Book of the Month

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Craig Venter Wants to Solve the World’s Energy Crisis

... We’re trying to harness photosynthesis. A key part of photosynthesis is what happens when the sun goes down. Cells convert CO2 into sugar and fat molecules. And they store the fat to burn as energy to get them through the night ... We’re trying to coax our synthetic cells to ... store far more fat than they actually were designed to do, so that we can harness it all as an energy source and use it to create gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel straight from carbon dioxide and sunlight. This would shift the carbon equation so we’re recycling CO2 instead of taking new carbon out of the ground and creating still more CO2. But it has to be done on a massive scale to have any real impact on the amount of CO2 we’re putting into the atmosphere, let alone recovering from the atmosphere.

... We envision facilities the size of San Francisco. And 10 or 15 of those in this country. We need sunlight, seawater, and non-agricultural land, but you need a lot of photons to drive this. You need a lot of surface area of sunlight to do that. It’s a great use for Arizona. Lots of sunlight there.

... If we can’t get some key scientific breakthroughs within the next couple of years, it probably won’t happen in 10 years. So it’s something that’s really dependent on fundamental science. But we’re already able to do things that were once seen as impossible.

... I think the new anti-intellectualism that’s showing up in politics today is a symptom of our not discussing these issues enough. We don’t discuss how our society is now 100 percent dependent on science for its future. We need new scientific breakthroughs—sometimes to overcome the scientific breakthroughs of the past. A hundred years ago oil sounded like a great discovery. You could burn it and run engines off it. I don’t think anybody anticipated that it would actually change the atmosphere of our planet. Because of that we have to come up with new approaches. We just passed the 7 billion population mark. In 12 years, we’re going to reach 8 billion. If we let things run their natural course, we’ll have massive pandemics, people starving. Without science I don’t see much hope for humanity.

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Unfortunately, many of the people who care about the environment the most don't trust technology to help solve environmental problems. (I understand why, but I still find it unfortunate.)

On the flip side, many people who trust technology take it for granted that it'll be able to solve any environmental problems that crop up, so why worry? (This is often the last defense of the global warming skeptic.)

IMO, new technologies change things around a lot—leaving winners and losers—so just saying, "technology will save us" is dead wrong.


It's still pretty cool stuff, though.


Venter sounds something like Jurassic Park's John Hammond or Henry Wu.  Maybe both.  Reckless.  

I am referring to the book, not the movie.  There are some really good sections in it exploring the ethics and risks of creating synthetic life by patching together gene sequences.

Maybe my favorite quote from it:

"You know what's wrong with scientific power? It's a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are.” ― Michael CrichtonJurassic Park

Think I will reread the book.  So much better than the movie.



I just had this image of a future in which synthetic algae eventually satisfy all our energy needs...and then some invasive species eats all the algae.

Or maybe the predator is also synthetic--developed by some evil genius in order to take over the world.

I think I know what you mean.  I call it the Appointment in Samarra dilemma.

H. Rex

I won't say he's wrong, but one* has to be skeptical when told that fusion will be a useful power source in about 20 years.

*If one has lived long enough.

*If one has lived long enough." (to have been disappointed more than once by fusioneers).

​I have and my reaction to the fusion timeline was

​1 - Another guy who shares Tim Taylor's power attitude. ;-D.  The bigger the better, right

2 - Unfortunately, he's not the only one  Fusion power

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