By this point in the earth’s history, we know that our dependence on coal, oil, and other fossil fuels is going to drive us to a point where we completely run out of them. One look at the bright lights of Las Vegas or the skyline of a major city is a reminder that as we place more people on the planet, the need for some form of sustainable energy is going to increase.
The fifth episode of Breakthrough (seen on the National Geographic Channel tonight at 9 PM/8 Central) seeks to tackle this issue as director Akiva Goldsman (writer of the Academy Award-winning film A Beautiful Mind) presents a number of energy visionaries who are committed to ‘spinning the wheel’ in ways that will be beneficial to our kids and grandkids. And believe me, these ways are not just ordinary run-of-the mill ideas generated in a boardroom. As an example, one gentleman wants to produce power using, of all things, man-made tornadoes (they have incredible power, you know). He even has a working prototype set up at a university in Canada!
Or how about a massive solar array of 10,000 panels? That doesn’t sound too visionary—after all, solar arrays already exist and people are increasingly putting them on their houses. Using those panels to focus light on a six-hundred-foot-tall tower filled with salt in an attempt to create sustainable, recyclable, and renewable energy that competes with a normal power plant? That’s the stuff of science fiction come to real life! Some people in Iceland are even trying to dig for geothermal energy in at depths deep enough to reach liquid magma! Others are working on creating a miniature sun on the planet using fusion (of all things) and creating clean drinking water from a brewery’s organic wastewater. That’s some creative stuff—and the exact thing we need to see as fossil fuels become scarcer in number.
At the very least, Goldsman opens the viewer’s eyes to what people can do to make energy in this day and age. He offers a physical demonstration of each concept using a group of actors to explain how energy can be extracted from them and conveys a positive message that these options can be possibilities in the future. They take money and time—two things most visionaries don’t have (think of Moses—he knew about the Promised Land and took people to its threshold, but never actually got to make it there himself). The wheels of ingenuity and creativity in science are continuing to spin and will bring us closer and closer to the goal of energy self-reliance—one revolution at a time.
Sometimes an answer to a problem isn’t always an easy solution, nor is it the option people expect. When it arrives in a different way, it can make a lasting impression on others. Each of the methods of producing energy in this episode of Breakthrough are cutting-edge and out of the ordinary. If one ultimately succeeds on a large scale, its effects will be quickly noticed by people. As a biblical example, take the challenge presented by Jesus in John 6: a group of 5,000 men (plus women and children) have been listening to him teach but are hungry.
After Jesus tells his disciples to give them something to eat, they admit to having only five loaves (pieces of flatbread) and two small fish. Jesus blesses the meager meal, and suddenly everyone there has an all-you-can-eat feast. You can bet that people took notice of that—in fact, they wanted to make him their earthly king after the event! In the case of the energy visionaries, I hope their methods work on a massive scale—the world will be a better place for their creativity. Their dedication to making the wheel turn will be something I can tell my grandkids about one day.