“Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century.”
~ Jennifer Granholm – U.S. Energy Secretary
It may not be as visually exciting as watching the first man walk on the moon, but in the grand scheme of things, mimicking on earth what the sun does in the solar system is most definitely “one giant leap for mankind.” That’s why U.S. Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, thinks that producing the first fusion reaction in a laboratory that created more energy than it took to start it is a big deal.
Through the process of fusion our sun radiates light and heat (solar energy) which makes it possible for life to exist on Earth. Radiation from the sun was the primary source of energy on our planet prior to the beginning of life. In the lifeless, oxygen-poor world, solar energy may have provided the spark to transform simple organic molecules into more complex ones, which were used as the building blocks of biology and life.
But while solar radiation is an absolute necessity for sustaining life on Earth, too much of that radiation trapped within a blanket of atmospheric green house gasses (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide etc.) causes an imbalance that overheats the planet (aka ‘global warming’). Even a small amount of over heating caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels has a major impact on ecosystems’ and species’ abilities to survive and thrive. The fate of the “abundant life” that Jesus speaks of in the New Testament rests upon humanity’s will and ability to rapidly move from dependence on fossil fuels as our primary energy source, and turn to renewable and less ‘toxic’ energy sources. This remains as the greatest existential and moral challenge for this and future generations.
In the quest to meet that challenge, humanity just got some very good news. At 1:03 am. on December 5 in a laboratory in California, a giant leap was made in the ability to unlock the power of the sun. Scientists studying fusion energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that they had crossed a long-awaited milestone in reproducing the power of the sun in their laboratory. If fusion can be deployed on a large scale, it would offer an energy source devoid of the pollution and greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the dangerous long-lived radioactive waste created by current nuclear power plants, which use fission (not fusion) to produce energy.
But as good as this news is, the reality is that commercial, large scale fusion is still a mighty big IF. And even if/when it arrives, it is still decades away. To limit the immediate damages wrought by the climate crisis while awaiting the ability to mass produce our own ‘sun power,’ we must hasten our transition to the ‘bridge technology’ that we already have at our disposal. I am speaking, of course, about those sun beams that already bathe the Earth 365 days a year. It is those beams that excite solar panels to produce cheap, clean renewable energy. It is those beams that create wind currents and waves that can be captured in giant turbines. The cost of such renewable energy sources has already dropped below the price of fossil fuels. Investing in renewable energy sources is now as profitable, if not more so, than pumping dollars into the dinosaur fossil fuel industries that stand as barriers rather than bridges to a viable, sustainable future for life on Earth.
So it is that while they offer praise and thanks for those milestone scientific breakthroughs, people who act as stewards and justice seekers on a planet in jeopardy will not sit on their hands waiting for a technological miracle to arrive late to the scene. They will use the hope that “one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century” provides to rejuvenate and reinforce their faith commitment to restoring Creation for ecology and justice.
It is to this proactive end that the Creation Justice team of Pittsboro Presbyterian Church is embarking on a project through the Solarize the Triangle initiative to research the viability of adding solar battery storage and an electrical vehicle (EV) charging station to our current solar setup in the coming new year. Solarize the Triangle is a group purchasing, cost reducing program that incentivizes public, private, non-profit entities as well as individuals living in eleven jurisdictions in central North Carolina to consider going solar. The enrollment period ends December 31, 2022. As of December 14, 1234 other entities have joined Pittsboro Presbyterian Church in enrolling in the program.
The season of Advent teaches us to be ‘active waiters’ and not ‘idle loiterers.’ As we prepare to recall and celebrate the birth of the “Word become flesh” who was there at the dawning of Creation, we also recommit ourselves as the living body of Christ to serving the planet and all its inhabitants that Christ came to. He came in order that it/we might have life, and have it more abundantly. As we celebrate ‘fusion ignition’ that may one day launch us into a new era of ‘sun power,’ we recall that we are already the recipients of ‘Son Power.’ We don’t hold our breath, the breath that is the Spirit of the Living Lord. We keep on breathing and resuscitating all of Creation with the grace of God and the abundance of resources gifted to us. We do this because we believe that in Christ, we are something new under the Son.