Can Human Ingenuity Save Us?

There used to be a television soap opera called–if I remember accurately–“As the World Turns.” Today, an all-too-real soap opera might be called “As the World Burns,” and those of us who believe in science and evidence have no choice but to watch–and worry about what will happen.

It seems increasingly clear that the outcome will depend upon whether we can avert calamity long enough to allow new technologies to moderate climate change and avoid the worst of the predicted outcomes. And promising technologies are being developed.

Just a couple of recent reports give a sense of the various efforts to provide food and energy while reducing global warming. From Fast Company, we learn that

Inside bioreactors in a Vienna-based lab, the startup Arkeon Biotechnologies is reimagining farming: Using a single-step process of fermentation, it’s turning captured CO2 into ingredients for food. Unlike other fermentation processes—such as brewing beer—it doesn’t start with sugars from plants. Instead, the company uses a microorganism with the unique ability to directly transform CO2 into the building blocks for carbon-negative protein.
“The unique feature of the microorganism we’re using is that it’s producing all of the amino acids that we need in human nutrition,” says Gregor Tegl, the CEO of Arkeon, which just raised a seed round of $7 million from investors, including Synthesis Capital and ReGen Ventures…. 

Because the fermentation process also works without any inputs like sugar, it can avoid the environmental impact of growing and harvesting crops. “Basically, it has the potential to bypass agriculture,” says Michael Mitsakos, principal at Evig Group. That efficiency will make the amino acids cheaper than what’s on the market now, he says. Arkeon has also calculated that using its bioreactors to produce protein takes 99% less land than traditional agriculture—potentially creating the opportunity for farmland to turn into forests to help fight climate change—and uses 0.01% of the water in traditional farming. Since the production process uses captured CO2 and few other resources, the ingredients are carbon negative.

When it comes to the world’s vast appetite for energy, we are seeing in real time how important it is to divest ourselves of reliance on fossil fuels-and not just to address climate change. If the West no longer needed oil and gas from Russia, one of Putin’s most potent weapons would vanish.  A Ukrainian climate scientist was recently quoted on the connection between climate change and war:

Burning oil, gas and coal is causing warming and impacts we need to adapt to. And Russia sells these resources and uses the money to buy weapons. Other countries are dependent upon these fossil fuels, they don’t make themselves free of them. This is a fossil fuel war. It’s clear we cannot continue to live this way, it will destroy our civilization.”

We are closer to weaning ourselves from fossil fuels– by accessing geothermal energy.

Geothermal energy resources are virtually immeasurable . One estimate is that the heat located just within the first 6.25 miles of the Earth’s surface would yield 50,000 times more energy than the world’s oil and natural gas supplies. If we can tap into it, it’s renewable and nearly free of emissions. The problem has been in reaching it, due to the immense heat encountered in the deep subsurface. (That heat has melted conventional drilling bits, among other things.) New, highly advanced drilling technologies are “pushing the envelope of what can be achieved in conventional drilling operations.”

The linked article describes one such advanced drilling process; an article from Treehugger describes another. 

But Quaise Energy, a startup spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is applying new drilling technology to make it possible to get geothermal energy anywhere. They don’t want to lily dip at 6.5 miles, either, but they want to go down 12 miles to where it is even hotter (930 degrees Fahrenheit) and anywhere in the world—perhaps right next to existing generating plants already attached to the grid.

Rather than using drill bits that will wear out or melt, they drill with microwaves. It vaporizes boreholes through rock and provides access to deep geothermal heat without complex downhole equipment. It’s described as a “radical new approach to ultra-deep drilling.”

Quaise’s long-term plan is to approach power plants running on fossil fuels and offer to drill geothermal fields customized to match their existing equipment. The fields sit on a footprint 100 to 1,000 times less than what’s needed for solar or wind. Once hooked up, it’s basically business as usual: turbines create electricity and feed it to the grid—and our homes, cars, and businesses—via existing infrastructure.

These and multiple other new technologies are enormously promising, but even if most of them come to fruition, their ability to halt planetary warming will take time.

I sure hope we have that time.


  1. YES – The smart people may save us if the dumb people don’t blow us all up. Fingers Crossed.

  2. There is one empire building in the world, and it’s called the USA. Instead of using science to find new ways to kill people and spy on people, maybe we can use it to feed people and make life more leisurely and happy for the few short years we live on this planet.

