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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TWO VIEWS ON DOOMSDAY

The matter of doomsday kind of reminds me of religion and politics.  Capable and intelligent minds sincerely can have polar opposite views on the reality of an afterlife or the seriousness of global warming.  There are divers reasons, but it mostly boils down to semantics and attitude.

For example, if our lifestyle significantly declines, say, from climate change and Peak Oil, an individual can understandably feel that this is just a natural evolution to which society must optimally adjust, and, by the way, every effort should be made to prepare the masses for this eventuality.  Don't confuse the public with false hopes such as fusion or alien signals from outer space.  How is it possible for another observer to feel that, no, that is some form of negative doomsday perspective and that solutions should be developed to insure for a more favorable future?

He will inform me if I have misunderstood the substance, but I think that is the crux of the issue between a biochemical engineer (me) and a political scientist (Jim Dator, although I know of physicists and other scientists who carry Jim's general view).

Jim and I are close colleagues and we first worked together nearly 40 years ago on a NASA educational project called "Earth 2020:  Visions for Our Children's Children."  I came up with Earth 2020 and the wife of the director the Ames Research Center contributed the theme.  Anyway, in 1974 I was a new Assistant Professor of Engineering on the Manoa Campus of the University of Hawaii, while Jim was already a respected Futurist and lead for this course.

We are both optimists, but we don't share similar visions about our future and how to get there.  I thus thought it might be worth a discussion on the matter of what we all should be doing in anticipation of the next century, with doomsday or not.  I am replaying Henry Curtis' blog, Ililani, but let me start first with some background of Jim Dator from Wikipedia:

Jim Dator is a Professor and Director of the Hawai'i Research Center for Futures Stuides, Department of Political Science, and Adjunct Professor in the Program of Public Administration, the College of Architecture, and the Center for Japanese Studies, of the University of Hawai'i at Mā; Co–Chair, Space and Society Division, International Space University, Strasbourg, France; former President, World Futures Studies Federation; Fellow, World Academy of Art and Science. He also taught at Rikkyo University (Tokyo, for six years), the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, the University of Toronto, and the InterUniversity Consortium for Postgraduate Studies in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. He received a BA in Ancient and Medieval History and Philosophy from Stetson University, and MA in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from The American University. He did post graduate work at Virginia Theological Seminary (Ethics and Church History), Yale University (Japanese Language), The University of Michigan (Linguistics and Quantitative Methods), Southern Methodist University (Mathematical Applications in Political Science). He is a Danforth Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and Fulbright Fellow. He consults widely on the futures of law, governance, tourism, and space.


Friday, November 15, 2013


Interview with Dr. Patrick Kenji Takahashi

By Henry Curtis


Patrick Kenji Takahashi  co-founded the Pacific International Center
for High Technology Research (PICHTR). For a decade Dr. 
Takahashi served as the Director of the University of Hawai`i’s 
Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI).

In 1992 he was the principal investigator of a blue-ribbon 
panel convened by the National Science Foundation (NSF) 
and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
(NOAA)  to develop a national plan for ocean resources, 
and produced U.S. Ocean Resources 2000.


He has published more than a hundred scientific papers and 
written four books including Simple Solutions for Planet Earth.



Who influenced you in your early life?

My older brother was at the University of Michigan when I 
was a senior at McKinley High School, so I applied to 
Michigan, and added Stanford and Cal Tech to the list.  
Then, he moved to California, so I chose Stanford because 
they "paid" more.  

I did not learn this until even later in life, but my father's father 
helped build a 3MW hydroelectric facility at Wainiha on 
Kauai.  I visited this site recently and it is still producing 
that same 3MW 107 years later.  So, I guess he was the 
first of our family to get into the sustainables.  It is still 
remembered as the Takahashi Powerhouse to really old 
timers (only one remains alive in the town of Kilauea, 
adjacent to Wainiha.)

What was your focus before you got into the energy field?

My first job after graduating from Stanford was with 
C. Brewer in biomass engineering:  I was the process 
engineer for Hutchinson Sugar Company in Naalehu, 
the southernmost community in the USA.

