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Must global terrorism mean the end of Western Civilization?

The following is that portion of my presentation to a specially convened non-public meeting/symposium conducted under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in October 2001 shortly after the terrorist attack which toppled the World Trade Center towers.
Much of the discussion concerned anticipating serious threats to the American infrastructure, and my contributions in that area are not suitable for public distribution and have been omitted from this paper.
However, the general discussion on that Columbus Day weekend in 2001 while the World Trade Center crater was still shrouded with the dust of destruction, is as relevant today as it was then and is presented, for the first time, on this webpage.

11 October 2001


I am a New Yorker. New York is my City. As a little boy I traveled the subways for a nickel to enjoy the wonders of the Bronx Zoo, the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Brooklyn, the Museum of Natural History, the Hayden Planetarium, the Brooklyn Public Library, the lions at the Public Library on 42nd Street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Central Park.
As a young man, I walked the streets of New York City, ducking into subway tunnels to avoid the rain. I heard Dixieland in Greenwich Village and Modern Jazz on 52nd Street. I watched Lincoln Center and the World Trade Center being built just as my parents watched the Empire State Building top out during the Great Depression, and my grandparents from villages in Sicily and Italy marveled as the Woolworth Tower rose and the Flatiron Building filled the last narrow vacant lot in what was then “midtown.” All Americans can be proud of the New York City skyline. It is a statement about America and Americans striving ever onward and upward.
New York City, however, is more than tall buildings and the home for many of the most cherished examples of American culture. It is the Melting Pot. It is the Gateway to America. It is a bold statement of the American Dream.
New York is the city that brought free public education to all and established the American public school system. New York is the city that made college educations available to all who could and would achieve regardless of their race, creed, color, national origin, social status or income.
New York is the city where men, women, and especially children of all races, colors, creeds, and national origin became Americans and are still becoming Americans! New York is the city that gives meaning to the welcome message on the Statue of Liberty.
The attack on September 11th raised the question of whether or not our New York City skyline will continue to document and define the American Free Enterprise System— the vision of personal freedom and endless opportunity which began as a dream in the minds and hearts of the men and women who settled this country and who joined together first in communities, then in states, and then as, “We the People of the United States” to create a Constitution which assured fundamental rights to all. The Constitution of the United States is a charter unlike any ever seen in the course of human civilization.

Why should the National Academies be concerned?

Today there is a well-organized effort to destroy western civilization and return the world to a time over a thousand years ago when feudalism and religious intolerance were the norm and the majority of people were serfs enslaved by feudal lords and kept in ignorance by clergy.
It is not hard to see now how the Roman Empire was destroyed. Its infrastructure crumbled. Whether it was destroyed from within by decadence and excess, or from without by armed might makes no difference. The Roman Empire depended on a complex infrastructure built on safe and secure communication, transportation, and a steady conversion of natural resources into the artifacts of civilization.
It has taken us almost fifteen hundred years to rebuild and restore the global economy that existed during the Pax Romanum. When you look carefully at our modern Industrial civilization in a systems sense, you will see that like the Roman Empire, it depends on a complex infrastructure built on safe and secure communication, transportation and natural resources which can be converted quickly into the artifacts of Western Civilization.
The catastrophe scenarios of the Y2K crisis showed how fragile is the communications infrastructure of industrial civilization and how a simple malfunction in a computer system could literally have ended our comfortable way of life. Y2K was a wake-up call. Much of our computer/communications infrastructure is now more secure and more effective because of that Y2K wake up call.

