Driving through Amagansett on a windy morning, I happened to look up and see, just behind the Amagansett Farmers Market, this great metal windmill looming 60 feet up above the landscape. Its blades turned grandly in the wind, providing power to the farmers market, I suppose, and, in that indirect way where excess electricity is backed up to the power grid, to the rest of the community.
Free electric power, I thought. Is that windmill new? How come I haven’t noticed it before? Oh, I know, I said to myself. It’s because I wear a hat. I don’t usually look up. So I drove on.
This encounter with this great windmill, however, got me thinking about what is slowly becoming the most riveting problem of this next generation—the polluting of the atmosphere and the attempt to provide clean power so people like me (and you) can drive by in our cars and get to where we’re going.
About 10 years ago, I recall, it was announced that a solution to the polluting of the atmosphere was at hand, because some scientist had just developed a car grille that could gobble up pollutants as you drove along and convert them into harmless material. It was an astonishing development. You’d blow carbon and smoke out the back of your car. But the car behind you would gobble it up. This would save the earth. And it surely would have, if it had ever been heard from again. It wasn’t, though. Apparently there was a flaw.
This was 15 years after the amazing discovery by some scientists in Utah that energy could be created from nuclear fusion. Unlike nuclear fission, no harmful radiation was created. Also, it was cheap. It was the answer to nuclear power. We were saved. Well, it turned out, there was a flaw in their mathematics, so that didn’t work out either.
It was also 15 years after scientists began warning us that carbon in the atmosphere was increasing, that the Industrial Revolution was what had caused it, and that temperatures were rising.
I thought at that time I heard about the car grille, well, thank goodness, everybody is on the case. Somewhere along the line here there is going to be a solution to this problem. It will come along.
After that, however, no further announcements were made. It was as if our governments and research laboratories had simply turned their backs on this problem.
We needed this one thing. But now nobody was looking for it. Why is this? We have our heads in the sand.
Well, I think I have come up with something. And it starts with this windmill.
We have wind, lots of wind. We have our 11 old 18th-century wooden windmills, each of which was once fitted with canvas on its sails to turn a gear and create the energy to grind corn into flour for the community. Now we had these new ones. We could build fields of these new windmills on our farmland.
Would people object? Well, they would have to choose. On the one hand, they could choose no windmills and massive flooding and billions of dollars in damage from the melting of the ice caps and the extreme weather conditions leading to the collapse of western civilization. On the other hand, we could have unsightly windmills but keep our cars, planes, trains, video games, tweets and our way of life. This is not such a hard choice.
Then we have water power. We are surrounded by water here. The tides rise and fall and it’s possible to build underwater power generators that work off the rising and falling of the tides.
The surf races in toward shore, the waves creating huge amounts of energy that can be harnessed with other machinery pressing against the surge, once again creating electric power. It’s quite do-able.
But will it all work? As I have thought this through further, though, I think it just might not. We’ve all been on sailboats. If you sail behind another sailboat that is catching the wind, you fall farther behind that boat because the wind in your sail is lessened because some of it is being caught by the boat in front of you.
In other words, if we make a huge international effort to place windmills all over the planet to harness the wind, we will be successful, but only until we have brought the wind to a standstill. Above that, there is simply calmness. And nobody harnesses calmness.
The same is true, I am afraid, about wave power. If you have enough underwater machinery to harness the wave energy, you will come to a point where the oceans will simply be calm. So that will be that. And we’ll have hell to pay with the surfers.
You try to think something up now. I’ve given it my best shot, which is more than I can say for all the great minds of science around the world that have turned their backs on this problem.
It has also occurred to me now that if we gobble up all the wind, we might cause the earth to turn slower. This could be an even bigger disaster. Terrible.
So what do you come up with?