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Week of 30 December 2019: Power & Energy: Hubris and Finality

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As we wrap up December's Power & Energy Emphasis, I want to offer a caution or two.

When I started this series a few weeks ago, I referenced that Power & Energy has been a big topic for at least the last 46 years. Of course, it has always been a big topic, even to ancient times when animal power and human slaves supplied the energy for the rich and powerful. With the use of modern energy sources, the world has democratized energy uses, allowing many to have the benefits of cheap energy.

But back to the last 46 years. Time and again, I have witnessed learned people, in companies, governments and institutions, declare they have found the answer to the "energy crisis." Do not be deceived.

John Dos Passos, in his 1941 essay, "The Use of the Past", references the "the idiot delusion of exceptional now." Dos Passos meant by this is that at any given point in time, we think we have all the data, all the information and hence, the decisions we make now are final, complete, and will last from now on. He was saying this is not true and we should never be deceived by this idea.

In the power and energy arena, early in my career when I was a bit less experienced than now, I swallowed lines that were similar to this: "We have the energy solution, it's definitive and final, and we can move on to other topics." This has never happened once in my fifty-year career.

What concerns me today is that individuals, institutions, companies and governments are adapting some ideas at great costs with the implied understandings that they will (a) succeed and (b) last forever.

I think this is dangerous thinking, at least if you are making investments in these concepts, particularly in the energy field.

Why can I say this? In the history of humankind, there are very few ideas that have withstood the test of time. After all, at one time the learned people of the world insisted all the universe revolved around the earth. They even made Galileo eat takeout for a while when he questioned this (he was confined to house arrest).

I'll further submit that future generations will demand that most of the ideas of today absolutely must be declared obsolete and old fashioned. Why? The scientists and philosophers of the next and succeeding generations must have something new to chew on just like those of this generation did.

Universities even insist on this - Ph.D. dissertations must be original work (the very reason English majors have been reduced to writing dissertations on "The effects on the mind of punctuation in Shakespeare's sonnets when read under a streetlight on the island of Mykonos"). Thus, those inclined to pursue a Ph.D. in an energy related field must come up with new ideas.

One of the traps we get into with energy is that the consumption of a particular form of energy follows exacting scientific principles. This is true and makes us feel good. The mistake we make, however, is that society's choice of energy solutions is completely emotional--it is only when one chooses a form that the science kicks in.

So, as we wrap up the second decade of this century, don't for a minute think you have seen the final, definitive solution to energy sources and schemes. We don't even know what we don't know.

For safety this week, do not become emotional when around energy sources. This could be disastrous for you and others.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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