Western Civilization

Why do I keep talking about “Western” civilization? It hasn’t been politically correct to talk about “Western” civilization in a favorable or approving sense for some time now because it has been accused of being a male dominated, racist culture
I talk about “Western” civilization because it is “western” civilization that is under attack at this time by a dedicated monomaniacal community of individuals rooted in a fanatical aberrant element of Islamic tradition that even the prophet Mohammed railed against—a fanatical tradition that has appeared throughout history in many guises as fanatic homicidal zealots driven by an unshakeable belief in the righteousness of their cause commit murder and genocide in the name of their own personal God. The assault on intellectual freedom and personal liberty by these fanatical fundamentalists is justified as “God’s will” and “God’s work.”
I talk about “Western” civilization because some of us may have to die to preserve that Western” civilization, which, with all its imperfections, all of its failures, all of is excesses, is still the only civilization based on intellectual freedom and personal liberty for all.
The poet Phyllis McGinley said it all when she described the eternal way of religious wars, “And each drew his sword on the side of the Lord”.
The horrors of war in the name of religion fill the pages of history, so there is no need to repeat them here. However, I would be remiss if I did not show how vulnerable our western civilization is at this point in time and suggest the kind of action we must take to protect ourselves and the civilization in which we expect our children and grandchildren to live and grow.
Western civilization depends on safe and secure communication, transportation and a steady uninterrupted stream of natural resources. At the heart of our culture is the electric power grid that provides the electrical energy that built our civilization in the twentieth century and has become such an integral part of our plans for the twenty first century. Electric power is taken for granted as something which is there when we need it and which will always be there for us.
Our fellow citizens don’t really understand how complex is the system that brings electricity to their home, their workplace and the world around them. Nor do they realize how vulnerable our way of life is to any significant interruption of our supply of cheap and readily available electrical energy.


If the electric outlets in our home suddenly ceased to power our appliances and our television sets, we would be seriously inconvenienced. We might have to go to the neighborhood convenience store on a more frequent basis for milk and other perishables that would normally sit in our refrigerators. We might have to go to the neighborhood sports bar to watch Monday night or Thursday night football. But we would tighten our belts, “suck it in” and survive.
But what if there was no electricity to power the freezers at our convenience stores and supermarkets? What if there was no electricity to power the television broadcast stations? What if we suddenly had to depend on daylight for illumination? What if all our streets were dark, and our traffic lights did not operate? Give it some thought, and begin to understand how much we depend upon the electric power grid. Now, think about what would happen if this was not a local problem but a national problem— if everyone in the USA suddenly lost the electrical power at their outlets.
Can it happen? Yes! Will it happen? Probably. Can we prevent it from happening? Perhaps.
Even though this is a relatively secure meeting, I am not going to describe to all of you scientists and government officials just how easy it would be to bring the civilization of our country as we know it to an immediate end with relatively little modern technology (dynamite and blasting caps are sufficient). For practical purposes, America could go dark, not just for a day or a week, but months.
Even a few days of darkness in our major cities could lead to a level of civil disorder that has never before been seen in this country. We would move centuries back in time within a few weeks. Darkness deeper than night would be upon us.
Where were you the night that the New England grid failed and the lights went out throughout the Northeastern United States? What have we done to prevent that from happening again?

Just what is “Western” or “Industrial” civilization?

Potable water sustains life on earth and energy sustains civilization. Our civilization is built upon cheap oil, gas, and food obtained at any cost to anyone other than ourselves, the consumers.
Should a group of organized suicidal fanatics finish the work that Saddam Hussein started in the oil fields of the Middle East, or even if OPEC should refuse to sell oil to America, there is no way that Americans could continue living as they do even if oil continues to flow through the Alaska pipeline. Industrial civilization as we know it would cease as our high-speed global transportation infrastructure simply ran out of fuel.
There is a substantial probability that the next world war will be over fossil fuels for the generation of electric power and the manufacture of petrochemicals so that our western industrial civilization can continue to operate in the manner to which it has become accustomed.
There are countless choke points that control the course and will ultimately determine the future of western civilization as it exists today. Metals and economic minerals are just as important to sustaining western civilization as fossil fuels.
The free enterprise system depends on security: security of person, security of property, security of contract, and security of thought. The security that the world requires is also the guarantee that freedom and liberty for individual human beings and entire peoples will continue.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Yet that eternal vigilance which is the non-delegable responsibility and obligation of every free American and all freedom loving peoples throughout the world is often delegated to elected representatives, appointed officials, or just abdicated to whoever wants to be in charge.
It is time now to recognize the United States is a global power and that for better or worse, the United States of America is the guardian of global security as well as a beneficiary of that global security.
Terrorists target individuals, they make war personal. Not only are terrorists willing to kill you and me, our family and friends, but they are committed to destroying our way of life, and they are well aware that our way of life depends upon communication, transportation and natural resources.
The problem, however, is what do we do to protect ourselves and retain our personal freedom and liberty, the freedom of thought and association that has been won at the cost of so many lives since our Declaration of Independence in 1776. The United States of America represents the culmination of western civilization as far as freedom of conscience and personal expression is concerned.
Considering the sorry history of war, violence, and general sociopathic behavior that has characterized the human species throughout recorded history, it seems that some kind of divine power must have been guiding the United States of America since that long hot summer in Philadelphia in 1776 when a group of brave Americans declared that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That great experiment in human liberty which began with the Declaration of Independence is being challenged by forces not interested in killing our people and taking our property—the usual declared objects of war—but intent instead on destroying our way of life and returning the world to the dark ages of the Eighth century.

