POSTED: 21 AUGUST 2008- 9:00pm EST

Cold Fusion and the Destruction of Life on the Earth

image above: "Pacific Ocean, Gone... 25 foot tides, big change" subtitle at

The Final Drought:
by Michael J. Vandeman on 9 August 2008 in

[ editor's note: Mike Vandeman thinks outside the box. When he advocated boycotting petroleum back in 1989 I was shocked. Soon I took up the same call. His activism in recent years has been about creating wildlife sanctuaries without human presence. He spent the previous eight years fighting automobile dependence and road construction.]

I don't understand how humans can be so intelligent, and at the same time, so stupid! A Berkeley, California-based electrical engineer, Robert Godes, claims to have a way of doing cold fusion (turning hydrogen into helium, while releasing energy), in his kitchen. If true, and I have no reason to doubt him, this could revolutionize the world's energy situation. He says he has hired a high-powered Palo Alto patent firm and is starting up a company to profit from his idea. I wonder if he told his partners the truth about this process?

There are a few obvious problems with it. Can you think of even one profit-making company that has provided a net benefit to the world? I can't! For example, Ben and Jerry's does some good things, but basically, they make junk food -- food that no one should eat! Chevron is destroying wildlife and human habitat in the Amazon and elsewhere. In short, greed begets grief!

Can you imagine Albert Einstein taking this route (patenting his nuclear information and creating a private company to implement it)? I think that he wanted it to be used for good. He had a lot of humanity. Or take Gandhi. He taught everyone how to make their own salt, rather than creating a company to profit from his ideas. If Godes's idea is this valuable, it should be implemented in the form of a not-for-profit corporation, with a lot of input from scientists, government (including the United Nations), and the community.

Can you wear more than one pair of pants at a time? What for? Can you eat more than one meal at a time? What for? We all have approximately the same requirements, and excess is counterproductive. Wildlife don't have that problem. An animal that killed more prey than it needed would be weeded out by evolution, because it would require more energy to accomplish the same thing: greed begets grief.

What is more important than the continuation of life on the Earth? Nothing. And it is in peril! A quarter of all species of animals are headed for extinction, and similar percentages for other species. Everything we value depends on the existence and welfare of other species [see author's website, link below]. If we don't contribute to solving that problem, what is the point? A profit-making corporation cannot do that. We already know that such corporations take the path of least resistance toward the maximum quick returns. That's what stockholders ensure.

I think that we should make sure that our work benefits wildlife first and foremost, and then people. (Humans are 100 percent dependent on the existence and welfare of other species!) I think that that can only be done via a not-for-profit corporation or organization (e.g. a university, although they aren't focused enough on ethics). We also need to ensure that we immediately stop burning fossil fuels, not simply add a new source of energy. And we need to stop corporations from destroying wildlife habitat. That will require the cooperation of governments, including the United Nations. A for-profit corporation can't or won't do that.

This project is moving too fast, and in exactly the wrong direction! This is not Godes's area of expertise, so I suggested that he get some better advisors, including experts on wildlife conservation (e.g. Nature Conservancy), sustainability (e.g. Amory Lovins), and environmental protection (e.g. NRDC), and include some politicians who know how to accomplish such things.

But there are actually at least two even bigger problems. First, this process consumes water – not in the sense that an ordinary power plant consumes water, by heating it and causing it to evaporate into the atmosphere, but by permanently destroying it! It takes a molecule of pure (drinking) water, combines the two hydrogen atoms to form helium, and releases the oxygen and helium to the atmosphere. The water molecule is gone forever!

Water is the basis for all life. Without water, life could not exist on the Earth. In California, all water is already spoken for, by wildlife, agriculture, and people. There is no water to spare! Godes knows that, because his community is already rationing water. The same goes for every other region of the world: there is no water that isn't already serving its highest purpose, to support life. We have already reached the point where any more water we take deprives endangered species such as the coho salmon. In the past, industry only polluted the water. It was still possible to recover the water, although with considerable effort. Fusion is different.

But that is not all! Adding oxygen to the atmosphere may seem like a good thing, but I am told that if the concentration of oxygen reaches a certain level, all of the world's forests will spontaneously combust! Fusion, like atomic warfare, needs to be banned, not promoted!

Godes's company will be just exactly like all other for profit corporations: extracting money from natural resources, while doing permanent harm! I suggest that we take a long, hard look down that road, before taking it -– admittedly not something that humans are good at doing. . . .



POSTED: 14 AUGUST 2008- 9:00am EST

Is Nuclear Fusion the Energy Answer?

image above: artists illustration of polywell nuclear fusion generator

by Paul Chefurka on 5 August 2008 in

Humanity's energy situation gets more precarious by the day. Our oil production has peaked, gas supplies are starting to show signs of strain, the world's hydro capacity is pretty much maxed out, nuclear fission suffers from economic and public acceptance problems, solar power is still too expensive and wind power is still in its infancy.

To compound the problem, it has become obvious that coal is the industrial heir-apparent for large scale energy production -- even though the risk of climate calamity from pursuing such a course is abundantly clear to everyone.