How did you first get involved in energy?

After a few years with C. Brewer, they actually sent me 
to graduate school at LSU because of their sugar program.  
I talked C. Brewer into allowing me to get a PhD in 
biochemical engineering.   However, when I got my degree, 
I joined the College of Engineering at the University of 
Hawaii.  I produced a summer report for them the next year 
on biomass engineering and they forgave whatever they 
covered through graduate school.

While at the UH, my first assignment was as reservoir 
engineering for the Hawaii Geothermal Project.  In 
parallel, because there was no one else, I became 
the wind energy "expert," and actually chaired the 
Windpower Division of the American Solar Energy 
Society in the mid-70's.  During the second energy 
crisis I joined the staff of Senator Spark Matsunaga in 
DC and helped pass original bills in OTEC, wind energy 
and hydrogen.

What people, books, movies, or other sources did you find 
especially important in understanding energy?

From the early '70's, we were the pioneers in the field and 
there was no book or movie on renewable energy.

How has your background helped you prepare for 
your role in transforming Hawai`i's energy picture?

We had to invent everything along the way and I'm not sure 
we have done all that much in transforming Hawaii 
towards sustainability.  On the other hand, government provides 
funds to universities to do what companies won't.  Very few 
first time technologies initially work.  Very few of ours did.  
That iPhone you own has been through a thousand 
generations of failure in Apple's lab.  Energy technologies 
are very expensive and it takes time to become commercially 
reliable.

What are you most proud of?

Through our efforts, the University of Hawaii became a global 
leader in various key sustainable areas:  Department of 
Energy National Center for Hydrogen R&D
Department of Interior National Marine Minerals Technology 
Center, National Science Foundation Marine Bioproducts 
Engineering Center.  The seed I helped plant that will have the 
greatest long-term benefit to Hawaii, Planet Earth and Humanity 
I think is the Blue Revolution.

How serious a threat do you believe climate change is?

I am sufficiently concerned that something potentially 
cataclysmic is happening, so steps should be taken now to 
prevent our losing control.  It is clear that industry 
is fighting remediation to continue to maximize their profits, 
and they have convinced our U.S. Congress to waffle on 
the subject.  This is perpetuated because climate change is 
so slow that decision-makers don't feel compelled to 
take action.  However, this is not one of those issues where 
one state or country can lead the way.  The whole world 
has to agree together, and the U.S., China and India are large 
enough to stand in the way of progress.

Are you optimistic that we can avert the worst impacts?

In the 70's, all at once, we had acid rain, we lost the 
Vietnam War, suffered through two energy crises, were 
facing the explosion of a Population Bomb and were 
worried about Limits to Growth.  Somehow, without doing 
much in way of international agreements, we overcame.  
Will global warming and Peak Oil be yet another set of 
fears mostly hyped by the media where Mankind somehow 
survives?  Let's see, there is no way of sensibly answering 
this question, so let me evade it by saying that at least I'm 
writing books, giving talks and posting blogs that attempt 
to provide solutions.

Anything else that you would like to add?

Keep up the good work of informing the public.  One wishes 
there was an effective way for society to more smartly and 
effectively plan for our future. However, things take time.  As 
screwed up as our government is, and how worrisome it is 
that our American/Hawaiian lifestyle is actually 
retrogressing, our country remains the only supreme power.  
Europe is a basket case, China is falling apart, Russian is 
getting old and Japan might never recover from Fukushima.  
We today live as well as humanity ever has since the beginning 
of our existence.

#    #    #

Comment from Jim Dator

Thank you for publishing this interview with Pat Takahashi. He is 
one of my local heroes. I had the opportunity to work with 
him on various projects in the 1970s. I follow his writing 
closely now and greatly admire his work and boundless 
compassion.

Much of what Pat wrote is inspiring and helpful, but the 
following sentence is profoundly misleading in my judgment:

In the 70's, all at once, we had acid rain, we lost the 
Vietnam War, suffered through two energy crises, were 
facing the explosion of a Population Bomb and were 
worried about Limits to Growth.  Somehow, without doing 
much in way of international agreements, we overcame.  

