Fusion power won’t save us

“Using the Joint European Torus (JET) — a huge, donut-shaped machine known as a tokamak — the scientists sustained a record 69 megajoules of fusion energy for five seconds, using just 0.2 milligrams of fuel. That’s enough to power roughly 12,000 households for the same amount of time.”

Progress, yes, but incremental.

“And myriad challenges remain. Khan points out that the team used more energy to carry out the experiment than it generated, for example.”

The promise of fusion is “limitless energy.” If there’s net energy consumption, that’s not limitless. It’s not even commercializable.

“The record was announced the same day that the European Union’s climate and weather monitoring service, Copernicus, confirmed that the world has breached a global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius over a 12-month period for the first time.”

Two resources that are limited in addressing the climate crisis in the third decade of the 21st century are money and time. By 2050, the planet will be engulfed in resource wars, as hundreds of millions of people lose access to fresh water and arable land. Those people know who has resources. They won’t just lie down and die, they’ll come and take them. Time is very short.

Even if fusion power were available tomorrow and all fossil fuel consumption ceased, it’s already too late for conservation to prevent global climate catastrophe. The half-life of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 120 years. Meanwhile, loss of glaciers and sea ice decreases the earth’s albedo, further driving warming. Ocean warming and permafrost melting releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane clathrates and microbial action, which drives further warming.

The only way to avert disaster now is through massive financial investment in carbon capture and/or geoengineering. Are there risks associated with these technologies? Yes. But the risks of doing nothing to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas already in the air are much greater.

Fusion energy and climate change