    Wouldn’t that be a neat concept?

    One world. One people. One government. No borders.

    What could we do with all the excess money that we waste on the military-industrial complex?

    Is that too simplistic?

    I don’t think so.

  3. I have often wondered how different the world would be today if the U.S. had adopted the idea of energy independence back when Jimmy Carter was trying to persuade us to do so. We wold have had all those years of research and development, infrastructure, and product development.
    While we cannot go back in time (yet), the question is what kind of effort are we willing to make now?

  4. Yeah, but does it taste good?

    We would be well advised to move cautiously and to make sure we can deal with unintended consequences of deep drilling. We didn’t do that when we started tracking and spent a lot of time and energy telling people that their faucets weren’t really on fire. The same thing happened with atomic energy. It’s great, but we still haven’t been able to deal with the results of radiation poisoning and we really don’t have the technology to deal with spent fuel rods. We bury them. Now maybe we’ll dig some of them up when we drill for geothermal energy.

  5. Can human ingenuity return crops to America’s farmlands across this country which used to provide healthy, delicious foods. I ride past hundreds of acres of empty farmlands southeast of Indianapolis’ residential areas; I throw out tasteless or bitter and tough produce weekly from supermarkets. Technologies have taken over natural production of delicious, healthy foods we used to put on our tables daily; soaring cost of foods today prevent many families from buying what is offered, picture perfect fruits and vegetables which often taste like eating the pictures. Chemicals rather than natural fertilizers produce what pleases the eye; younger generations have no idea what real food tastes like. Human ingenuity decided to pay our farmers NOT to produce and orders foods from foreign countries and ship it here; the workers who harvest the crops in other lands are paid no more than the immigrants who once earned their living harvesting crops in America.

    It is human ingenuity that has developed our heating and cooling and the source of physical comforts and faster travel which has destroyed our environment, increasing Climate Change via Global Warming. Science is not the know all, be all and the answer to all problems we face today; science is technology and from the produce in our markets it tastes like crap and we are told it is more nutritious. You can’t “bypass agriculture” and produce healthy, edible foods.

    Let’s all watch the movie “Soylent Green” and really hear the end where human technology found a way to feed people by feeding them people.

  6. Disruptive technologies can save us or destroy us and this one is worth watching closely. But make no mistake, nearly ALL of them start in the labs of major universities doing basic and then applied research using funds supplied by our federal government. There’s nothing else like it in the world and we’ve had a succession of GQP administrations over the last 40+ years and 22-25 state governments committed to the idea that this model is unacceptable.

    They must be defeated and politically marginalized. Forever. Sorry, I’m not a “meet in the middle” type when it comes to TFG fascist cultists.

  7. Archaeology has demonstrated that humans have always used up their resources, casually discarded their wastes and moved on. That was when there only a couple of million humans roaming around a seemingly endless landscape. Now there are almost 8 billion of us and there’s no place left to go.

    As with tribal politics, humans operate on a 200,000 year old instinct-driven brain. The technology is perversely a sop to using up ALL the fossil fuels, because that wasteful brain will assume that technology farming will save us from starvation. Meanwhile lunatics – living out the role of ultimate alpha male in their tribes – have their fingers hovering over the nuclear launch buttons. If one of them pushes it (Putin is starting to enable nuclear idiots like himself in Korea, India and Pakistan), all this stuff will be moot.

    Isn’t it interesting to note that all the religions who say God has made man in his own image are ignoring the obvious behavior patterns of the only species known that willfully and eagerly sets up the scenario for its own extinction. So much for glory.

  8. Technology may help solve the worlds problems, but human intelligence is what needs dramatic development. We’re still being held back by pre-scientific belief systems. Teach epistemology beginning at 8th grade.

  9. Geothermal energy research may have value, but why aren’t we expanding access to solar and wind energy? To my knowledge neither of those causes much environmental harm in the production of solar panels or windmills. Something tells me that drilling deep enough into the earth to access geothermal heat for mass use could cause massive damage to our planet – potentially much worse than oil and gas drilling.

    Was it just two years ago that the Indiana legislature drastically cut back on tax credits for installing solar panels? I believe they also made it so individuals with excess solar energy could no longer sell it back to electricity suppliers at retail prices.

