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2020 Vision

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2020 Vision

The Phoenix Project: A New Vision for America

By Harry Braun


Given that energy policy profoundly affects the economy, the environment and U.S. foreign policy, The Phoenix Project is a $6 trillion "transition of substance" that will allow the U.S. to lead the world in shifting to a pollution-free solar hydrogen economy with wartime-speed (i.e., by 2010). This rapid schedule can be accomplished by passing Fair Accounting Act legislation in the U.S. Congress that would eliminate subsidies to fossil and nuclear systems, and factor in the environmental and military costs of using such fuels. If such a fair accounting system is used, solar-sourced hydrogen will be the least expensive fuel. This is the necessary market incentive for oil and utility companies (not taxpayers) to make the multi-trillion investments for the mass-production of wind and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) systems that will be needed for large-scale hydrogen production. Millions of Americans will be employed in the automotive, aerospace and ship building industries as the U.S. becomes energy independent of all fossil and nuclear fuels and every existing power plant and automotive vehicle is modified to use hydrogen, the only universal fuel that is pollution-free and inexhaustible.

Utopia or Oblivion

Given the exponential and interrelated nature of the energy, economic and environmental problems, and the stunning developments in molecular biology and nanotechnology, humanity is on the verge of both utopia and oblivion. If oblivion is defined as the destruction of the earth's ocean ecosystems and agricultural life-support systems, then utopia could be defined as humanity having made a successful transition to renewable energy and biological resources. Because of the exponential advances in molecular biology, computer science and knowledge in general, this generation stands at the threshold of a new era of molecular medicine and nanotechnology that by 2020 will usher in an age of "designer genes" that will eliminate aging and disease and allow individuals to change their molecular structure with atomic precision. The great irony is that both utopia and oblivion are evolving both exponentially and simultaneously and the decisions we make in the next few years will determine which outcome occurs. Yet, few people understand the significance of the exponential growth that characterizes these developments.

Arithmetic & Exponential Growth

The above image shown below on the left shows the difference between arithmetic growth and exponential growth that increases at an increasing rate. The image on the right shows the exponential growth of the human population - which is now going vertically off the page. Ultimately it is a question of more and more people competing for fewer and fewer resources.

Saving Oceans Ecosystems While Making America Energy Independent

Given that over 90% of the ocean ecosystems have already been lost, there is very little time to take corrective actions. In another three to five years, there will be nothing left to save of the once vast an ancient ocean ecosystem. As such, we are all like passengers on the Titanic and there is only a limited amount of time to change course. Large fleets of "Windships" and OTEC ships, which are no more difficult to build than an oil tanker, can be seen on the website. These systems would not only generate enough hydrogen to make the U.S. energy independent of all fossil and nuclear fuels-but by deploying such a fleet, it would provide a critical underwater sanctuary for the remaining fish and other marine organisms that are being exterminated by oil spills and destructive fishing practices. The American public needs to be made aware that it is possible to have sustainable prosperity without pollution and nuclear risks, and that such a transition will protect, rather than destroy, what remains of the earth's ancient ecosystems.

Capital Costs

With such high-volume production, the capital costs for the wind and OTEC systems would be expected to be in the range of $500/kW. Given these values, the cost of the 10-million hydrogen production units would be about $5 trillion, which would not come from taxpayers, but from oil companies that would rapidly become solar hydrogen companies. Given that energy is nearly a trillion dollar a year business in the U.S., the $5 trillion dollar investment on equipment that will operate for many decades to extract a pollution-free fuel that is inexhaustible will not require any government subsidies. Over 15 million cars and trucks are manufactured for the U.S. market annually, and given there is a current excess worldwide automotive production capacity of 20 million units annually, the 10 million wind and OTEC systems, which are similar to automobiles and ships from a manufacturing perspective, could and should be built and installed by 2010. Indeed a significant component of the American fleet of Windships and OTEC ships could be mass-produced in California like the Liberty Ships of World War II, when every major industry was retooled in about 12 months.

