environment sustainability

Five questions for the next twenty years

These are the five defining questions of the next 20 years, according to the British government’s chief scientific advisor John Beddington. As a one page summary of the challenges we face, I think it’s pretty good.

HT Duncan Green


  1. Well, thanks to Jeremy’s kind hospitality and patience, all these questions have been comprehensively reviewed here. IMHO the answers are: (1) yes, (2) yes, (3) yes, (if the world follows China’s and India’s example and relies on fossil fuels), (4) mitigation impossible, but “yes” to adaptation and (5) yes.

    1. There’s the voice of someone who doesn’t believe in peak oil! Even the oil optimists (ie the government and the industry itself) reckon we have about 30 years of oil left. What then? I think there’s a much better case for ‘leapfrogging’ technologies. We’ve already seen it in communications, with Africa skipping landlines and going straight to mobile-based phone systems. If the poorest countries were to pursue fossil fuels, billions would be spent on infrastructure that would be ready just in time to be declared obsolete. Why not leapfrog straight to solar radiation?

      On the source, this is a slide from a presentation, so there isn’t much more to find online. If you follow the link to Duncan Green’s blog at the bottom of the post there’s a little more information there.

  2. Jeremy: could you give me a link to the origin of this? I see the item above has a Government Office for Science logo, but I cannot find any reference to it on the BIS (of which the Office for Science is part) website – nor does Google reveal anything. Seems odd.

  3. Re “leapfrogging” technologies and solar, Jeremy, I think there’s plenty of promise in nanotech, with the prospect of solar “paint” sprayed onto panels or possibly even buildings or road surfaces; I can see that working well, especially in areas that are far from the grid and blessed with constant sunshine (again, rural Africa springs to mind.) Could this sort of energy technology start to supplant oil/gas/coal in urban/industrial areas? I think yes, probably, in time, but we’re still a long way off. However, given that we’re also likely to require smart, efficient (and cheap!) solar technology for space habitats, eventually, I’d say the long-term prospects for solar are bright (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    1. Yes, solar paint, tiles and windows would be great, and China is actually pioneering a lot of these things. It’s still a way off yet though. The technology I was thinking of was solar reflector towers – the ‘solar farms’ used in Arizona, Spain and other places with strong sun. It’s mirrors rather than solar panels, pointing the sunlight at a tank of water, which boils and the steam creates electricity. Makes a lot of sense to me, for Africa cities, and we could build them right now.

  4. Jeremy, re concentrated solar, this site has some interesting stuff – SkyFuel are using parabolic troughs made with a reflective metallic film, which they find is a very good, robust (and low-cost?) alternative to glass. The web site has whizzy graphics, which can be a little annoying, but I think worth a look, nonetheless.

    1. I see what you mean about the graphics, but that’s just the kind of thing I’m thinking about. Low cost, durable, easy to ship and quick to install, it sounds like a winning technology to me.

  5. Very actual and interesting at the same time… We realized 30 years ago that to rely on fossil fuels is not going to last forever. So we ask the scientists to develop smart technologies to replace the old ones. After 30 years we still cannot mitigate the impact of climate changes and we still rely on fossil fuels. After another 30 years we will stand face to face to the truth about all this matters…

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