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Opinion  

Avoiding new Dark Age

By David Suzuki

If you own a smartphone, you have more computing power at your fingertips than NASA scientists had when they put people on the moon in 1969.

Technology moves in leaps and bounds. Every day, products are becoming smaller, faster, more efficient and accessible to a greater number of people.

Despite the phenomenal advances in everything from communications to transportation, many people still believe the only way to get energy is to burn fossil fuels, as we’ve been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Age almost 300 years ago. In fact, evidence suggests people have been burning coal for heat as far back as 3490 BC in China.

Naysayers have always been with us. At various times, people have argued that humans would never be able to cross oceans in steam-powered ships or fly in airplanes, let alone send spacecraft beyond the solar system.

Many technological leaps stoked fears, often valid, that new inventions would put people out of work. The growing automobile industry in the early 20th century killed jobs in the horse-and-buggy business.

We’ve long been using coal, oil and gas for heat and energy for good reasons. They’re incredibly powerful and valuable resources that both provide and store energy. 

Despite their efficiency and cost, fossil fuels aren’t better energy sources than solar, wind and tide, even though renewables require separate storage for large-scale deployment. Fossil fuels pollute the environment, cause illness and death, accelerate global warming and damage or destroy ecosystems. They’ll also eventually run out. They’re already more difficult and expensive to obtain. Easily accessible sources are becoming depleted, spurring increased reliance on damaging and dangerous unconventional sources and methods such as oilsands, deep-sea drilling and fracking.

Fortunately, clean energy technologies are improving daily. Wind and solar are coming down in cost, as are energy storage systems. Electrical grid management systems are changing with advances in computer science. Innovative ideas like biomimicry are showing great promise in the energy field with research into areas like artificial photosynthesis. 

Embracing science, innovation and progressive ideas gives us hope for a healthier future instead of relying on outdated and destructive ways of generating energy. 

We’re well into the 21st century. If humans want to make it to the 22nd, we must change course. 

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.



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