What must we sacrifice for security?

September 11, 2001 made reasonable inference out of paranoia. There are indeed powerful forces seeking to destroy Western civilization and all of us who enjoy it and are a part of it along with it.
In the name of protecting ourselves from terrorists, must we establish a police state and give up the freedom and liberty that we hold so dear? What rights do we have to give up in the name of public safety and security of lives and property for ourselves, our families and our communities?

Privacy is no longer really possible!

The most obvious victim in our pantheon of fundamental rights as Americans will be the right to privacy in our communications. We will just have to understand that everything we say on the phone, every fax we send, every e-mail, and yes, even every letter may be read or heard by someone other than the person to whom it is addressed. Guard your tongue and guard your pen. Think before you speak and think even harder before you write. Stop dissembling. Stop lying. Stop cheating. Or stop communicating. Just live your life without doing anything you will be ashamed of later. Teach your children that lesson as well.

”Search and seizure” and “stop and frisk” will become commonplace

Expect that the Supreme Court of the United States of America will reverse a long line of precedents that have placed more and more restrictions on the right of law enforcement offices to search for and obtain evidence of the commission of a crime.
At the present time, substantial evidence of probable cause that a crime has been committed is necessary before a law enforcement officer can stop someone and merely ask for identification. The standard for stopping people and asking for identification is soon going to be mere suspicion and as long as the law enforcement officer is reasonably courteous, the courts are going to defer to the judgment of the law enforcement official.
Searches of vehicles and luggage are going to become routine and judges are going to be less demanding when a request is made for a search warrant that will involve entering a home and looking around.
The infamous “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine is doomed. Evidence of criminal activity obtained in a search for evidence of some other criminal activity is going to become admissible. The hide and seek game between lawbreakers and law enforcement officers is going to stop.

Unrestricted personal mobility will be lost

The mobility that has characterized American society in the past will be sharply curtailed. Strangers will be looked upon with suspicion in every community. Many of us will be trapped where we live at the present time because we will be uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, and the communities to which we might move will be uncomfortable with newcomers as well.

What are the alternatives to a police state?

Every individual in every community must become an extension of their uniformed services— their police department, their fire department, their emergency services units, and their sanitation services, whether paid or volunteer, public or private. Public safety and the prevention of disease and chemical contamination is going to become everyone’s personal job as it should be.

Water and Human Population

Human life depends upon an adequate supply of potable water. While the natural resources necessary to produce electric energy—the fossils fuels: coal, oil and natural gas—are relatively easy to transport and may be transported relatively efficiently, potable water is not so easy to transport to where it is needed. Human populations must be associated with nearby supplies of potable water.
Potable water is clean water that human beings and other animals can drink safely. The supply of potable water in the world today is shrinking while the population is expanding. Unless this trend is reversed, Western civilization as we know it will end not in the sudden fire of a nuclear explosion, but in the parched tongues and swollen throats of endless thirst.

Human population

Demographers are estimating that world population will reach ten to twelve billion human beings sometime between 2025 and 2050. There is a question whether any industrial civilization or significantly advanced culture can exist if the population of the earth reaches twelve billion people.
There are many people who believe that the conspicuous consumption of resources that characterizes our Western civilization is an evil that must end either by voluntary changes in western lifestyle or by violent termination of the western lifestyle.
At the same time, the poor of the world are demanding a greater share of the resources that in many cases come from their own cultures and communities. Unfortunately, the population increase is greatest in the most poverty stricken areas of the world, which do not really participate in the vigorous entrepreneur driven economy which characterizes western industrial civilization.
The population of all the regions of the earth must be limited to the carrying capacity of the land and landscape of the region and the resources of which the people of the region can reasonably claim a share. If it is not done voluntarily by rational human action, famine, pestilence, war and bloody revolution will do it without regard to the victims.

