increase in population will greatly increase this problem. Water shortage
can lead to conflict and even war.
POWER SUPPLY Raising the living standards of the developing world and
at the same time the increase in the world's population will consume a
vastly increased amount of power. An extrapolation of the year on year
increase in the world's power consumption shows that by 2050 the
consumption will have doubled; by the end of the century the power
required will be at least five times the present level.
THE END OF OIL AND GAS The world's need for energy is increasing
while the reserves of oil and gas are rapidly running out. As evidence, the
prices of oil and gas have doubled in recent years. Supplies must eventually
be exhausted, what then?
REDUCING CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS. CO2 (almost certainly) causes
global warming and therefore climate change. As oil and gas become
scarcer and more expensive, the world will probably burn more coal, of
which there are is a vast reserve. Coal produces much more CO2 than oil
or gas and therefore increases global warming and all the dire
consequences which must follow.
RISING SEA LEVEL Due to global warming and melting ice, the sea level is
predicted to rise by up to one meter by the end of the century. If so, this
will inundate some of the most densely populated cities and areas in the
world. Hundreds of millions of people now in those cities and areas will
gradually re-locate in other, higher, areas.
CONSEQUENCES OF A CHANGE IN CLIMATE Climate change will cause
major changes in the amount and location of rainfall. Some parts of the
world will become virtually uninhabitable. The existing population in those
regions (many hundreds of millions) will over time have to re-locate in other
areas, and add to those of the hundreds of millions having to migrate due
to the rising sea level.
POVERTY Some 40%, or 2,700 Million, of the world's population are
currently having to live on less than US$2 (œ1) a day. Some 800 Million go
to bed hungry every night. Over 2,000 Million people have no access to
electricity. Poverty shortens life, causes disease, increases infant mortality,
leads to mass economic migration, more "illegal immigrants".
AIDS This pandemic, first recognized in 1981, had by 2006 caused the
death of some 25 million people. It is estimated that today some 39 million
people are infected, of these. nearly 600,000 are children. Although there
are treatments (for those that can afford them) which prolong life, there is
no known cure.
RELIGIOUS AMBITION -- WORLD DOMINATION Some religions dictate that it is
their holy duty to convert all non-believers and those individuals who will not convert must be dominated or killed. Such conflict has been waged for over 1,000 years and continues to this day.
What are the world's governments and commercial and industrial corporations
doing to tackle these global problems? From what I can discover, with one
exception, not much!
There has been a marked recent interest in the field of REDUCING CARBON
DIOXIDE EMISSIONS. The emphasis seems to be on RESTRICTING the use of
electricity and the use of vehicles by means of taxation and legislation (Kyoto, EU
and G8 resolutions). There is little or no emphasis on REPLACEMENT of the CO2
emitting fossil fuels by a non-polluting energy supply; no plans to increase the
energy supply to carry the world economy forward. In my opinion, the measures
being initiated to cut back on CO2 emissions are futile; they will inevitably fail to
result in any significant reduction. Example -- recently both China and India have
publicly stated that they have no intention of jeopardizing their economic
development in order to reduce their CO2 emissions! What is certain, however, is
that if the planned restrictions of CO2 emissions were, in fact, to be enforced
there is a very real danger of bringing about a world-wide economic recession.
In my view, we are heading in the wrong direction!
Again, in my view, there is another way, another direction. That way is the
harnessing of the inexhaustible supply of heat below the earth's surface,
GEOTHERMAL ENERGY. I believe the harnessing of geothermal energy would go
a long way towards resolving, or at least mitigating the effects of not only global
warming but most of the world's problems as well. Referring to Atlas's burdens
above, this is how.
The needs of the population explosion (about 50% in the next 50 years) can
be met given cheap and abundant electrical power.
The world's water shortage can be eliminated, given enough de-salination
plants; de-salination plants need electrical power.
The end of our reserves of oil, gas, and eventually coal, would not matter,
given an alternative source of energy, namely geothermal energy.
The introduction of geothermal energy could enable the use of all fossil fuels,
and the CO2 emissions they create, to be phased out over the next three or
four decades (possible exception: kerosene for aircraft, by comparison a very
small proportion of current fossil fuel consumption).
The problems of nuclear energy, the problem of the disposal of nuclear waste and
the danger of sabotage, could be eliminated by replacing nuclear with geothermal.
The world's annual increase in power requirement -- possibly five times by the
year 2100 -- could be met by geothermal energy; the heat below our feet is
The massive population re-location which climate change and sea level rise
will cause could be managed over time given an adequate supply of cheap
If we are to lift a quarter of the world's population out of poverty, provision of
electrical power is a basic essential -- there is no way it could be done
without electricity being available to people wherever they live.
While cheap power in itself will not eliminate the problem of Aids, treatment and
drugs for the millions now effected must depend on medical infrastructure and
education; both in turn requiring electrical power.
Even the world's problem with Islam and its militants would be reduced: the
interference (as Muslims see it) by the West in the affairs of the Islamic
countries stems very largely from the West's need for oil and gas, much of
which lies in Islamic countries. If the West no longer had need of Middle East
oil and gas there is no doubt that the conflict between Islam and the West
would be lessened.
Geothermal energy is pollution-free, environmental friendly, needs no
transportation or storage, is universally available in every region of the globe,
eliminates the political problems associated with fossil fuels between "have" and
"have not" countries, is inexhaustible and unending. But is unlimited geothermal
energy really available? Could it really be mined and used to generate electrical
power? Could it really replace fossil fuels and nuclear?
Last year the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produced a 300 page report
entitled "The Future of Geothermal Energy -- the impact of Enhanced Geothermal
Systems on the United States in the 21st. Century". In the Findings, the report
states, "Using reasonable assumptions regarding how heat would be mined (from
within the USA), we estimate the extractable portion to exceed about 2,000
times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States in 2005.
Surely an amazing statement! And in principle surely true of regions in the rest of
the world as well.
In Hunter Valley, Australia, a pilot geothermal "hot rock" plant is in operation, see
from their one site is more than sufficient to supply the electrical power required
by the whole of Australia for the foreseeable future.
If the manpower and global resources expended in the last two decades on wind
farms, solar panels and currently being expended on new wells to mine oil and
gas from less and less productive areas had instead been, and from now on would
be, used to develop geothermal heat as our basic energy source, we would be
well on the way to a permanent and ideal solution to the world's energy source
needs for the 21st. century.
I have been watching the pronouncements being made by the world's political,
commercial and scientific leaders. Hardly a day passes without the subjects of
global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, cutting back on CO2,
carbon trading, and the like, hitting the news. It is amazing, given the fact that
geothermal energy as an energy source is, (in my view) the near-perfect answer
to so many of the world's problems, that it is hardly ever mentioned!
Why not, one asks? I wish I knew!
Note Other relevant papers: 'THE ENERGY PROBLEM -- A POSSIBLE SOLUTION', 'Climate Change and Global Warming', 'A Fact Sheet on
Geothermal Energy' in the previous Atlas's Burden article.