Eric Drexler on global warming

rainbowFor this year’s Edge Question “What will change everything?” Eric Drexler’s answer is simultaneously depressing and heartening:

In the bland words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “only in the case of essentially complete elimination of emissions can the atmospheric concentration of CO2 ultimately be stabilised at a constant [far higher!] level.” This heroic feat would require new technologies and the replacement of today’s installed infrastructure for power generation, transportation, and manufacturing. This seems impossible. In the real world, Asia is industrializing, most new power plants burn coal, and emissions are accelerating, increasing the rate of increase of the problem.

Drexler dismisses the “magic nanotechnology” trope and suggests what technological developments could do for us:

According to fiction and pop culture, it seems that all tiny machines are robots made of diamond, and they’re dangerous magic — smart and able to do almost anything for us, but apt to swarm and multiply and maybe eat everything, probably including your socks.

A solar array area, that if aggregated, would fit in a corner of Texas, could generate 3 terawatts. In the course of 10 years, 3 terawatts would provide enough energy remove all the excess carbon the human race has added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution began. So far as carbon emissions are concerned, this would fix the problem.

Drexler has further discussion of his essay on his blog, Metamodern.

[at with further comment at Drexler’s blog][image from ktylerconk on flickr]

One thought on “Eric Drexler on global warming”

  1. One residential KwH costs about 10K$ to install. [] A single solar watt, wholesale will go for under 4$. High end US-ian consumers burn through 8-12Kwh 24/7 (!). A brazilian uses about 1Kwh. The world currently generates 16+ Trillion Kw or equivalent. So can I conclude that about five to ten ‘wars on terror’ (aimingfor 1 watt = 1 euro) -waged by the entire world, not just by a single rogue hyperpower- will more or less fix this (and has the added bonus of sending the saudi back into tents) issue?

    That is about 1000KwH per m2 at the equator, optimal conditions….. Hmmmm I can see solar farms displacing normal farms in the thirties, especially if we can afford continuing growth by then.


    As calculated by the researchers, the total impervious surface area of the 48 states and District of Columbia is approximately 112,610 square kilometers [43,480 square miles], and, for comparison, the total area of the state of Ohio is 116,534 square kilometers [44,994 square miles].

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