A rational population policy

Unfortunately, there is no incentive to limit the population in many impoverished areas of the earth since children are a form of old age and survivors insurance, and in many places, the only form of old age and survivors insurance.
If we are to encourage a rational population policy in the undeveloped world, we must provide an appropriate incentive to the people to limit their reproduction. Outside of war and infanticide or murder in some other form, the only way to encourage a rational population policy is to increase educational opportunities and heed the message of Peter Marshall who, shortly after the conclusion of World War II, preached a sermon which contained a parable that today may illuminate the way toward the ethical management of the land, landscape, and natural resources of this wondrous planet.

The Keeper of the Springs

Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. It was sheltered in the lee of the protecting heights, so that the wind that shuddered at the doors and flung handfuls of sleet against the windowpanes was a wind whose fury was spent. High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs.
He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure. It leaped sparkling over rock and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town. Millwheels whirled in its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.
But the City Council was a group of hardheaded, hard-boiled businessmen. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of a Keeper of the Springs. Said the Keeper of the purse: “Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town’s work. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary.” The City Council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs, and to build a reservoir.
The Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir. When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface.
There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the children no longer played along the banks of the stream. Eventually, the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane. An epidemic raged.
The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city’s plight, and frankly acknowledged its mistake in dismissing the Keeper of the Springs. They set out for his hermit hut high in the hills to beg him to return to his former labor.* * *
The conclusion of the parable is for each of us to write while remembering that it is an allegory for our time.

Human waste is a strategic issue

Primitive Societies moved away from their waste. Today, we must live with it, and, if present policies continue, we will have to live in it.
Man’s apparent dominion over the environment is but a license from nature with the fee yet to be paid. Still, we do not seem to hear the warnings shouted from the environment around us.
We, the human species, have been given an unprecedented choice. We, the human species have been given the unique opportunity to choose whether we will drown in our sewage; be buried by garbage and interred in trash; choke on air too foul to breathe; perish of thirst while looking at “water, water, everywhere,” but none of it fit to drink; or be driven to homicide, suicide or war by the hopeless despair that results from the loss of quality in our lives.
We also have the unique opportunity to choose Life and opt for survival: Not merely the biological survival of human beings as just another animal species, but the survival of those uniquely human characteristics which transcend our mere biological heritage.
Poverty, chronic disease, and social injustice act synergistically with degradation of environmental quality to encourage social disorder.
Our core cities, if they are to survive, demand the most sophisticated environmental engineering of which human beings are capable.
Tropical rain forests are now of concern to the industrialized temperate zone. World merchant powers decry the loss of tropical rain forests but they continue to trash the economies of tropical nations under the crushing yoke of international bank debt.
None of the world leaders among our trading partners in Japan or the European Community or even our own elected leaders yet offer to provide the goods and services necessary to improve living conditions in the non-industrial World in return for the people who live there protecting the atmosphere and climate for all of us by preserving and maintaining their tropical rain forests as well as the other natural resource treasures of this planet of which they are the custodians.
None of the Economists of the Mercantile World suggest that air clean enough to breathe, water pure enough to drink, and a rich and varied gene pool of plants and animals are as valuable as the minerals gouged from the earth and the soybeans harvested where once there were forests. Our economists and political leaders seem to have forgotten that all of the mineral resources in the world will not buy food from lands where there is no rain.

Quality of life

While sustaining a human society at 12 billion people may be technologically feasible, it cannot assure those 12 billion people the quality of life we in the industrialized world enjoy today. All the genetic engineering from all the laboratories of the World will not provide ten or twelve billion human beings with sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and medicines to prevent war, pestilence, and famine from riding roughshod over the peoples of the earth if 12 billion people or even 10 billion people strive to consume at present levels.
All we can do if world population reaches 10 or 12 billion people is adjust our expectations about the quality of life and embrace the delusion that the quality of life we may have is the best we can have. This is what we have been doing during the last half century and there is little reason to doubt that we will not continue to delude ourselves.


