If you throw a question "What makes the world go around?" For several people the response would be Love… For some modern thinkers the answer would be Knowledge… For a few noble-minded men, Justice will be the solid answer…For almost all, the most practical answer would be the Stomach… Whether Love, Knowledge, Justice or the Stomach, to make the world go around, humanity cannot evade the preordained burden of Energy. Given the size and survival demands of the growing human population, Without Energy modern humanity cannot persist let alone prosper or break new paths to the frontiers in Mars or Moon. Even the most ubiquitous and powerful Money cannot buy some critical energy sources.
Energy can easily account for 25 to 50% of the cost of most of the products and services that we consume on a daily basis. Food, Transportation, Communication and Heating and Cooling essential for living cannot be produced and delivered without energy. Rising Energy cost can escalate inflation, stagnation, or trigger all sorts of economic and social malaise. The words 'growth' and 'development', and 'modern civilization' would not make any sense without the abundant supply of energy. Recent economic and financial crises the world has witnessed can be primarily attributed to "Energy Cost" and the further escalation of crises was arrested by containing the energy prices. Those who control energy sources can enjoy tremendous competitive advantage. The shortage of energy will stunt the growth of the entire human kind.
Whether you call it a ‘greater inheritance’ or the ‘gift of nature’, we are bestowed with abundant resources of vast amounts of energy. Humanity has so far successfully coped with the energy demands needed for the progress. However, the bad luck is that these resources are limited, expensive, and often unsafe. Now we are faced with the predicament of the insatiable energy needs on the one hand, and the limited and depleting energy sources on the other hand.
Man cannot escape his stomach... Nor can he afford to eat his stomach.
Utilizing the limited, depleting, expensive or unsafe non-renewable energy sources, however has its limitations. We now know for sure there are costs of externality... the cost of damage, destruction to our health and habitat, and the degeneration that energy production and conversion have caused to the environment, civilization, and the future of whole planet itself with our relentless curiosity, unquenchable thirst for convenience and comfort, adamant faith in machines, and of course the insatiable greed and quest for prosperity.
Nor man can afford to spend his entire effort toward expensive energy inputs to sustain his survival or meet the necessities of modern living such as travel, communication, material comfort, and leisure. When it is too cold, we need the heat and warmth. When it is too hot, we desperately seek the cooling. Given the vast amount of energy required to sustain the modern living, humans cannot pedal their way out to power the machines that provide these comforts. Human-kind is condemned to live like the Ants and Bees within colonies with the surplus food saved for the rainy and uncertain times. I doubt we can ever step backward to the early hunter-gatherer life. Unless we create and conserve energy and its critical sources, humanity can experience major calamities.
If animals cannot adapt to the environmental constraints, they would go extinct and we may not notice it for a while. If plants and trees don’t survive, the planet will surely become unlivable. We humans cannot accept this stalemate of extinction that nature has imposed on us. Humanity cannot free itself from all the wretchedness that dogs the modern world like hunger, thirst, poverty, wars, famine, climate and environmental degradation, hard labor so on....and can save the planet and life within it with least effort if we cannot find the ways to overcome the limits of energy.
How do we create materials with the least amount of inputs and energy...how do we live without spending or wasting the precious limited and expensive resources...in essence how do we create systems that will beat the laws of thermodynamics and energy...that means creating the dis-entropic systems with the efficiency ratio of (output / input) equal to or greater than one...meaning creating near-perpetual machines if not "the perfect perpetual machines" like that of our planet...which has been revolving and rotating on its axis for at least a few billion years without any external energy or intervention.
If we can learn from the plants & trees, and planetary movements and harvest energy out of the cycles of natural phenomenon without utilizing the physical non-renewable sources for production, conversion, and consumption of thermal or electrical energy the world of free energy or cost-free energy is not a distant dream.
Invisible Quantum machines, Omni-present Chlorophyll energy, Ever-present Geothermal radiation, Unceasing Ocean waves, Unstoppable Solar rays, Ever-winding Planetary motions, Universal Electromagnetic waves, Mammoth Magnetic forces, Gigantic Gravitational pulls may hold the answer for this quest. While our intelligence may open up the new avenues for the creation of such machines and technologies toward easy-cost-effective-energy, our culture and convents should continue to invent smart systems that are earth-friendly and energy-wise if not entirely energy free.
From the market point of view, these investments and efforts are not going to be highly profitable nor would yield the market capitalization that financial world would expect on a short-term basis. Although economists have observed that markets and businesses driven by the demand compulsion would endogenously commit their investment and effort toward innovating new renewable sources of energy, the reality is that it is only half-truth. Even though businesses have worked hard to improve the energy equation for growth and profitability, they have been hesitant to seriously invest toward the new frontiers of energy. Rather, a lot of path-breaking energy innovations have emerged out of the Universities and Government research labs which operate on the non-profit motives.
Not only new-age technologies would help, but also the design of modern organizational, political, and business systems which can support the creation of dis-entropic energy systems benefiting the planet and humanity. Governments should free themselves from the compulsions of the market and monetary mechanisms when it comes to spending for the greater causes of humanity – such as Energy - which is a most fundamental driver to sustain the human existence in this planet and beyond.
(See for example, the budget constraints have resulted in cutting the funds for clean energy research)
After, all said and done, Man has to feed his family...Nations have to feed their people...In the process of feeding and fulfilling the population’s needs with products and services, we cannot evade our quest and thirst for the safe and sustainable energy. Hence, Nations and Peoples cannot confine their quest for energy independence by profitability pressures or being complacent with the finite non-renewable resources. We should quickly unfasten ourselves from the cobwebs of contingencies that perpetuate both the conspicuous consumption and profit-driven markets constraining our innovation potential. Our political, economic, and educational institutions should try to unleash the imaginations of the young minds with unconstrained supply of financial resources - which for sure will leverage the sources of infinite energy and make us energy free, and free of energy cost.