This uncomfortable situation has led to a lot of energy day-dreaming. What if there was a clean, cheap, decentralized energy source that could provide enormous amounts of power at low cost with no environmental risk? Ahhh, think of the the magic we could make! One such daydream has recently attracted a lot of attention in the community of environmental technocrats. Enter the Polywell reactor.

Developed by an eminent physicist, the late Dr. Robert Bussard, if the Polywell research came to fruition it could result in a very small, quite inexpensive fusion reactor. Such a device would be very safe to operate, produce no radioactive wastes or greenhouse gases, would produce prodigious amounts of power, and could be used in applications like ship engines or individual factories as well as traditional electrical power stations. All in all, such a power source is not just an industrialist's dream, it's an environmentalist's dream as well.

The traditional view of such a device is that it would be virtually free of negative consequences. With that much clean power at our beck and call, anything we dreamed of would be possible. Even better, all our mistakes from the past could be rectified. Humanity would finally be on the road to environmental nirvana, without sacrificing any of our beloved creature comforts.

There is, unfortunately, a darker view of such a development. Every human invention has had a dark side to balance its promise -- given the dualistic nature of our universe, it could scarcely be otherwise. So before we leap enthusiastically and uncritically into the middle of our energy daydream, it would be prudent to ask what the dark side of such a wonder might look like.

My position on new sources of large scale energy -- whether they are fission, fusion or renewable energy -- springs from my understanding of humanity's interaction with the rest of the biosphere.

There is no question in my mind that we are now a species in overshoot. The rising levels of atmospheric CO2 point to this, as does the decimation of ocean fish, the drop in soil fertility, the increasingly parlous state of the world's fresh water, and the world-wide increase in socioeconomic instability. For a look at our situation by someone who investigated it carefully, see this PowerPoint presentation by Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of the famous 1972 analysis, 'Limits to Growth'.

Because we are in overshoot, we are drawing down the planet's physical resources and damaging its biosphere, potentially beyond the possibility of recovery on time scales meaningful to humans. If we place any value on the other species that share the globe with us, and even on our own descendants, we have an ongoing responsibility to avoid such behaviour.

There are two factors that are the primary drivers for this damage. One is our sheer numbers. For example, we would be causing species extinctions even if all 6.7 billion of us lived like Bangladeshis. Unfortunately, we don't all live like Bangladeshis -- the other factor that is damaging 'the planet' is our level of activity. And our level of activity is driven by the energy available to us.

It doesn't matter all that much where the energy comes from. Regardless of whether it's fossil fuel, nuclear fission, fusion, hydro or or Zero Point Energy, any large scale exosomatic energy can drive human activity to damaging levels. Each energy source has its own unique problems, of course. We're currently mesmerized by the damage caused by fossil fuels, but even solving the CO2 problem would address only one of the overshoot indicators I listed above.

In order to bring the global ecosystem back into balance by taking homo sapiens out of overshoot, two things would be required. The first is a reduction in human numbers, and the second is a a reduction in human activity. Now, we could accomplish this rebalancing by reducing only one of those factors, but the multiplication in the shorthand ecological equation I = PAT suggests we would have to reduce either factor far less if we could address both simultaneously. Simply retaining the status quo with minor changes in the kind of energy we use won't work because we are already in overshoot. Ensuring the status quo would simply guarantee that we remain in overshoot.

It's unlikely that we will (or even can) reduce the human population by the degree required before the effects of overshoot overwhelm our global civilization. As a result, we are reduced to trying to reclaim the situation though our activity levels alone. That consideration leads us straight back to the fact that large amounts of energy are the driving force behind human activity. More energy produces more activity; more activity produces more ecological damage. It's that simple.

It's a truism to say that we are in the situation we are in, with the energy we have available. We can object on various grounds to any of the energy sources we currently use, but the fact remains that we are currently using them. Because of resource draw-down, oil and natural gas will soon become less available. From an ecological perspective that's a good thing for the climate, since it may reduce our CO2 emissions. Also, if we don't manage to fully replace that energy (or at least the useful portion of it), a reduction in overall energy availability should also reduce our level of activity. If we do manage to replace it all, we should expect very little to change, regardless of whether the replacement is ethanol, wind, solar power, coal, nuclear fission or Mr. Fusion.

It should by now be obvious why I'm worried about the development of new large-scale sources of energy, irrespective of their individual characteristics. Clean fusion would enable increased human activity just as much as increased coal use (though without the added threats of increased CO2 or particulate pollution). And, from the perspective of the other species that share the planet, increasing the level of human activity even further is the very worst thing we could do.

see also:
Island Breath: Alternate Energy - Jatropha 9/8/07
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Algae 6/30/08
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Ethanol 7/31/07
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Grass 12/29/06
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - BioDiesel 12/21/06
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Wind 6/5/06
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Water/HH0 5/16/06
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Ocean Waves 12/5/05
Island Breath: Alternative Energy - Nuclear 5/11/05