Public Hearings on Reducing California Petroleum Dependence July 23, 2003
I thank you for this opportunity to make an appeal to consider robust new energy options that could save the planet. After receiving my Ph.D. in astronomy from UC Berkeley in 1967, I served as a NASA astronaut, after which I became a professor at Cornell and other universities, teaching and researching planetary physics and energy policy, for almost thirty years. Over the past ten years, I have been an author, researcher, futurist and teacher of new energy concepts. I am president of the New Energy Movement, a nonprofit whose purpose is to cut emissions to zero by 2020 through innovation.
I have returned to live in California because I love the scenery and free thinking here. I think that we Californians share in our hearts a willingness to embrace cutting-edge solutions to the grave problems we now face in the energy crisis before us. More than ever, we must now be forward-thinking and examine all viable options before catastrophe strikes--whether it be war, scarcities, pollution, climate change, or economical/ecological collapse. Our addiction to fossil fuels and nuclear energy lies at the center of our demise and can be overcome by an Apollo program to develop clean energy--even beyond traditional renewables such as solar, wind and hydrogen.
I believe the solutions are there if we can simply overcome our denials and ignorance. In the short run, a blend of conservation and pursuing low-emission options will help enormously. But in the long run, only new energy solutions could solve the challenge. We will need to do much more to understand and embrace the potential solutions.
In 1975, I served as a special consultant on energy for Morris Udall's Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment in the U.S. Congress and as a senior advisor during his presidential campaign. The environmental movement was then growing and we had hopes then that we would have a clean, renewable and independent energy economy by 2000. But the vision became subsumed within the hubris of politics, greed and bad science. Time magazine this week declared, "...you can thank more than three decades of bungled energy policies...Get ready for more bungling."
I am here to urge you to go deeper, to set aside your preconcieved ideas about solutions, and to consider some options that the U.S. government has heretofore suppressed. I am here to propose that the state of California study and support R & D of selected new energy options, some of which might have practical application in the near future, and could become the cornerstone of a zero-emission future by 2020, and the end of polluting energy.
Being a physicist, I would not have thought that any of these energy sources would be viable. But after more than a decade of intense study and travel to laboratories all over the world, I have changed my mind. Numerous technologies have been successfully demonstrated to my satisfaction. Included are low-energy nuclear reaction technology (cold fusion), advanced hydrogen technologies, and zero-point energy. Unfortunately, some of these concepts do not have public demonstrations yet, but these will happen soon.
You may have heard the loud chorus of skeptics naysaying the efficacy of new energy. At the risk to my own career, I have taken the opposite position: experiments and theories on new energy keep moving ahead as irrefutable results keep coming in and are published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. We are in the research phase of an R & D cycle awaiting sufficient funding to move forward to commercial application. There are many reasons to believe this process could happen within years with adequate funding, on the order of hundreds of millions, not billions, of dollars.
But the funding must come from somewhere and we have seen that private dollars aren't ready to do this until somebody is ready for commercial takeoff, and we are not there yet. We have a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem, one which the government traditionally fills.
The U.S. government shows no interest in these concepts. So I pose the question to you: could the state of California be willing to have a look? Because if just one of these technologies proves out as a practical energy source, we would be well on our way to a clean and renewable energy economy, perhaps just in time to avoid catastrophe. Would it not be a tragedy that the human experiment fails because we did not have the foresight to embrace the true answers because of our own limitations of vision?
The energy crisis is a physical problem demanding physical solutions that no amount of political hubris, media spin or legal manipulation could undo. But a concerted effort coming from the public and government could. There may not be as much fast money doing this versus the continuing exploitation of fossil fuels until we run out or become extinct.
We have a choice now: either to slip ever further into the societal suicide from current energy practices or to move into a new energy culture--even if, for the moment, you may perceive this as a longshot (I am here to say it isn't a longshot).
Let us dream for a moment. The Los Alamos National Laboratories, managed by the University of California, has become a center for nuclear energy research and development, a technology which has now proven to be dangerous for a number of good reasons. What if we phased in new energy at Los Alamos, evaluating safety and environmental impact all along the way? Some of its scientists are already working on low energy nuclear reactions technology. Why not expand this effort? What is the risk, besides to vested interests?
In the end, we will have to make some choices, and I hope, wisely. In spite of its current budget problems, ironically caused by the energy crisis itself, California has a unique opportunity to step forward into the vanguard of a new energy development at very little investment, and as an example to the world. Are we up to the task?
Brian O'Leary, Ph.D.