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STEWARDSHIP: Environment & Energy | May 28, 1989



An Unpublished Letter to Los Angeles Times

You are right in saying that "the United States can have its environment and enough energy, too." The one and only answer to solving these problems together is solar energy.

You stress "cleaner-burning fuels and alternative fuels". Although these are important in the short run, to relieve oil shortages, they are not the answer in the long run: When burned, ethanol, methanol, and natural gas produce carbon dioxide just as petroleum, coal, and other "organic" (carbon-containing) chemical compounds do; and more carbon dioxide means more heat trapped by our atmosphere, in the subtle, yet potentially cataclysmic Greenhouse Effect.

The Administration is wrong to stress nuclear power. Even without meltdowns (as unlikely as the oil spill in the Gulf of Alaska), commercial nuclear-fission plants produce radioactive wastes, lethal for centuries. High-temperature nuclear fusion is at best many years away as a commercial power source (and at worst, another hydrogen bomb); and even if possible, "cold fusion" would also pose serious problems, such as the proliferation of heavy water (key to producing nuclear weaponry), the production of lethal tritium and neutrons, and/or a potential shortage of palladium (if commercial electrodes, like those in the lab, were disposed of when "saturated with helium"). The only practical nuclear source is already at our disposal: The sun.

Although it will undoubtedly require a vast investment (as being undertaken unilaterally by both the Japanese and the Soviets, seeking profits and power (Times, 3/7/89)), we must develop solar-energy satellites, to transmit pure, clean energy down from space, where the sun always shines -- tens of thousands of times more powerfully than we need: This constitutes the one and only real-world solution to providing our energy while protecting our environment.

As Sherlock Holmes said, once you have eliminated all the impossible solutions to a problem, the remaining solution -- no matter how improbable -- is the only possible solution.

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