Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brave New World?

Probably appropriately, having been burned by Pons and Fleischmann and the cold fusion debacle of the 1980s, the mass media have been largely avoiding this, but it appears that cold fusion is back, or rather, given the prior embarassment, what is now called "Low Energy Nuclear Reactions," LENR.

There is no telling whether anything will come of this, and it has physicists sufficiently baffled that I would still bet "no" if I had to. But . . .

If it ultimately is found to work, it will change our world so profoundly that the consequences are largely unimaginable. All the predictions about the potentially dire consequences of the decline of petroleum extraction, and the utopian visions of reordered values and a reorganized society that will carry us happily past the age of oil, will blow away like dust.

It is quite premature to invest much energy in contemplating the possibilities, but I mention this because it reminds us of how cloudy all of our crystal balls really are. Just as adults realize that their childhood obsessions with cliques and who the popular kids are and the unbearable crush on Mary Lou and all of that were just a lot of pish tosh, so might be everything we believe is important now in public policy, from the future of Social Security to geostrategy to economic development of the poor nations. A lot can change in a hurry, for better or for worse. Don't forget that. (I'll skip the negative catastrophe scenarios for now, but they're out there too.)

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