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Sci Tech    H4'ed 1/3/21

Con Fusion Reigns

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Ellsberg said we could have settled for the A-Bomb, plenty sufficient in itself to bring about an omnicidal nuclear winter (and the end of planetary agriculture for at least 10 years), but Trinity physicist Edward Teller wanted to go further with the envelope and pushed the H-Bomb, a thermonuclear fusion device that requires an A-Bomb as an explosive in the warhead to get the temperature hotter than the sun to bring about fusion, and though the involved scientists giddily warned each other that testing the H-Bomb could start a chain reaction that would light the sky and ocean on fire, they went ahead anyway (reasoning that there was "only a 10% chance" of such a catastrophe). Only! Anyway, and thankfully, that's not what Schwartz was on about. Phew!

No, Schwartz was going on about the far daffier, but far safer, design of Cold Fusion, not Hot Fusion. Daffy because it's an illusion. His heady, excited piece that seemingly celebrates the audacity of hope and change reads like a press release from a think tank going back years ago -- like this one from MIT reported in The Engineer (UK), "New superconductors raise hope for fast development of compact fusion reactor." This sounds good, and the offered up motives seem 'noble' enough. A recent report on an MIT SPARC tokamak reactor reads, in part,

The world faces an increasingly urgent need for clean energy, as the effects of climate change are already manifesting and the existing portfolio of clean energy sources has not been deployed quickly enough to broadly reduce greenhouse gas emissions... Fusion is safe, energy-dense and dispatchable; produces no greenhouse gas emissions; and generates minimal radiological waste.

Yeah, sounds good, Oscar. But it also sounds totally desperate. And nuts.

Every once in a while the thought of cold fusion dances like sugar plum fairies in some scientist's head and it ends up getting press, such as in 1989 when two scientists at the University of Utah prematurely ruined promising careers by announcing through the Press, instead of through their peers, that they'd turned lead into gold. But it didn't happen, and it ain't gonna happen; it's bad science; what is referred to among the eggheads themselves as pathological science, AKA sympathetic magic, AKA Voodoo: To understand, believe (Nora Zeale Hurston). There's no need to go into how it works, because it doesn't, but Oscar explains it anyway

I'm more interested in the way the information around this subject is handled by Oscar (and other wags). His is essentially a dishonest piece, one that attempts to entice the reader into believing that there is a technology on the way that will save us from the ravages of Climate Change. There's not. We have, according to real science, until about 2030 (cup half empty) to 2050 (cup half full) before we reach a threshold where human intervention in changing the pattern of climate will be impossible and we're in survival mode, instead of doling out middle class lives mode with neoliberalism. Not counting a nuclear winter that will see us binding together like brooding Antarctic Attenborough penguins, we won't have any cold fusion any time soon, Oscar.

What the piece really seems to be about is a feel-good chump piece celebrating the change that's gonna come once Joe Biden raises his right hand and swears on a Bible he doesn't believe in to uphold the Office and stuff. Oscar inserts a couple of disturbing "facts," several graphs down in his piece, that suggest he's employing alchemy, implying that just because we're getting the lead out of the White House it automatically transforms the DC environs into gold. We see that, for instance, in the reference to the intention of the new Biden administration to spend $2Tn to fight Climate Change. First, he sets it up by telling the reader that the previous limitations on cold fusion have now begun to dissipate: "...the tide is changing. In Biden's $2tn plan, he named advanced nuclear technologies as part of the decarbonization strategy, the first time the Democrats have endorsed nuclear energy since 1972." f*ck Biden, just another sto ho.

First, such research is already underway (under Trump); Biden is continuing funding into advanced nuclear research, and not even that: it's more a plan to draw up potential avenues of research. This is far from a plan to roll out fusion plasma generators by decade's end. Second, in the same graph, is the reference to who is funding this boondoggle: "There is also significant investment coming from private sources, including some major oil and gas companies, who see fusion as a better long term pivot than wind and solar." Haven't they fucked things up enough? If their cold fusion investments worked, we'd have Middle East tensions over plasma everywhere, like we do now with oil (Afghanistan, Iraq, and, soon, Iran). Oil and Gas companies should be forbidden from providing leadership, and should be forced to hand over all of their money. Forced, I say. Oil and Gas are not Green friendly. No doubt, there will be blood. And cold transfusions.

Oscar's cold fusion piece is reminiscent of another one he wrote for the Environment section of the Guardian last April, "Could Microsoft's climate crisis 'moonshot' plan really work?" C'mon, Oscar, what do you think? It's Microsoft; their product is so shoddy that they are forever sending out massive involuntary updates to their operating systems. Plus, they keep adding backdoors to their systems, including processors within processors -- the latter they don't tell you about. In this scheme, Microsoft proposes to develop technology that sucks massive amounts of carbon out of the air -- I guess, like a giant catalytic converter -- and deposits it as solid state somewhere (anybody's guess). All I can picture is the sh*t hitting the fan.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Australia. His poetry, commentary, and reviews have appeared in publications in Oceania, Europe and the USA, such as Cordite, Morning Star, Hanging (more...)

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