Vehicle Modifications

In the case of the approximately 225 million automotive vehicles that are currently operating in the U.S., the cost of modifying an average vehicle to use liquid hydrogen (including a liquid hydrogen engine injecting system, cryocooler and liquid hydrogen storage tank) would be expected to be in the range of $2,500, resulting in a total cost of $560 billion to modify the U.S. fleet. It is suggested that at least half of the conversion cost could be returned to vehicle owners as a tax credit, which would be paid for by a temporary $0.50 to $1.00 a gallon carbon tax that will be imposed by the passage of the Fair Accounting Act legislation. Assuming $1 a gallon, the carbon tax would raise about $200 billion annually until it is phased-out with the use of gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels by 2010. While fuel cells may be cost effective at some point in the future, their use will require the complete replacement of the existing fleet of 225 million vehicles in the U.S. Fortunately, hydrogen is a "universal fuel" that can also be used to power the existing fleets of cars, trucks and SUVs, as well as aircraft and spacecraft-or a Coleman stove on a mountain top. Moreover, because hydrogen can be made from water with electricity, consumers will be able to refuel their vehicles at home as well as the local gas station. Thus filling up with pure hydrogen will be easier, and much safer, than using gasoline or other hydrocarbon fuels where the hydrogen is chemically bonded to carbon.

Nuclear Time-Bombs

Americans are generally not aware of the fact that while the national news media has been consumed with the war in Iraq, the Republicans have not only been quietly undoing environmental regulations, they have re-licensed old nuclear plants in the U.S. that would have otherwise been decommissioned. There are important reasons to decommission nuclear plants as soon as possible, because the longer a nuclear plant operates, the more radioactive waste it generates, and the more radioactive the plant itself becomes. The internal components of nuclear reactors become increasingly radioactive, and after years of operation, significant amounts of corrosion occur in critical areas of reactor system.

According to a confidential report that was leaked to The New York Times (November 20, 2002), the highly secretive nuclear industry's internal oversight group has warned utilities that a focus on production over safety had endangered a number of nuclear plants, including the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo, Ohio. According to an article by Matthew Wald published in The New York Times (Jan. 4, 2003), the corrosion and rust at the Ohio reactor was only discovered after investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered the plant closed for inspection in spite of the objections of the plant owners who argued the inspection was unnecessary. As it turned out, if the plant owners had had their way, Toledo and the surrounding communities may well have become a permanent radioactive deathcamp because the plant was a ticking time-bomb. What the NRC inspectors found was that the rust and corrosion had eaten away 70 pounds of steel that was 6 inches thick in the reactor cover, leaving less than a quarter of an inch of steel before the reactor vessel would have failed, resulting in an unprecedented catastrophe. A similar problem has caused a reactor near Wadsworth, Texas to be shut down, and all indications are that the fundamental corrosion problem is, in fact, occurring in all of the reactors that are now operating in the U.S.

Radioactive Wastes

Although hundreds of billions of taxpayer's dollars have been spent over the past 50 years to develop and promote nuclear energy systems, rather than solving the diminishing fossil fuel problem, nuclear technology has instead created a vastly more profound problem of its own-radioactive waste. The radioactive waste problem is especially insidious because it is virtually impossible to contain, and it is invisible to the human senses until disease or death occurs. Radioactive isotopes spread in an ecosystem like red dye spreads in a glass of water, and some isotopes, such as Neptunium-237, Cesium-135 and Iodine-129, have half-lives of over a million years. In the case of Iodine-129, its half-life of 16 million years means it must be sequestered from the natural environment for over 160 million years. Assuming a single maintenance technician earning $50,000 a year is considered, the cost over time would be $8 trillion, the vast majority of which will be paid for by billions of taxpayers in the future for over a million centuries.

