ITHACA, N.Y. – With ecological viability threatened, world resources draining, population burgeoning and despair running rampant, the end is nigh. Or not, says Lawrence M. Cathles, Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences.
"In spite of our apparent environmental problems, we stand a remarkable chance of achieving solutions," he says. "Societies all around the world are living longer. We have more access to food, clean water and energy… and we've never been more healthy."
Meeting the Grand Challenge would require energy production of 50 terawatts today and 75 terawatts 100 years from now, ideally all from zero carbon energy sources, says Cathles. Growing from 15 to 75 terawatts over a century requires a growth rate of 1.6 percent per year, which is modest, he says.
The lion's share of the power expansion could be met by wind, solar power produced in deserts or nuclear; but by far the least environmentally intrusive, feasible and realistic option is nuclear, he says. The oceans have enough dissolved uranium to sustain 10.5 billion people at a European standard for more than 100 centuries, and the extraction footprint would be tiny.
"Everything is possible with energy, nothing is possible without it," says Cathles.
(Note: The full paper is available for download online here.)