It’s all a question of energy…?

Salmon have a very fine nose for the scent of water – they smell, so to speak, the minerals that are rinsed out. They look in the sea, where it smells so similar to where they came from. And when they find the big stream, they swim after it – inspired and possessed by the one idea. They mate, spawn – and then the inevitable happens – after three days they are all dead – strictly according to genetic program.

But there are researchers who do not believe in the genetic program of dying. They looked at spawning and dissected some salmon after laying their eggs. They found out that the salmon died from all the things that we generally die from – stress. Cardiovascular and hormonal disorders, everything that causes us problems here.

And then the researchers did something completely crazy. Next year, after spawning, they packed the salmon into a container and flew them back into the Atlantic – and before they released the salmon, they stuck a red tag into the salmon’s tail. After a year, the researchers looked again and found salmon with a red tail tag on the arriving salmon. Salmon that shouldn’t have been there, because according to the program every salmon dies within three days after spawning. The reason for this is banal – the salmon are as similar to us. We have a very firm idea of what matters and so does the salmon. And then the salmon only ever makes sure that it reaches this goal. And when it reaches the top of the upper reaches of the river and mates, it’s the first time it’s looked at for weeks. He looks around and sees where he has landed. 20 cm shallow water, only salmon everywhere, nothing to eat – no perspective, stress and then the end.

What can we learn from salmon when we look at our unresolved global problems – energy, food, climate? We need to think before we swim up. If we want to live in a peaceful world in the year 2050, the question of humanity’s fate, the question of whether we have enough energy available – is sufficient for 10 billion people. Ultimately, all our problems can be traced back to the question of energy. If we have enough energy, we always have enough water when we need it, because if nothing else is possible, we can always produce enough water through seawater desalination. And if we have enough energy, we can produce food in the third dimension on the facades of skyscrapers. So the ultimate question in a rich world is the energy question. But only if the energy is cheap and available to all is a world in peace and without terror possible. The question then is what energy will or can it be? Solutions such as Desertec (solar energy from the desert) or GeoPower (the use of the earth’s heat resources at a depth of 10 km) have good innovative opportunities – with continental networks that transport energy over long distances with little loss – organised in international cooperation worldwide.

But there are also many people in the world of renewable energies who do not like this global, cooperative way because they have a very strong local focus and because they would like to have an energy system that operates best regionally. You can wish for a lot, but the question remains whether this is an adequate solution for the whole world. In particular, the question arises from the perspective of a country like Germany. On the one hand, we are world export champions – but on the other hand, an world export champion urgently needs to import something because it doesn’t work well if one always has surpluses and the other can’t sell anything.

Energy is one prerequisite, a healthy environment another, that we do not suffer the fate of salmon after our arrival at the upper reaches of the river. We must therefore solve another challenge on the way there.

Today, we already have the difficulty that the use of fossil energy generates the climate problem – and the climate problem, if it is successful, can lead to famines around the globe – with all the consequences. We must therefore also achieve the 2° target. According to analyses, however, this can only be achieved if we reforest where the rainforest has been cleared and the soils are completely exhausted after soy and energy plant production – 5 or better 10 million km². Forest and Landscape Restoration” – the restoration of biologically active areas, in particular in the form of forests. When this forest is harvested in about 50 years, we can bind about 200 billion tons of CO2. This is the CO2 production of the world over a period of about 7 years. This saves us time. Time that we must use to set the course – the course for an era of globally networked regenerative energy production.

Humanity has already experienced once what it is like to plunder a supposed abundance without foresight. In 1931 more than 40,000 whales were killed and more than 3 million barrels of whale oil were extracted – for lamp oils, soap and other things. In the following years the whales were nearly exterminated. Today it is clear to all of us that an ever faster developing industry for many billions of people can never be satisfied by a limited resource without a renewing cycle. This is especially true for our oil, which unlike whales may not be able to grow back, but also for rare earths and other raw materials such as lithium for electromobility. The energy of the future must essentially do without raw materials – except for the actually unlimited sea water for the production of hydrogen by the sun, which radiates 10,000 times more energy onto the earth than we need.

It is the urgent task of the politics of all 200 states to think globally and beyond the next election date and to summon up the courage to set the right, cooperative course – but also of each and every one of us – so that we support the decisions with our electoral behaviour, which, as in every transitional phase, also require compromises. Somebody has to make a start and take the initiative – the richest countries in the Western world can do this most easily. The initiators will win fame and our children a global, peaceful and livable future.

Free after lectures and talks with Gerald Hüther and Franz Josef Radermacher

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