As any reader of this blog well knows, I am a science fiction enthusiast. In ways both popular (Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc.) and a bit more niche (Farscape, Defiance, Dune, Asimov, Heinlein, etc.), I’ve dipped deeply into this particular genre of literature. I’ve said before that I think science fiction can carry with it some big ideas, and I’ve been pleased to consider many of them as I’ve read, watched, and listened over the years.
In the past few weeks I was able to read the award-winning novel Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman. For the sake of this conversation the plot is unimportant. What is in play, though, is Haldeman’s discussion of the emergence of viable fusion and replication technology in the near future. A world where fusion energy and a so-called “nano-forge” allows access to materials, equipment, and even luxuries with an ease heretofore unimagined.
Haldeman’s is no utopia, surely. Just read his book and you’ll find out. But it is intriguing to think of a society where abundant (and ostensibly clean) energy is available. In such a universe, no longer would oil or other dwindling energy resources dominate economies and geopolitics. National and international efforts could be directed elsewhere. And even if said energy where not available in superabundance, its potential to make free and very cheap what was once purchased at great cost would be a sea change in human interaction.
Because we are human, of course, I’m sure we would still find a way to mess things up. Free, abundant, and clean energy would almost certainly mean no Paradise. But it might mean a worldwide rise in standards of living far beyond even the admirable achievements of the 20th century. Though the fear would be that such a development would free up too much time and energy for global mischief or indolence, its potential to provide for the world in such a way would also open to door too much good as well.
Science friends may wish to remind me that this is all a pipe dream. Maybe so. Others would want me to remember that such developments could lead to very maladapted or repressive world systems. Understood. Feasibility issues and dystopian fears not withstanding, however, free and abundant energy for all the world’s citizens is still one of the things I’d like to see.