    Personally, I vote for making it financially feasible for citizens to purchase their own solar or wind systems. Citizens with enough land to install systems that produce more energy than they can use could then let others access their power for a reasonable fee. Larger energy farms could be built by investors/corporations to sell their energy to city utilities.

  10. I used to live near several geothermal plants in Northern California, but these were “shallow” drills, only going around 3 miles deep to release high temperature steam to run turbines. There are nearly 30 of these plants in the area supplying power to the larger energy firms of CA. This is obviously low hanging fruit compared to 12 mile drills, but those plants have been operational for decades. But there has been one side effect which they have dealt with. Good, clean energy, however. Let’s hear it for Yankee Ingenuity!

  11. For Patmcc: You are absolutely right. We can change the world today – – it would be tough, I know – – but we lack the will! I’ll power down my computer now and put the laundry on a rack to dry. I’m not kidding. Thanks to all the smart people out there who are genuinely working to save us.

  12. Downer morning…

    Three killers of ingenuity:

    1. “Unintended consequences” – see the Internet
    2. Thirst for greed and power – see the Internet
    3. The 21st Century culture of “me”, not “we” – see the internet

  13. With the recent Indiana state legislative session trying to create more business friendly policies for solar and wind the NIMBY faction swung into high gear. The debate was interesting, but there was one farmer that was considering flipping 1000 acres to solar. He said it make more sense to put in solar panel because now I can harvest the benefits of sunlight year round, rather like I was doing before with crops that only used the sunlight for six month out of the year.

    I don’t think I can see the unintended consequences of geothermal. It was not the heat from burning the coal that has warmed the planet, but the CO2 from the result of burning the coal. So, releasing geothermal heat in the form of steam should not be too much of a problem. What might be the problem is how places like Russia or even companies that depend on people needing fossil fuels react to the changing geopolitical landscape.

  14. Take a look at the amount of pollution caused by producing cryptocurrency/cryptoart ? And how Putin and oligarchs will use such to avoid sanctions/make billions?

  15. Good morning Todd, and good morning Vern. I have to agree with you 100% on your comment Todd, wouldn’t it be wonderful? Unfortunately man does not have the capability to accomplish this En Masse.


    In some ways mankind was much more advanced millennia ago then now. The library at Alexandria contained technology that was borrowed or rediscovered many centuries later.

    The Antikythera Mechanism was an analog computer, solar clock, calendar and positioning device. This was developed close to 2 millenia ago. The Baghdad battery is another amazing piece of work from 2200 years ago. What did the ancients use a battery for? In Egypt they were doing brain surgery well over 2,000 years ago. All was lost in the ravaging of Alexandria.


    Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian in the first century CE wrote of Adam’s sin, “Adams refusal to acknowledge God when he was being called, was evidence of an evil conscience.”

    The historian Josephus used the word “Synei’desis” which literally translated from Greek means having knowledge of something with one’s self or co-knowledge.

    Jesus Christs younger brother James was an excellent teacher and of course knew his brother well. Or I should say half brother. In his letter, he stated: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone. But each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn sin, when it has been carried out, brings forth death.

    This is the point of being a Free Moral Agent or expressing Free Will. You can use it to have a decent life, or you can use it to be nefarious. You can use it to love your neighbor, or you can use it to bomb them out of existence. There are no Automatons, and every human has a choice. A choice with consequence.

    Read the book of “Judges,” and you can see what a conscience and/or a lack of conscience accomplishes. In the end, it doesn’t turn out well. There are no atheists in a foxhole, and when things got bad, Israelites begged for help. When they received it and removed their yoke of oppression, within a generation they were back doing the same old things. And then crying for help again, over and over and over.

    We might think that’s stupid, but, again, that’s free will! And, there’s a consequence for ignoring it for personal desire or gain.

  16. Another positive develpment are small nuclear reactors. Tennessee Valley Authority is working on that is on the large side of small and uses existing technology, but much simplified, but still containing control mechanisms. But there are several other designes that are self regulating by the basic design of the reactor, even to the point of no moving parts. With these reactors the reaction rate is controlled by the amount of energy beind drawn from the reactor. There is a turbine that uses the heat to generate electricity, and if the turbine breaks down and stops, no energy is being drawn from thr reactor, so the reaction simply stops. One of them even runs on spent uranium fuel, in the long run taking care of our spent uranium fuel problem and generating energy at the same time. Another is being developed by the Gates Foundation. These are smaller reactors that might power a small town or large community.