Arable land is the ultimate source of food, fiber, materials and medicines— the fundamental capital assets of civilization. Arable land and potable water are gifts to humanity. Natural processes brought that gift to the human race with the unspoken admonition to use it wisely for the benefit of life on this planet until the end of time.
Those who earnestly tend the land, husband our natural resources, and manage the processes of nature, whether in the fields or in the forests or even in the marble halls of government and academe are the stewards of society and the conservators of civilization. They must be fairly compensated for their unique efforts with the goods and services produced by the rest of humanity.

Education as a weapon

An editorial cartoon voiced the ultimate threat to militant religious fundamentalist fanatics seeking to return western civilization to the Eighth century, “Give up your militant fundamentalism or else we will send your women to college.” Much of militant fundamental religious fanaticism is based on ruthless subjugation of women. In cultures where the education of women is a way of life and women are respected for more than their ability to deliver male heirs, population is stable and the economy is strong.

Economic and social triage

In the western industrialized world, particularly in the United States of America, we must make some adjustments in our social policies. We must practice a form of economic and social triage which we can perhaps best understand through a series of rhetorical questions.

  • Is there any reason to believe that human behavior will fundamentally change in the near future?
  • Is there any reason to believe that human behavior will ever fundamentally change?
  • If human behavior doesn’t change, will security issues and the prospect of continuous warfare at levels ranging from tribal to global dominate world politics?
  • What will be the methods individuals and societies use during this millennium to obtain political power?
  • What can American Society and the American culture do to assure salubrious— healthful and satisfying— living conditions for the rest of the world, as an investment in our own security
  • What must the rest of the world do to attain the standard of living and quality of life and plurality of life styles now available to the American people?

Why am I addressing these questions to the leading intellects of modern science and engineering? What can you as Scientists and Engineers do to bring about world peace through modern technology?

The role of science and engineering and the role of scientists and engineers

Harken back to thermodynamics, that intellectual intersection of physics, engineering, mathematics, and the foundation of Earth Systems Science. Know that energy drives economies and you Scientists and Engineers will be responsible for finding the answers to some very perplexing and time critical questions.

  • How can we provide the peoples of the non-industrial world with sufficient energy to sustain their cultures and their civilizations without loss of their arable soils, destruction of their potable water supplies, while eliminating the need to produce large numbers of children as a form of old age and survivors insurance?
  • What inventions are needed to help the non-industrial world bootstrap peoples into relative affluence?
  • How can Scientists and Engineers bring the methods and arcane knowledge of their professions, into the arena of public policy and political action?
  • How can individual Scientists and Engineers and the Science and Engineering profession collectively contribute to promoting rational political and public policy based on rational science?

There are at least some long-term solutions that we can start working on at the present time?

  • Develop distributed small-scale electric power generating systems and obviate the necessity for wasteful long-line electrical transmission particularly in rural areas and areas of low population density throughout the world.
  • Develop neighborhood electric power generation facilities.
  • Develop small scale home “powerpacks” that will permit each home to contribute to the electric power generation system grid as appropriate.
  • Reconsider, rethink, and redevelop the national electric power generation grid.
  • Consider an integrated western hemisphere electric power system grid that reaches from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego.
  • Promote peace and understanding between and among peoples by cooperation in generating, distributing and managing electrical energy and electric power.
  • Seriously consider the proposals of Earth Scientist/Astronaut/United States Senator Jack Schmitt to develop the energy resources of the moon— the rare isotope of Helium (2He3).
  • Improve the efficiency of solar energy converters by more than an order of magnitude.
  • Explain to the American people what really has to be done to move from a fossil fuel economy to a hydrogen economy.
  • Explain to the American people that a natural gas “economy” is the intermediate step along the path from fossil fuels to hydrogen as industrial civilization’s principal source of energy.
  • Tell the American people and their elected representatives just how much science and engineering effort will be required to meet the energy needs of western industrial civilization.
  • Educate the people of America and the rest of the world to the difficulties of maintaining a safe, healthy and productive lifestyle for all as they increase and multiply.
  • Explain the immediate need for new technology to care for and feed all the people of the world even if we achieve a stable world population.
  • Learn to address the Luddites by showing that technology is the only way to save human beings from themselves.