Iodine-129 is a particularly toxic isotope to humans and other mammals because iodine is an essential nutritional element. As such, the microbes in the body selectively extract iodine from food, water, and the air. Once acquired, the iodine is then stored in the thyroid gland. The problem is that radioactive and non-radioactive iodine are identical from a chemical viewpoint, thus the body's microorganisms do not distinguish between the two elements, storing either in the thyroid. If the iodine is radioactive, it will result in fatal thyroid cancer. In spite of this risk, according to the EPA (The New York Times, March 28, 1991), the engineers who built the nuclear weapons in the 1950's dumped over 127 million gallons of highly radioactive waste containing Iodine-129, into the ground just a few miles from the Columbia River, the 4th largest river system in the U.S., which flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Foreign Policy

While U.S. dependence on Middle East oil has been driving U.S. foreign policy in the region since World War II, and while shifting from oil to hydrogen would eliminate this dependence and the billions of dollars that now flow each week into the Middle East countries, such a transition would not address the more fundamental problems with U.S. foreign policy. The thousands of people who died in the World Trade Center attack were the unfortunate victims of a U.S. foreign policy that talks about supporting democracy, but in fact supports repressive and brutal regimes in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, Indonesia, the Congo, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Iraq - to name a few. While the Bush Administration likes to portray the "terrorists" as those who hate "freedom," such simplistic slogans ignore the real reasons why millions of people have developed an intense hatred not so much for America and its social and religious freedoms, but for its foreign policies that result in tragic and unnecessary atrocities. It is why millions of people around the world cheered as the towers fell.

The key question for the American people is why our government, which is constitutionally forbidden from favoring one religion over another in domestic issues, is doing exactly that with respect to Arab/Israeli conflict, where both sides clearly have legitimate claims and grievances. The conflict revolves around the basic issue of who owns the land, and the fact that the Arabs and Jews are involved in a centuries old religious and cultural war. Only Israel receives billions of dollars in annual subsidies from America, as well as the most advanced weapons. It is not as though Israel has some significant natural resource that the U.S. needs, such as oil or water. It does not. As such, it is clear that the unilateral U.S. support of Israel and its occupation of the Arab territories are based on the fundamentalist Christian and Jewish belief that God gave the land in Israel to the Jews, and not the Arabs. The vast majority of the people in the region, which happen to be Arab Muslims whose ancestors have also lived in the region for centuries, do obviously not share this view. America has clearly taken sides in this religious war, and by announcing his Administration was launching a new "Crusade," against the terrorist Muslims, President Bush further radicalized millions of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims who know all too well about the atrocities that were committed during the last Crusades. These Muslims are quick to remind us that the Founding Fathers of the U.S. were also referred to as terrorists by the superpower of the day, and that it was Patrick Henry who said in defiance "give me liberty or give me death."

Mass-Murder in Iraq

There is now an attempt to cover-up the fact that the Bush administration lied to justify mass-murdering thousands of innocent Iraqis and reduce their country to rubble - presumably to "liberate" Iraq's vast oil reserves. Nixon's Watergate burglary and Clinton's sexual adventures did not result in the death or physical injury to anyone. By contrast, the entire world has witnessed the fact that President Bush used false information to authorize an illegal and unprovoked war that has resulted the death and serious injury of uncounted thousands of innocent people, not to mention the loss of their homes and property and their access to fresh water and electricity. When John McCain stated that he believes the war in Iraq was a wise and justified use of American military power, he obviously chose to ignore the massive suffering that was needlessly inflicted on innocent people, many of whom were children who had limbs blown off and family members killed. It is because America is a nation of laws that the investigation into the murder of large numbers of innocent people cannot go on behind closed doors. Until these obvious injustices of U.S. foreign policy have been resolved, the war against terror can never be won, and innocent people on both sides of the conflict will continue to be slaughtered. Instead of being guided by a philosophy of "he who has the gold makes the rules," the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy should be to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

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