"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Monday, November 20, 2006

Future's bright

In a similar vein to the New Scientist stuff below, I went to an interesting talk last week about future forecasting. One presentation was by a New York company called Sputnik, whose background seems to have been as one of those specialist marketing companies that interpret street/youth trends for the benefit of global multinational corporations so that they can sell lots of crap to the kids, but who now appear to go around interviewing leading academic scientists about their work, joining the dots, and trying to extrapolate future trends for society, the economy etc. Whatever their motives, their video clips of scientists threw up some interesting ideas, such as:
* GM plants will be the most efficient way of converting solar energy to stored energy - could be 10 times more efficient/productive than now, and will absorb CO2 (Freeman Dyson).
* Make plastics out of cheap, plentiful CO2, thereby removing it from the atmosphere (Janine Benyus).
* Use algae to absorb pollution and greenhouse gases. They tried this on a power plant exhaust, and the algae absorbed 40% of CO2, 86% of Nitrous Oxide, and they were able to convert the bi-products into ethanol (Issac Berzin, MIT rocket scientist).
* 'Sustainability' is a poor goal - that implys maintaining the status quo, when in fact we could do a lot better. (Mitchell Joachim, transology project.)
* Studying 'metabolisms' will become more important that genetics.
* There is a concept of 'urban metabolism' - how do cities/buildings consume?
* There may be 'environmental heresies' (Stewart Brand) that the environmental movement will come to accept around population growth, urbanisation, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.
* That DuPont has imposed stringent sustainability goals on itself that it intends to reach by 2015, and which seem genuinely impressive.


Tom said...

That all sounds very promising. Yet I'm forever hearing of Tomorrow's World style technologies that will save the planet, but which never actually materialize. A few years ago it was nuclear fusion, but no one seems to mention that now.

Colin said...

Except that we just agreed to give £3bn to an experimental, multi-national fusion reactor project.