The Human Element
Aside from the many scientific and technological issues discussed in the workshop, many participants said that, in the end, much of what happens in the future will ultimately depend on the actions of humanity. Many of the existing technologies available today could at least partially solve some energy problems. However, some participants noted that the implementation of those technologies is often driven by large political or economic forces. Education was discussed as one way to address this issue.
The impacts of lifestyle and energy use are also a huge factor in addressing the energy issue. Some participants asked: Should everything be left up to free markets, or does there need to be a set of stricter regulatory policies? There was acknowledgment among many participants that societal values need to be influenced to change the way energy is used, and to understand the importance of conserving energy. A participant commented that “we have to be careful what we implement, because once we are set on a course, it may or may not be reversible.” For example, once U.S. farmers are paid subsidies to grow corn, will it be possible to go from corn ethanol to a different product?
Atsumi, S., W. Higashide, and J. C. Liao. 2009. Direct photosynthetic recycling of carbon dioxide to isobutyraldehyde. Nat. Biotechnol. 27(12):1177-1180.