Global climate change is always a hotly debated subject (pardon the pun). The broad and deep consensus of scientists is clear that the change is real, man-made and dangerous. A few critics — largely funded by industries that would be most impacted by the policy changes required to deal effectively with climate change — disagree. My view is clear. That said, I readily acknowledge that, while it seems unlikely, the scientific community might be wrong. However, because the magnitude of the stakes are so enormous, it seems obvious to me that we ought to take serious steps to try to mitigate the problem even if the likelihood of error is high. Simply put, if I think that there is even a 10 percent chance that my car would blow up while driving home tonight, I’m not driving the car home.
On the other hand, some activists trying to stop climate change remain wildly unrealistic. It isn’t likely that many of us will be anxious dramatically to change our standards of living for a nebulous and seemingly far-off consequence. In my view, the most promising possibility for dealing with climate change is technological advance that makes carbon emissions obsolete.
The current issue of The New Yorker examines, in great depth, the challenges, difficulties, prospects and frustrations of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project, a 35-nation effort that is perhaps our best opportunity to “change the game” technologically. I encourage you to read it. A taste follows.
With an Apollo-like commitment, Janeschitz told me, fusion’s remaining problems could be worked out within a lifetime. But the funding would need to come in significant amounts, and mostly at once, not dribbled over decades. As he sketched out his vision, he alluded to an aphorism by an early Soviet tokamak pioneer, a quote that practically echoes among the halls of ITER’s headquarters: “Fusion will be ready when society needs it.”