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Our friend and inspiration Walt Mills formerly of Recipe du Jour, has a warning in a recent newsletter.  Weather has been weird this year, and will get stranger.  Better read this one and be forewarned.

Failure Is Not An Option

It was a weird year for the weather: tornadoes cutting huge swaths across the Midwest; the Southwest as dry as a tinderbox with fires burning down to the coast; and here at home, no winter to speak of until after Christmas. Now with the temperatures barely cracking 20 degrees and no one talking about anything but the dismal economy, it's hard to remember that global warming hasn't gone away. Washington, we still have a problem.

Climate change is far off, happening to polar bears and Inuits in the Arctic Circle or worsening a drought on the Equator. Most of the worldwide changes are supposed to be far in the future, maybe in the time of a generation not yet born. But weather is local, and hard to ignore.

I know that you can't pin every tornado or forest fire on our pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but global warming reminds me of how smoking used to be viewed in the 1950s. Your father or mother woke up every morning hacking and coughing, but they swore it wasn't anything to worry about. Packs of cigarettes danced on the TV screen. Doctors smoked in their office. How bad could it be? Twenty years later we found out, when the chest X-rays gave us the bad news.

The author Jared Diamond has proposed four reasons why societies make disastrous mistakes: "First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives. Secondly, when the problem arrives, the group may fail to perceive the problem. Then, after they perceive the problem, they may fail even to try to solve the problem. Finally, they may try to solve it but may fail in their attempts to do so."

I think we've pretty much covered the first three mistakes and are working on the fourth. But there are a number of people who are not willing to watch the worst predictions come to pass. Some are university scientists, watching their research funding slip away as the military budget swells; some are entrepreneurs, trying to find a way to make a business and a profit out of a risky investment; some are visionaries, ike the Idaho engineer Scott Brusaw, who wants to pave our roads with solar panels from coast to coast.

I admire Scott, who presented his plan, called Solar Roadways, in front of a crowd of materials scientists and engineers at Penn State last year. His grand idea, which could cost a trillion dollars if it works, would embed all of our energy grid, our phone lines and cable television, beneath highways of glass covering solar panels that would generate enough electricity to power the nation. Most of the technology is available now, Scott says. Smart, solar-powered electric roads for the cost of a small war? It sounds like a deal.

Then there is Google, the Internet search engine. Google recently announced plans to spend tens of millions of dollars this year in research and development on breakthrough areas of renewable energy. Their initial goal is to develop a technology that can power a city the size of San Francisco with electricity from renewable energy sources at a cost less than coal-fired power plants, the current cheapest form of electricity.

One of Google's first investments is in a company that makes high-altitude wind turbines. Like giant kites tethered to electrical wires, these wind machines hover in the sky where the wind blows more consistently and at ten times higher speeds than near the ground. This may be the most unorthodox idea I've heard of, but the company's founders say there is enough energy available in the high-altitude winds for 10,000 of these machines to power the entire globe.

There are dozens of other promising breakthroughs on the horizon that could play a part in replacing fossil fuels, the cheapest of which are already running out. We have less than ten years before the supply of oil cannot meet the demand, according to the head of one major oil company. That is another looming disaster that can be averted, if we act in time. Jared Diamond was right: We can fail to see the problem; we can fail to try and solve the problem; we can try to solve the problem and fail. Or we can solve the problem for generations yet unborn.

Read more of Walt's writing at his blog:

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