In my understanding, we absolutely did NOT “overcome” 
these problems. For the most part we denied them, 
pilloried and marginalized those (like Pat) who continued to 
try to get the word out about them, and thus have placed 
all of those problems squarely in the present—where we 
said, in the 1970s, they would be if we did not address them 
then, which we did not.  

The “overcoming” of those realities and their replacement by 
neoliberal economic fantasies which still bewitch us was the 
result of massive spending by vested interests in 
sophisticated disinformation, on the one hand, and the 
removal from positions of effective policy-influence of people 
like Pat and others who tried to speak reason to greed, on the 
other.

However, the following sentences distress me even more, if
Pat uttered them as written:

Will global warming and Peak Oil be yet another set of 
fears mostly hyped by the media where Mankind somehow 
survives? Let's see, there is no way of sensibly answering 
this question, so let me evade it by saying that at least I'm 
writing books, giving talks and posting blogs that attempt 
to provide solutions

The evidence of the reality of global warming now and 
its probable future severe trajectories is so overwhelming 
that I am stunned that Pat would suggest the issue is 
uncertain in anything but very specific details.

Similarly, Peak Oil is obviously already here or we would 
be not engaged in even more environmentally-damaging and 
net-energy consuming acts of desperation such as fracking and 
increased coal burning, with conventional oil production 
sloping downward (aided by lowered demand during the 
continuing recession to be sure).

Both Pat and I are congenitally cock-eyed optimists. We 
see the possibilities of bright futures for everyone. We don’t 
like to dwell on bad things, no matter how real they might be. Of 
course, "Mankind somehow survives"! But there are many 
different forms of "survival".

In my view, Pat encourages false hope for the 
re-emergence and continuation of The American Way of Life 
into the foreseeable future. He discourages us from 
preparing for deepening energy, environmental, 
economic, and governance failures as we wait for the 
technological and policy miracles he hopes for. By denying 
the present existence and possible emerging severity of these 
challenges, he encourages us to drift into the very future he 
(and I) do not want--survival raw in tooth and claw.

 My optimism is based on the belief (perhaps equally 
misguided) that humans—especially those in Hawaii where 
we are so exceptionally vulnerable)—can face the truth if it is 
told to us honestly, so that we might then prepare for and 
indeed embrace the consequences of surviving and thriving 
a very different future with enthusiasm, optimism, and thus 
success.

#     #       #

  1. I could provide counterpoints to much of Jim's concerns, for he must have uncharacteristically missed some of my purposeful shadings, but, we've (specifically, Jim 
    and Pat) been going in tiny and large circles 
    around these issues for decades, and, while he, 
    and many other colleagues, too, seem to feel that 
    our primary task should be to educate the public 
    to better accommodate and appreciate these 
    coming lifestyle paradigm shifts from almost 
    certain doomsday of some sorts, the fact of the 
    matter is that the USA has prevailed as the only 
    supreme power on Planet Earth, and will continue 
    to stumble along as #1 for the next century at 
    least, while much of the populated world more 
    and more will most probably suffer. While I'm 
    not exactly holding my breath for any 
    monumental breakthroughs to occur in my 
    lifetime--perhaps our country can eventually get our 
    act together, the equivalent of an Andromeda 
    strain might wipe out 80% of of us, maybe fusion 
    will actually work, or the Blue Revolution will serve 
    to minimize the transition agony while we over 
    time drop to a more sustainable world population of 
    a billion or two. If smarter people than me, Sagan 
    and Drake, for example, can fashion their dreams 
    and lifetime careers on the possibility of useful 
    incoming signals from extraterrestrials--as I too, by 
    the way, dabbled in at NASA's Ames Research Center
    --I would rate some of these above delirious transpirations as less fanciful. It's really unfair to call 
    my efforts at finding solutions an exercise in 
    spreading false hopes. At least I'm trying as best I 
    can, And, yes, I remain hopeful.



    I WELCOME YOUR PERSONAL COMMENTS ON HOW BEST TO DEVELOP OUR FUTURE.


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