  17. Thanks, John. I understand that you are a Biblical scholar, but this conscience you mentioned seems to go out the window when wrongful people gain the leverage to kill the other tribe. What does the NEW Testament say about that? Yes, the Old Testament is full of God’s wrath and wanton destruction of mankind. Perhaps the writers of those “events” tried to explain that humans couldn’t possibly be that self-destructive.

    Clearly, they are.

  18. Hey Vern,

    Thanks! What I mentioned, is that Christ said to love your neighbor, love god, and even love your enemy! In the old testament, the Sanhedrin misinterpreted the Mosaic law to claim neighbors were only your Jewish next door neighbor, and not the rest of humanity. The Old and New testament constantly talks about giving your enemy water and helping to release your enemy’s beast of burden if it falls under it’s load. What Christ preached came from the Old testament for the most part. Of course there were changes in the dogma, but, the disciples and apostles had not compiled the Bibles Greek scriptures until after the death of John of Potmos, around 95 CE.

    The major point also is that mankind really was probably more intellectual millennia ago than they are now. The inventions that came from the ancient world, including the Water Screw and Aqueducts, indoor plumbing and bathrooms, didn’t come into use till many many centuries later.

    And one of the huge problems is some of the commenters you’ve seen the past couple of days spouting so-called truth that is non-existent! Claiming to know scripture better than scripture, lol! That’s what causes the problem with the average person. Because so many are out there peddling BS as factual evidence. There’s a lot of bigger things going on than just that, but it’s going to lead to a conflagration of events which will cause great angst and despair. When everything seems to maybe wind down a little bit, it’s going to be like smoldering embers that get a fresh burst of oxygen, and it’s going to explode!

    If you go back a few years, I used to talk about, if it’s time, it’s time!

    Maybe it is time, you should write a book about it Vern, I’ll definitely read it.

  19. Yes, Peggy, I have often thought of that, as well. then, along came St.Reagan, who dismantled the solar panels Carter had put on the WH, and
    wound up making us 79% dependent on foreign sources of oil, despite his “plan” to do the opposite.
    Patrick, science is neutral, it is humans who decide which science/tolls to use. Big companies often buy up new technology for the sole purpose
    of burying it, and continuing as usual.
    “Vernon – awesome last paragraph in your comment” Ditto!!! “Patriot” elimination cheered on in Nevada…sick bastards!
    Politics funded by dark money is going to slow down any American efforts to use the ingenuity!
    The Reagan and, now, Trump, legacies are more toxic than loosed radiation!

  20. Vern,
    By the way, did you see the bulletin from Homeland security?

    They actually said to keep an emergency bag close, your medicine, your identification papers, some food, some water, and cash. They claim there’s no obvious credible threat for either Cyber attack or possibly worse, but they also said to remain vigilant and be prepared to move if you have to. They also said to keep your vehicles gas tank full! Not an overly comforting thought, but they usually don’t come out with stuff willy-nilly. So somebody has an inkling somewhere.

  21. Can human ingenuity save us? Absolutely! Will we allow it to do so? That is more questionable.

    Every week I read Science and thumb through articles outside of my field: new improved batteries, better solar cells, truly recyclable polymers, coatings for homes the reflect heat when it is hot and change color to retain heat as the temperature drops, microbes to help reclaim poor soils, devices to draw water from desert air, less energy intensive chemical syntheses, and on and on.

    Will those who profit from the status quo stifle these potential boons to humanity? Will our narrow vision do similar harm? or both? As one example, following on Mitch’s comment on Carter vs. Reagan – we seem to insist upon large solar farms, whereas panels on every home would greatly REDUCE our reliance on other energy sources – but it wouldn’t be 100% and it wouldn’t make the energy companies richer. We don’t even talk about that possibility.

    Even Sheila cited a discussion about geothermal set next to power plants. A good replacement, but a friend installed geothermal for heating her home in Warfleigh a decade ago. We need to learn to think big and small and to accept that many “partial” solutions combined may go a long way toward achieving the goal.

  22. March 14, 2022
    Mark the date when Todd posted a comment, that word for word, could have been typed by yours truly. I’m stunned into silence. Well done.

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