How fast should we accelerate sustainable technologies?

 

London_from_a_hot_air_balloonI have been planning to write about this blog, but I have to do more research first for the information that supports my arguments. I have been reading articles on renewable and sustainable energies, but it seems none of them present quantitative answer to how fast we should accelerate sustainable technologies based from Earth’s current state (or I just overlooked some articles). For example, from the current emitted CO2 in the atmosphere, how fast should we shift technologies to avoid more destruction? Based from the current ocean’s acidity, how fast should we eliminate or modify technologies that contribute to it?

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Since it is February 29, 2016, the leap day of the year, I feel compelled to write my takeaways and dedicate this post to our mother Earth.  To answer the above questions that have been bothering me, I want to share some essential pieces of information.

First, I particularly enjoyed reading this article which I think encapsulates almost all the important factors for a sustainable future. According to this article, the three key barriers to speeding up sustainable technologies are: (a) slow growth of innovative technologies due to various processes like testing, financial stability, and consumer trust to be undertaken in order to be fully implemented; (b) yesterday’s infrastructure that don’t support new technologies which might require government regulations and certain protocols; (c) lastly, building trust among members of the society because not all new technologies are accepted right away. Innovators are entitled not only to be clear with the objectives of their technology, but also being transparent about the risks that the new technologies could entail if we are to use it long term. Moreover, the article suggested three keys to going forward in spite of these barriers.  These are: (a) managing risk to balance safety and sustainability; (b) harnessing inspiration to drive transformation; and (c) close collaboration among sectors of the society to achieve common goal faster, which could direct us to the transformation that is much needed.

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Second, I was forced to consult my former classmate who has been actively working on renewable energies and current PhD student on sustainable energies. He mentioned that this has been a global concern, hence the creation of Paris Climate Summit. He admitted that the question I posed is subject for thorough study, aka a PhD topic!

environment (1).jpg

In conclusion, the question of how fast we should accelerate technologies for a sustainable future is totally unclear yet. To me, to effectively solve and visualize the complex current problem on sustainability, there should be more quantitative approach to it. It a very hard and tedious problem to be solved, but I remain optimistic that we are all going in the same direction towards a sustainable future!

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All photos are not mine! They are from:

(1) Wikipedia

(2) http://wallpaper.finomof.top/a/elliptical-orbit-of-earth/

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2YjMs-M87U

(4) https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/environment

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Is space colonization the next logical step for human civilization?

“The Earth is the cradle of the humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

image taken from: http://news.discovery.com/space/dwarfs-in-space.htm
image taken from: http://news.discovery.com/space/dwarfs-in-space.htm

Lately, I have been fixated and intrigued if we are to embark on space colonization. Suffice it to say, space travel and possible colonization of other planets will require a renewed willingness to make extremely risky investments. It is interesting to note that during 1960’s through the 1980’s space exploration caused a major economic collapsed in the US and Russia that were engaged in space race. However, with the success of SpaceX docking with the international space station[4], and Blue Origin launching and landing a rocket[3], the degree of optimistic imagination to explore space and expand civilization out there has gone berserk! The technological advances and substantial cost reduction of reusable rockets might finally make space travel affordable. The future of space travel and colonization are being created NOW, and I myself am very excited about what’s to come. Yet, gigantic quest like Mars colonization still requires enormous resources that have a high chance of no immediate reward. The possibilities are quite unknown. So, why are we thinking this now, where it seems we are ok here on Earth eating, partying, and doing our daily boring errands? Is this the best way for human race perpetuity and uphold civilization over time?

image from: http://www.spacex.com/media-gallery/detail/129171/5276
image from: http://www.spacex.com/media-gallery/detail/129171/5276

image from [3]
image from [3]
I have many friends working on the frontiers of science – from probing supersymmetry to searching for extra dimensions, and even developing nanotechnologies. Their current studies and areas of research are very ambitious and enormously expensive (such as the multi-billion dollar LHC project). However, when I ask my scientist friends what they think the immediate application of their work is, their response is always “I don’t know”.

'You have reached the Heisenberg Institute. Your call will be answered in random order.'
‘You have reached the Heisenberg Institute. Your call will be answered in random order.’

Funding ambitious researches polarize society. One might argue that money should be spent on the immediate need like feeding hungry people across the globe. If we have that canonical way of thinking questioning why we have to fund science if this has no immediate use is only a recipe for disaster. History has it that science ALWAYS pushes technology to its limit, and ALWAYS solution to problems. To expound that, see for example in the case of “electrons”. If scientists repudiated to probe and painstakingly examine this unthinkable particle, we don’t have our current technologies we are enjoying right now like home appliances, mobile phones, computers, and many to mention where electrons are highly involved in their existence! In addition, the photoelectric effect, which was once a scientific discourse in the past, has an immense application on photomultiplier, image sensors, spacecraft, etc.

