Humanity and the carbon economy: Is it too late?

If a new, ground breaking energy technology emerged, would it see the light of day, or would the status quo prevail? Photo: M. Jaeger

NEW YORK, April 23, 2013 ― The year is 2013. The carbon economy has an iron grip on our society. Inflation is relentlessly driving energy prices upward. Any disruption in the oil supply, perceived or real, sends wild price fluctuations rippling through the price of oil, and furthermore, into our family budgets. Our society hangs on the balance of carbon fuels being readily available and at low cost. It is a sad but true existence.

For a moment, suppose a new invention suddenly allowed the unshackling of our society from our current carbon-based system. Hypothetically, if this new invention was nearly 100 percent efficient, was agreed to be safe for all users, was 100 percent dependable, had very little infrastructure requirements, and was made available to everyone on the planet, would humanity shed the shackles of the carbon economy in favor of the new invention? 

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Pondering this question brought forth the recollection of one of the earliest science fiction books written. The author, Karel Čapek explored this premise and then some. In his book written in 1922, The Absolute at Large, a brilliant man invents and unveils a new machine called a Karburator, which creates free energy for its owner. The Karburator is fed any “fuel” such as sand, rocks, dirt or garbage, and when activated it annihilates the matter and produces energy as a result. Čapek’s fictional global society embraces the Karburator for its miraculous operation, recognizing it as superior to all other methods of energy production at the time.

However, as well as boundless energy, the machine also emits something else: the absolute. The absolute, as described by Čapek, is the mystical, fundamental essence that inhabits all matter. As the book progresses, we learn of the fascinating aftermath of the absolute running amok on humans which, on its own, could be a lesson in theology.

The book stirs thoughts: Čapek’s society had not yet embraced the carbon economy. Would the carbon economy refuse its acceptance if the Karburator were unveiled tomorrow? 

Think of the implications for a new invention such as the Karburator. Cars would no longer need gasoline, but would be electric with no battery packs. Batteries of any kind would no longer be required. The four corners of the earth would enjoy electric power without any infrastructure. Simply put, the implications of an invention like the Karburator would change the course of human evolution. 

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Consumer adoption of the Karburator would be quick, but would Exxon-Mobil sit quietly and nod their heads in agreement and satisfaction as worldwide oil consumption plummets? Oil tankers and oil pipelines could be retired. Refineries and gas stations would no longer be required. Would the status quo fight the release and implementation with smear campaigns and lies, or worse yet, resort to violence to keep the gravy train rolling down the tracks? 

Surely, such an invention would put many businesses out of commission. Would the political pain of high unemployment due to the transition into the “New World” be too high? In the end, could big oil sway the public in the face of such a mammoth leap in technology? Perhaps the most intriguing question: Would the voices of the masses outweigh the voices of the status-quo corporatists?

A wise man once said, “One cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” Will that saying also hold true for corporations or will the corporations put maximum stockholder profit first and humanity second? What do you think?

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Michael Jaeger

Mike Jaeger's column, Greater than Energy (">Energy") can be found under the Health and Science area of the Washington Times Communities and he has been writing this column since July of 2012.  He occasionally writes pieces on economics and politics as well.  He has expertise in energy, energy markets and energy production and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Science and Technology in Nuclear Engineering Technology.


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