The Alternative Energy Megatrend & the Quest for the Philosopher’s Stone

When explaining the plot of The Prologue to friends and colleagues, a common theme emerged. The alternative energy megatrend is essentially a quest that holds the capacity to break the boundaries of economic laws, open new paths to prosperity, and transcend social strictures.

History offers a welcome example of an equally sweeping quest — the search for the Philosopher’s Stone known as the Arcanum.  Indeed, the Arcanum was the undercurrent of bold human endeavors for centuries.  As the alternative energy megatrend carries society forward, humanity’s amazing experience of that other fabled quest for liberating abundance offers an understanding of the megatrend’s future.

In ancient Greece, the search for knowledge was considered beneficial in its own right, culminating in the teachings of philosophers who were posing the deeper questions about the means of human existence, and its meaning. Once the notion of matter was accepted, the philosophers moved on to the pre-scientific search for methods to transmute matter into what society deemed most valuable, be that gold, wisdom, or immortality.

Centuries later, the body of methods purporting to bring humanity closer to the attainment of these goals became known as the Arcanum, the mystical precursor to a unified theory of the universe. The search for the Philosopher’s Stone, although unsuccessful, animated the development of science. This secular quest became the carrier wave that advanced chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, anatomy, history, literature, and psychology.

In a similar way, the technologies underpinning the megatrend are subject to continuous improvement, modification, and development, generating new fields and areas of research at the cutting edge of contemporary science. In December 2020, Japan, for example, set a goal for hydrogen to be 10% of the country’s energy supply for electricity generation, from virtually zero, by 2050. To meet this goal the government has more than doubled its R&D spending on hydrogen technologies. Fusion is another important frontier. In May 2021, China broke the world record by achieving plasma temperature at 120 million Celsius for 101 seconds and 160 million Celsius for 20 seconds, a major step toward the test run of the fusion reactor. Their Tokamak device is designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process that occurs naturally in the sun and stars to provide almost infinite clean energy through controlled nuclear fusion, which is often dubbed the “artificial sun.”

Like the quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, the current search for manifold ways to deliver energy from alternative resources offers the promise of mastering nature’s elements, achieving a status of perpetual renewal and growth, and creating a world where humanity is at one with nature. The alternative energy megatrend permeates the way society views social and economic challenges; it inevitably acquires the trappings of a quasi-ideology, or faith, in the attainability of the ultimate goal. Such ideology becomes an inspiring drive that may lead to genuine discoveries way off the beaten paths. Instead of the search for the Fountain of Youth, the adepts of alternative energy believe that they will bring energy diversification and independence, sustainable development, the alleviation of poverty, and further self-determination by state and non-state actors in ways that translate into geopolitical shifts.

The pursuit of the undiscovered has always motivated human endeavor. At the present juncture, the lesson of the Arcanum that may be most useful is for us to accept the unpredictability of means towards the desired end, and the ultimate irrelevance of how attainable the end is. How to channel the human passions for a miracle cure to perceived problems is more important than to debate whether the problem is real, or as dire as we choose to believe.

Through a “virtuous cycle” of investment, technological improvement, and economic growth, alternative energy development is seen to promise new boundless sources of energy that can be secured without skimping on humanity’s energy consumption and rebalancing patterns of resource use. In other words, you may continue with your life, but these “magical” technologies will enable you to feel morally superior, because they will not damage your habitat.

Emancipation from the fear of, and a way to master, nature’s elements is at the root of the human drive to seek new energy sources. In prior ages, alchemists would stop at nothing in seeking a fountain of personal vitality. In the modern age, society has not hesitated to unleash atomic power or drill miles into Earth’s crust to discover energy. However dangerous, the trend is sustainable because it has staked high moral ground.

Sustaining a romantic, passionate belief in alternative energy is the best investment by society in its future. Rather than scrutinizing the data that may cast doubts on the science behind climate change, it is ultimately more productive to accept it as an empowering dream, ideology, or faith and let it mobilize human endeavor as the Arcanum did for modern science. We will all be better off for it.