In the middle of the 20th century, The United States and Russia pioneered modern rocketry and showcased their nation’s respective ingenuities and capabilities. While there was a high economic upfront cost, eventually there was a huge return of investment through industrial and commercial applications of rockets, satellites, aircraft, spacecraft, and many more. Technological innovation in the space sector has continued to advance too much that today there is a realistic expectation that space travel will become something anybody can achieve, and for the very brave, a trip and potential colonization of Mars is not too far off.

For some, space colonization is the next logical step to secure and advance human civilization. It is inevitable that Earth will stop being a viable planet to sustain human life – through either natural or human-made catastrophes. A 6th extinction event[5] could happen in the next million years, but humans either through unsustainable development or nuclear war could destroy the planet much sooner. Looking for or building another habitat then is the only option for long term human survival. Innovators and visionaries, such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are of course dyed-in-the wool type of people who would bet everything to make this kind of daring project come to fruition.

However, a great deal of people with a more conservative worldview disagree. They tend to fall into two (sometimes overlapping) groups. First are those who adhere to religious teachings that humans are the highest form of conscious life in the world, and that beyond the earth is just the heavens and nothing else. To them, space exploration is perhaps interesting, but ultimately pointless since they already know what is beyond. Then there are those who simply ignore the looming catastrophic fate of the Earth and out of short-sightedness or selfishness put the burden on the next generation to worry about building technology to enable the survival of planet earth and humanity.

I strongly disagree with this ‘head in the sand’ worldview that would have humans stop reaching for the stars, and stop investing in exploration and scientific advancement.

Late Devonian landscape. Artwork of wetland plants, and fumaroles during the ate Devonian Period (385 to 360 million years ago). The plants shown here include club mosses such as Aglaophyton. Bacterial mats (orange) surround the hot pools. A large millipede is at lower right.

Imagine if the great thinkers of the past like Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and many others didn’t share their brilliant (and sometimes crazy) creativity with the world. The modern miracles of electricity, mobile phones, weather satellites, medical equipment, radiation therapy, and countless other technologies pioneered through science would not exist. Instead, we would still mired in the backwards practices of the ancient world. Travel would be limited to just a few neighboring villages. Communication between peoples would take weeks or months. Simple diseases, and even rudimentary tooth aches would indiscriminately wipe out large swaths of people year in and year out. Social structures that give equality and opportunity to people would remain only for the elite. The human population would have stagnated, and could even have declined and been susceptible to extinction.

image from: http://www.simpletranslation.com/
image from: http://www.simpletranslation.com/

It is easy to see the countless benefits that advancing science and technology has brought to humanity by past thinkers. Today, we now know that Earth extinction is inevitable by either natural (Sun stellar evolution to red giant or asteroid collision) or human-made disasters. As the current stewards of Earth and with the survival of the human race at stake, we are obligated to continue the legacy of innovation and scientific advancement that previous generations have undertaken. We need to undertake massive technological advancement, and take humanity to the frontiers of space to witness the beauty of Nature beyond Earth. Creating technologies to do this is the only way to propel the human life far, far into the future.

References:

  1. https://academichelp.net/samples/academics/essays/analysis/colonizing-mars.html
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/153410main_Rockets_History.pdf
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/25/science/space/blue-origins-rocket-launches-and-lands.html
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/26/science/space/space-x-capsule-docks-at-space-station.html
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/22/the-earth-is-on-the-brink-of-a-sixth-mass-extinction-scientists-say-and-its-humans-fault/

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Thanks to Andrew for editing this post.

LECTURES from CERN summer study 2011

Uploading the 18 files will take a lifetime, and I need to attend now the Saturday CERN School Phil lecture! So in the meantime, here some of the lectures (I will update tonight) from CSS 2011! Enjoy!  🙂

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Update as of 6 April 2014: These are the complete copies of CSS 2011 lectures. All copyrights are reserved to the authors.

accelerator physics antimatter in the lab applied superconducttivity for accelerator magnets astroparticle physics beyond standard model cp violation wlcg and grid computing the cern library SummerStudents_RawDataToPhysics_L1 SummerSchool2011_Trigger_Dahmes string theory standard model at hadron colliders particle accelerators in cancer therapy nuclear physics intro to cern future colliders from heavy ions to quark matter electronics-trigger-daq-sumstudent2011-neufeld-preliminary future colliders from heavy ions to quark matter electronics-trigger-daq-sumstudent2011-neufeld-preliminary