By Peter Hoffmann, Editor, The Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Letter
Maybe it’s far-fetched and a bit off the wall, but I couldn’t help but think of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” when I read Pat Takahashi’s new book, “Simple Solutions for Planet Earth.” It’s really an entertaining romp through a number of universes Pat has traversed in his long, adventurous and successful career as scientist, environmentalist, clean energy advocate, searcher for extraterrestrial life, and for a mysterious female ancestral samurai great great grandmother in Japan, maybe an early Asian proto-feminist long before that term came into existence. Not to mention the Meaning of Life, but we’ll get to that later.
Those universes include the idyllic one of growing up Japanese-American in Hawaii; the convoluted one of the U.S. Energy Department (as member of the old Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel, now reincarnated as the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee); the murky universe of Capitol Hill and Congress (as energy adviser to the late Sen. Spark Matsunaga, D-HI, and drafter of one of the first hydrogen bills ever to make it out of Congress and into law); our real universe by participating in NASA’S Search for Extraterrestrial Life program, and the esoteric universe of high-energy physics by working for a while in laser fusion research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Now Director Emeritus of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and retired professor of engineering at the University of Hawaii, Takahashi was a member of group of so-called Hydrogen Romantics who were instrumental in starting the interest in hydrogen energy in the early 1970s after the first oil shock, principally via the biannual series of World Hydrogen Energy Conferences. He helped spawn the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research, and other Hawaii-based organizations such as the Interior Department’s Marine Materials Technology Center, DoE’s Hydrogen Center, and the National Science Foundation Marine BioProducts Engineering Center.
I liked the book enormously despite, or maybe because of, the many quirky back-and-forth-and-sideways warps and jumps in time and space in which he interweaves personal history and experience with his name-naming opinions and judgments on everything: from hydrogen (“The Silver Bullet,” p. 111), to spending absurdities (“The B-2 bomber, if constructed of pure gold, would cost half the price of what taxpayers are paying,” p. 57, and, “the annual Federal budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy is about as much as we spend on gasoline in one day,” p.95), to how to legally expense-account $500 meals. It’s not a straight-line, linear book but then life usually isn’t.
Hydrogen takes up 39 of the 285 pages. He discusses why hydrogen has a chance (despite the current crop of naysayers), but he also discusses “What is wrong with hydrogen,” what he regards as other viable options such as methanol, and, veering off into the speculative and even metaphysical, the prospects for free hydrogen (Takahashi: “perhaps I’m off on yet another Man from La Mancha-esque mission: The Free Hydrogen Age”), and the ultimate question, “Is Hydrogen, then....God?” Go read it for yourself.
A “Black Energy” chapter discusses today’s conventional energy sources (“as fast as possible, eliminate all forms of fossil fuel and fission energy” and “continue to conduct research on fusion.” He even thinks cold fusion just might turn out to be for real). The “Green Enertopia” chapter outlines photovoltaics, direct solar, wind, biomass, etc.( “Green Enertopia is advanced as the first step for a simple solution....”). He places considerable hope on the oceans’ resources in a chapter on the “Blue Revolution” analogous to the land-based Green Revolution covering energy concepts such as OTEC, tidal energy, wave power, but also marine biomass plantations (“I would like the Blue Revolution to take hold in Hawaii.”) Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the prospects for climate change (“Whiteout - The Venus Syndrome”) and its effect on the oceans (Blackout - Six Hours to Seattle”): large waves, tsunamis and mega tsunamis.
“Simple Solutions,” isn’t really that simple in describing our predicaments and proposed solutions: Takahashi throws quite a few figures and details at the reader which make it, at times, a pretty complex yet quite delightful read if you’re interested in the arcana and personalities of the international clean energy arena.
The one thing the book could have used would have been a good copy editor. It almost looks as if the book had been written at breakneck speed, and there are quite a number of instances of loose sentence structure, improvable wording or less than graceful transitions. Some of the note numbering is out of whack, and in at least one and maybe more instances, the note numbers in the text do not show up in the Notes list at the end.
This is Book 1; in Book 2, which Takahashi says is largely written, he promises to go beyond Simple Solutions for Planet Earth to Simple Solutions, including genetic engineering, for Humanity: “life and death, and, perhaps, even beyond that......the ultimate solutions will come from a better educational system and maybe even from above - extraterrestrials or God.” We can’t wait.