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Energy, Science, Education: Issues and Interdependencies

29.07.2014 00:00 | 29.07.2014 00:00 | Просмотров: 35225 |

This article was written based on the presentation given by Alexei Mankovski at the international conference “Youth, Science, Innovation” that took place on April 21-23 2014 in the city of Kazan, Russia, and was attended by representatives of “New Youth Policy” from Canada and Germany.

The Mission of Science

When discussing any subject, it is essential to start by laying out the key concepts. Thus it only makes sense to start the discussion of a topic directly related to science (as an aggregate of social institutions) by answering a very important question: what is science and what role does it have in society?

Science is a means of controlling (managing) all areas of social activity and, respectively, science is a product of the society’s culture. Science is tasked with solving cultural problems and crises, within the conception (the long term goals and the means of realizing them) of a given culture. Thus the fundamental question is, “What should the mission of science be?” - what problems will it be aiming to solve, with what intentions. Only after addressing that question can we give the answer to the other question, “What should science be like?” - i.e. which methods and means can science use to reach its goals, and which it cannot.

Science will be shaped one way if it’s generally oriented towards generating profits for private corporations and individuals, and quite differently if it’s generally oriented towards developing the creative potential of each person, as well as that of humanity as a whole, while facilitating an ecologically safe and sustainable way of life. Moreover, if science is truly oriented towards welfare and development, then regardless of various good-willed declarations on the subject, humanity would not be continuously dwelling in a crisis, and most definitely would not be aggravating it.

So what is the general state of science today? A good indicator of that is the systemic crisis (ecological, financial, sociocultural) that exists today. It ensued from the commercialization of science, it’s orientation towards serving the all too common idea of maximizing profits at any cost. It is important to note that there is available public research in ecology and environmental protection, but it’s not in high demand, since politicians have the last word. Worldwide, at the state government level, economic growth is typically seen as a far greater priority than ensuring environmental safety and sustainability of the economy.

Nevertheless, it is vital to immediately begin the formulation and implementation of solutions to the ecological safety and sustainability of the global economy, since it is a long-term, complex process.

What needs to be done for that? Full (closed) production cycles - from production, to consumption, to recycling, repair, and reuse - must become the norm. This means technologies of waste-free production, where produced items can be fully recycled. This, however, will inevitably lead to higher energy requirements at the production stage, and a necessity to create an entire recycling industry, the creation and operation of which also requires additional energy. This leads to the basis of industrial production in a technological civilization - energy and the energy industry.

Ecology of the Energy Industry

For an ecologically safe increase in energy output and safe transition of existing production to more eco-friendly ways, we need to examine how energy industry impacts the environment. The main criterion of its environmental safety is the stability of ecosystems (preservation of biodiversity) in the succession of generations, as well as species’ disease statistics, including the human species. Keeping this criterion in mind, the ecology of the energy industry of a technical civilization has three aspects:

  • First — Environmental pollution from energy sources’ extraction and production, as well as from decomposition products from energy sources and power plants. These are currently the subject of attention of the majority of ecologists in the world, and has so far resulted in wide international implementation of low carbon emission, renewable energy sources - mainly solar, wind, geothermal energy.

  • Second — Unacceptable radiation levels from power plants and power-consuming devices: a variety of electromagnetic (including radioactive) and sound radiation. This aspect is often neglected or isn’t examined as closely as the first one. For example, infrasound radiated by wind turbines can influence a person’s psychological and physical well-being, but often is not taken into consideration when selecting locations for constructing such facilities [1]. The same issue applies to construction of power lines [2]. Additionally, the health effects of low power, high frequency technologies (such as wireless communication technologies GSM, 3-4G, LTE, Wi-Fi) are not well researched, and human health and safety standards for their use are either missing or have a recommendatory nature [3].

  • Third — Disturbance of natural energy flows by anthropogenic energy flows, that can lead to changes in climate, tectonics, and can ultimately result in the destruction of the current biosphere. This area is not well researched, but an example of such disturbance was discovered by Professor Rybnikov at the end of the 20th century. He conducted statistical analysis of heavy spacecraft (primarily space shuttles) launch data from the “Canaveral” site in Florida. In his study he demonstrated a positive correlation between the spacecraft launches, the rise of seismic activity and anomalous weather conditions in the continental US, Atlantic ocean and Europe. According to Rybnikov, energy and exhausts from the launches do not directly cause these changes, but serve as a trigger for bringing complex natural mechanisms out of balance. It is worth noting, that the total power of all generators in personal and commercial use far exceeds power output of a single space shuttle launch (though it also is more distributed). Thus this kind of influence should be examined more closely to avoid any harmful consequences.