* * *

It is time for Science and Engineering to move from being invisible to and neglected by most people to a position of respect and influence in public information and education.
It is Scientists and Engineers who hold the answers to whether we can meet the energy needs of our civilization over the next decades with the technology we have, with technology that is being suggested as alternatives to what we have and, when all else fails, to design, develop, and deploy the as yet undiscovered technologies that may be necessary to meet the needs of human society.

Scientists and engineers, rational science, and public policy

Science and Engineering have a role in public policy and Scientists and Engineers, as those who practice Science and Engineering, have much to contribute to the deliberations of legislative bodies, executive agencies and the judicial system.
It is time to raise serious questions about the practical limits to academic speculation and political posturing.
It is time for Scientists and Engineers to occupy every bully pulpit they can find and deliver the message that rational science must be the basis for rational public policy and sound engineering should be the criterion for meeting our need for energy to power our civilization.
Now, at the beginning of the 2002 federal and state legislative election campaigns, Engineers and Scientists can establish the parameters for discussions of energy policy and temper the rhetorical excesses and quiet the shrill hysteria of demagogues and Luddites.
We have an opportunity to reach out to the younger Scientists and Engineers upon whose talents and skills we will all depend for the technology to provide the energy to power an economy that everyone wants to see constantly expanding.

What should be the broad general purpose of this Symposium?

This Symposium provides an opportunity to rationally discuss alternative sources of energy in the context of the science and engineering involved in bringing them to market. What may sound good on the tongues of demagogues, and what may even look good in a laboratory, may not be able to meet the immediate needs of a power hungry world over the next twenty to fifty years. Scientists and Engineers are needed to consider these issues and convey their insights to the public and our elected officials.
There are very few opportunities for a profession such as “Engineering” to present its credentials to the public in a way that assures public credibility for its members. Engineers, like lawyers, are often considered, “hired guns” who will say whatever they are paid to say. The National Academies must provide an opportunity to show that at the highest level of Science and Engineering, is a sense of honor and professional obligation that makes Scientists and Engineers worthy of the public trust.
Scientists and Engineers should be the apostles of wise energy use and carry the message throughout human society that there is nothing wrong with harnessing the energy we derive from our planet by means of our technology to extending people’s lives, making them happier, making the environment cleaner, and yes, eliminating the economic necessity of having many children as a form of old age and survivors insurance.
On the demand side, our houses are wired already. Technology already allows us to use 120-volt house wiring as information and communication networks. Using existing house wiring systems to control everything in the household, including the so-called “vampire devices,” could substantially reduce energy consumption. We need Scientists and Engineers to make this happen.

An action agenda

At the present time, Scientists and Engineers should be looking at managing household energy use as well as power generation.
Scientists and Engineers should be working on better insulating materials and zero flux windows.
Architects and interior designers should be designing homes and offices around the use of compact fluorescent bulbs, which give equal light to traditional incandescent bulbs, and better lighting than traditional fluorescent lamps.
On the production side, new fuel cell technology holds great promise. Scientists and Engineers will eventually bring us to a hydrogen economy, if we are ever going to get there.
Scientists and Engineers are going to have to quickly increase the energy conversion efficiency of fossil fuels in electric power generation over the conversion efficiency of today’s coal-fired power plants and at the same time significantly cut the carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt.
Since almost half our electricity is produced by coal, we could extend our electrical energy supplies tremendously without increasing hydrocarbon usage if our Scientists and Engineers can be mobilized.
In transportation, efficient alternatives to gasoline powered internal combustion engines and oil powered diesel engines must be developed.
These are always national and international “problems” waiting for Scientists and Engineers to solve them.
There are even more problems waiting to be discovered and solved.
Many of these specific technologies are either ready or almost ready for prime time in this decade. They only need some science and engineering and some Scientists and Engineers to bring them to market.
It will have to be the Scientists and Engineers that reduce greenhouse gas emissions without returning human civilization to a prehistoric state.
The energy and environment debate should be a clarion call to Scientists and Engineers and a reminder that our present day human civilization is built on science and engineering. It should be a hymn to the achievements of Science and Engineering and a challenge to Scientists and Engineers to do more.
Scientists and Engineers can help reduce the demand for energy. Science and Engineering can help increase the supply.
Let’s make it happen!