 

Producing Eco-friendly Energy

Keeping the aforementioned environmental safety criterion in mind, there is a potential two level hierarchy for ecologically-safe energy production:

  • First level — primary power plants that don’t use environmentally harmful energy sources. Energy can be used directly or get safely stored. For example, energy could be used for fission of water into oxygen and hydrogen, since hydrogen is a completely clean fuel, and existing water electrolysis technologies are highly efficient (up to 95% [5]). Energy storage technologies are especially important considering the unstable and weakly predictable nature of currently available renewable electricity sources, such as wind and solar-powered generators.
  • Second level — use of the stored energy. Using hydrogen from the first level as an example, it can be used as fuel at the second level once it is extracted.       

The Role of Science

So how can the energy industry be developed in that direction? Its development, like the development of any other domain of human activity, has two primary directions:

  • First — creation and development of fundamental natural science theories which energy industry is based on, including the revision and improvement of existing theories. This involves physics, chemistry and other natural sciences.

  • Second — Invention and development of new technologies that rely on the existing scientific theories. This includes the search for energy sources, technologies of energy production, storage and transmission of energy from producers to consumers [6].

Some would say that these two directions are obvious for most. However, despite claims of dedication to the advance of science, there are plenty of cases when the dominating scientific views were not reevaluated for a long time, even in the presence of a solid alternative.

Here is an example from physics. The second law of thermodynamics states that it’s impossible to build a machine with efficiency coefficient equal to 1 (“perpetual motion machine of the second kind”) [7]. There are, however, alternative scientifically backed opinions about the second law of thermodynamics. More than a hundred years ago, the well-known Russian scientist K.E. Tsiolkovsky, relying on James Maxwell’s work on the behavior of gas in a gravitational field [8], provided a theoretical proof for the partial, rather than the absolute applicability of the second law of thermodynamics [9]. This lays doubt on the impossibility of building an energy source with efficiency equal to unity. To this day, Tsiolkovsky’s conclusions remain unchallenged and should be experimentally tested, but certainly not be simply ignored on the sole basis that his conclusions are “implausible”.

Another example of science-based, alternative view on one of the key postulates of physics: N.A. Kozyrev’s experiment with a reflecting telescope and a torsion balance that yielded results, which contradict the postulate stating that speed light cannot be surpassed [10].

There are also examples from the technology domain. For example, a fundamentally new method of electricity transmission, developed by the team led of academic D.S. Strebkov at the Russian Scientific-Research Institute of Agriculture Electrification. Their developments are based on Nikola Tesla’s inventions that originated back at the end of the 19th century. The technology uses a resonance-based method for energy transmission through a single wire, allowing for negligible losses in the conductor (~1% loss as compared to 5-6% losses in the common transmission methods that are in use today [11]). Of course, safety of these methods is not yet well understood, since they were never widely presented or discussed.

The Role of Education

Presented above were some of the science-based alternative views, which were never properly discussed or examined by the scientific community, despite having been known for a very long time. So what really prevents the timely review and revision of the dominating scientific views and theories? The answer lies in the nature of the education system, since it is education, especially primary and secondary education, that forms the worldview of the people that eventually become members of the scientific community. The current model of education emphasizes memorizing and reciting facts, while the scientific theories are taught as unquestionable truths.

That approach completely neglects the fact that throughout human history, many fundamental scientific postulates went through revolutionary changes, as it happened in the time of Galileo. Moreover, this type of education results in narrow knowledge scope of the graduates it produces, rendering them incapable of adequately evaluating the consequences of their work on the life of society at large. So the implemented solutions, while solving a specific technical problem, often breed unforeseen ecological problems, including environmental pollution. The most vivid example of that is in fact related to energy production - technology of shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing.

 

An alternative approach to education would have the goal of providing students with a holistic worldview, where an individual with a narrow specialization would:

  • be well-rounded in his/her knowledge of the world and strive to maintain a holistic perspective of processes in the society and the biosphere (systems approach);
  • be able to adequately foresee the big-picture of the consequences of his/her actions;
  • be able to think creatively and freely, and, being aware of his/her own subjectivity - perception biases, attitudes, stereotypes - be able to reflect on and overcome it.

This is especially relevant today, as many emerging sciences integrate several knowledge domains. The merging of different sciences happens as human thought advances towards seeing the surrounding world as a tightly connected web of mutually influencing processes, which resulted from the emerging need for constant re-learning due to an environment where information is perpetually changing. Logically, this integration of sciences goes through the stage of developing a high-order theory, which allows to uniformly describe any process in any domain. Conceptual apparatuses of these theories are also languages for interdisciplinary communication, and can be interpreted as “bridges” for mutual understanding among professionals from different industries and science domains. Consequently, it is those theories that should be studied, developed and implemented on all levels of the education system.

Thus, changes introduced in the education system can exert influence on science, which would consequently impact the energy industry, making it environmentally safe and sustainable, ensuring ecological safety of the global economy.

In conclusion, it’s important to reiterate that the nature of economic activity is dependent on human needs. These needs have moral roots and can have a natural, demographically-based character, as well as an artificial, degradational character [12]. A good example of what happens to a civilization whose technology advanced far ahead of its moral foundations was portrayed in the Soviet movie “Kin-dza-dza” (1987) [13]. That is why psychology of personal development has a key role, since psychological activity of an individual serves as the basis for his/her activity in society, and ultimately defines the person’s needs. Consequently, psychology of personal development should be given special attention when discussing the necessary changes to the system of education, since personal development is the foundation of social evolution.


[1] — Wind turbine noise, annoyance and self-reported health and well-being in different living environments. Eja Pedersen, Kerstin Persson Waye. 2007. http://oem.bmj.com/content/64/7/480.short

[2] — For example, in the USA there are no norms limiting the proximity of being or living close to power lines. Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) Radiation from Power Lines. US Environmental Protection Agencyhttp://www.epa.gov/radtown/power-lines.html

The situation is the same with electric transport, the influence of which is not considered, although partially studied. Ecoanalysis Group. Moscow, 2011.http://www.ecoanaliz.ru/ecodata/2-ecocommon/79-electrotransport.html

[3] EHH Inc. The Cell Phone Problem http://www.ehhi.org/reports/cellphones/cell_phone_report_EHHI_Feb2012.pdf

[4] “Knowledge is Power”, № 5, 1991. Doctor of technical sciences S. Rybnikov. “Sledgehammering the crystal vault” («Знание — сила», № 5, 1991, д.т.н. C. Рыбников, «Кувалдой по хрустальному своду»)

[5] A comprehensive review on PEM water electrolysis, 2013. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

[6] In a more long term perspective, it should be mentioned that the demand for different technologies will depend on the urbanization paradigm. If a settlement has 5-10 thousand people or less, than the generation of energy can be done locally. This removes the necessity for building long power lines, and is also safer with respect to protection from natural disasters: if every settlement has its own autonomous energy generation system, its shut-off will affect a maximum of 5-10 thousand people, not millions as the case is with large cities requiring huge energy resources. However, the town-planning and settlement paradigm is subordinated to science, which is in turn subordinated to dominant ideas. This is another example of the conceptual conditionality of science.

[7] Second law of Thermodynamics

[8] J. Clerk Maxwell. «On the dynamical theory of gases», 1867

[9] K. E. Tsiolkovsky. “The second law of thermodynamics”. 1914. (К.Э. Циолковский. «Второе начало термодинамики», 1914)

[10] N.A. Kozyrev, “Astronomic observations by means of physical properties of time.” Selected works. 1991. («Астрономические наблюдения посредством физических свойств времени» Козырев Н.А., Избранные Труды. 1991.)

[11] D.S. Strebkov, A.I. Nekrasov. “Resonant methods for Electric power Transmission and Application”. Moscow, 2008.

[12] Demographically-based needs — A type of an individual’s needs, the satisfaction of which facilitates the life of individuals and their families, as well as personal development (food, clothing, housing, education, social services, free time, etc).

[13] “Kin-dza-dza is a film about two people from the USSR being unexpectedly transported to another galaxy, onto planet Pluke, where a strict form of oligarchy rules. The civilization on the planet is highly developed technologically, possessing teleportation, time travel, and advanced weapon technology. But the planet is devastated ecologically and socially as a result of the depraved moral state of its inhabitants; in particular - technologies of using water as fuel have turned the planet into a huge desert. 

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