The non-issues on the agenda today

There are a great many “perceived” non-issues associated with the “Energy-Environment Nexus” and “Meeting U.S. Energy Needs and Environmental Quality Requirements.” The most significant is “Conservation.”
The people have listened to demagogues and Luddites who live in a world without real numbers, where equivalencies are nothing more than intellectual constructs with no relationship to reality.
Conservation cannot produce the sufficient energy required while population increases. New supply is absolutely necessary. Conservation is useful, but only new supply can meet the projected demands. People turn on the light switch and do not see the coal mine, oil well, natural gas pipeline, or nuclear reactor that is ultimately at the other end of the wire. Scientists and Engineers do.
We have to address the issues of access to the resource base and real conservation. We also have to consider that as much as 40% of the energy we need by 2050 may have to come from sources that have yet to be demonstrated as economically viable and some that have not yet been discovered.
The real issue that must be addressed in electric power generation is that increased population inevitably increases the need for energy even if per capita demand may be actually less.
Real decisions require real numbers. They also require a better energy-educated public. If we can get real numbers into the public discussion, then we can make some progress toward meeting the needs.

Technology Assessment

In 1972, Roland Comstock, at that time, Presidential Staff Assistant at Northern States Power Co., set forth a method for technology assessment which can provide every citizen concerned about legislation, government policy, and long-range corporate planning. with a convenient method of analyzing the claims that a new technological breakthrough is only a few months (years?) and a few million (billion?) dollars away.
Each technology should be assessed against a number of constraints in a manner analogous to a series of sieves vertically stacked, each of a finer mesh. What is left after testing the proposed technological solutions for the “problem” of concern at the moment is some rational and reasonable idea of which technologies are most suitable for deployment, and some guides toward where R&D priorities ought to focus.

A Technology Assessment Matrix




Based on present information/knowledge, what is or at least seems to be workable? What technologies survive because the basic idea is sound?


Limit consideration of technologies that have little or no chance of deployment within the next 25 years and give priority to those that have near-term development possibilities.

Available resources

Of those technologies which have the potential for near-term deployment, what are the relative conversion efficiencies in relation to availability of natural resources such as fuel and water? Reject those which are inappropriately wasteful.


Of those technologies which have the potential for near-term deployment and reasonable conversion efficiencies in relation to available resources, eliminate those which pose apparently unsurmountable operational problems.

Environmental Impact

Of those technologies which have potential for near-term deployment with reasonable conversion efficiencies in relation to available natural resources, and which do not pose insurmountable operational problems, eliminate those which pose unacceptable environmental impacts.


Of those technologies which have potential for near-term deployment with reasonable conversion efficiencies in relation to available natural resources, and which do not pose insurmountable operational problems, and unacceptable environmental impacts, assume maximum probable (or even maximum possible) deployment and then exclude those technologies whose potential contribution is simply not large enough in relation to the size of the problem.


Of those technologies which have potential for near-term deployment with reasonable conversion efficiencies in relation to available natural resources, and which do not pose insurmountable operational problems, and unacceptable environmental impacts, and which can contribute significantly to satisfying human needs, eliminate those technologies which—­at this point in time—­appear to be unacceptably expensive in the first instance to those industrial and commercial entities which are expected to deploy the technology and ultimately to the society which must pay for it.


The role of the National Academies

The National Academies can introduce Science and Engineering and Scientists and Engineers to the American people, their media and their elected representatives.
The National Academies can make Scientists and Engineers available to the public.
The National Academies can help establish priorities for the R&D necessary to work out these problems.
The National Academies can recognize the population problem.
The National Academies can develop rational energy scenarios that could become the basis of informed public discussion
You members of the National Academies each have the voice. You each have the stature. And each of you certainly has the intellect. Let’s just do it.

everybody, anybody, somebody and nobody

Remember the old story about everybody, anybody, somebody and nobody.
Once there was an important job to be done, and everybody was sure that somebody would do it. Anybody could do it, but nobody did it. Then everybody got angry because somebody should have done it but nobody did it. The job was never done because nobody asked anybody and nobody volunteered.
I am asking you all to do what has to be done. You can sit around and do what many have done: “When in trouble or in doubt; run in circles, scream and shout.” Or, you can take action and do whatever you are personally able to do.