Barry McNamara  |  Published June 28, 2023

Life in 2100, Part III

Monmouth professors talk climate change, cancer, COVID and cautionary tales.

A SEA CHANGE? Huge, gigantic wind turbines off the coast could become a major factor ... A SEA CHANGE? "Huge, gigantic wind turbines off the coast" could become a major factor in slowing climate change, said retired Monmouth College biology professor Ken Cramer.MONMOUTH, Ill. – In the original “life in 2100” article, biology professor Ken Cramer was the voice on sources of energy, and he admitted to a prediction that hasn’t occurred – at least not yet.

(Read Part I of the series)

(Read Part II of the series)

“I was wrong about the price of oil going up,” he said. “We keep finding other places to get oil.”

But it’s still just as important as ever to find alternatives, said Cramer.

“People are buying into solar. The prices are coming down dramatically. I bought some panels seven years ago, and they’re half as much today as they were then. It’s growing way faster than coal. Renewables in new operations are exceeding fossil fuels.”

KEN CRAMER: Retired biology professor is concerned with the rising global temperature and fears w... KEN CRAMER: Retired biology professor is concerned with the rising global temperature and fears what it could mean by 2100, if not sooner.Cramer pointed to a New York Times article titled “The Shift to Renewable Energy Is Speeding Up” that was published the week he was interviewed. In it, the author quoted research by BloombergNEF that showed “investments in low-carbon energy ‘reached parity’ with capital aimed at expanding fossil fuels.” The article also observed that the war in Ukraine is “pushing countries to ramp up renewable energy projects for the sake of energy security.”

But the article also pointed out – and Cramer would agree – that “the shift away from fossil fuels isn’t happening fast enough to stay within relatively safe boundaries of climate change.”

“I talked about solar and wind energy last time, which are growing really rapidly and outperforming coal on a cost basis, but I didn’t talk about climate change, which was an oversight,” he said. “Will those renewables grow fast enough, is the question. I’m still skeptical about fusion power. They keep making tiny advances. If it can happen, it’s not going to be enough to reverse climate change.”

While addressing climate change this time, Cramer referred to warnings of what a 2-degree (Celsius) rise in the global temperature will mean.

“We’re at 1.2 right now, and it’s a given we’ll get to 1.5,” he said. “I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but if I were younger, I’d be really worried. You’re already seeing the effects with all these billion-dollar disasters. The number of those disasters has gone up dramatically, and they’ve had tremendous consequences. New Orleans still hasn’t fully recovered from Katrina, and that was in 2005. Houston keeps getting hit, and all the floods in California. Any one of those alone isn’t a problem, necessarily, but it’s how serious they are collectively. The extremes are getting more extreme. Man, I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get to 2 degrees.”

“We’re at 1.2 right now, and it’s a given we’ll get to 1.5. I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but if I were younger, I’d be really worried. … The extremes are getting more extreme. Man, I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get to 2 degrees.” Ken Cramer

A development that could help slow that steady temperature rise, he said, is “huge, gigantic wind turbines off the coast. It wouldn’t affect a place like Monmouth, but it would serve the coastline, where there’s lots of population. Of course, you always have people who worry about what those turbines will do to the views from their Cape Cod homes.”

What would affect Monmouth, he said, is the discussed development of a “260-acre solar farm outside of Monmouth that would provide enough energy for 7,000 homes, which is more than enough for Monmouth. That kind of stuff is happening more and more. It’s a consistent revenue source, and solar can be dispersed. Solar panels also produce more in winter than you’d think.”

Issues that need to be addressed with solar and wind power, he said, include getting more people trained to fix wind turbines and how to recycle solar panels after their approximate 30-year life span is complete.

“Last time, I also talked about companies going to more and more extreme measures to get coal,” said Cramer. “That’s not happening as much anymore. It’s not cost effective. The energy returned on the energy invested – that margin keeps getting smaller and smaller. The technology is amazing, but it would be crazy to keep doing it.”

Cancer, COVID and cautionary tales

“The Holy Grail of biology might be the cure for cancer,” said biology professor James Godde. “But cancer is such a broad term, and it covers a lot of stuff. I don’t know if there is a cure for all of it.”

As mentioned earlier in this series, author Michio Kaku proposes that the cure comes from the ability to catch cancer individually and at its earliest infancy through daily body scans.

“The possibility of a daily MRI is not the craziest thing,” said Godde. “Technically, if the costs plummet and it’s a tiny cost, it could work. And if the machine was good enough, you could do it yourself.”

“Wealthy people might be able to afford an MRI every day and have access to it to prevent cancer, but the less well off will still get cancer. So will there be more financial equality in the future? I don’t know. Will socialism be involved?” James Godde

 

But Godde also envisions a future where the cost drops enough to benefit some of society, but not all of it, echoing the concerns that Chris Fasano raised earlier.

“Another thing that has to be fixed for the technology to be beneficial to everybody is there has to be some level of equality with regard to financial standing,” said Godde. “Wealthy people might be able to afford an MRI every day and have access to it to prevent cancer, but the less well off will still get cancer. So will there be more financial equality in the future? I don’t know. Will socialism be involved?”

Beyond ’23andMe’

Over the years, Godde has been a go-to source when developments in genome sequencing occur. He addressed that topic, as well.

“It’s still not routine that people get their genome sequenced. It’s still pretty costly. I think now it can be done for about $1,000.”

After doing a quick mid-interview internet search, Godde actually saw the price listed at between $300 and $700, while another search showed that about 30 million people – out of roughly 9 billion on the planet – have done it. Both figures surprised him.

“More information is usually good, but the question is, if you knew all the stuff you needed to do to live longer, would you do it, even if it means giving up a lot of what you enjoy?” James Godde

“That’s still a pretty small percentage (1 in 300), but it’s higher than I thought. I assume they’re talking about full sequencing and not just ’23andMe,’ which is only fragments of the sequencing. So it might be pretty mainstream. But just because you have the sequence of your roughly 3 billion base pairs, that doesn’t answer everything. But there are some things that scientists could zero in on, such as a propensity to get this illness or be susceptible to this disease.”

It sounds good in theory, Godde said, but putting the information into practice might be a different story.

“More information is usually good, but the question is, if you knew all the stuff you needed to do to live longer, would you do it, even if it means giving up a lot of what you enjoy? For example, we know we’re not supposed to eat a lot of fatty foods, but it doesn’t stop a lot of people from doing it. So there will likely be a tendency for people to think, ‘I might as well enjoy myself.’”

And Godde also raised a realistic concern – viruses such as COVID aren’t fond of raising the white flag and surrendering.

“It seems like COVID is here to stay,” he said. “A vaccine that would cover all these different things – that would be a game-changer. But viruses don’t go away easily – to even exist, they’ve had to keep getting better and better at getting by our defense systems.”

A real Jurassic Park?

Related to DNA and genome sequencing is Kaku’s prediction that scientists could bring back an extinct animal, such as the saber-toothed tiger.

“If you know the genome of it, you can probably recreate it and then inject it into the eggs of a similar organism,” said Godde. “So for a saber-toothed tiger, a regular old tiger could carry the young. It’s certainly possible. Of course, movies have shown us that it’s normally a terrible idea. But we’re not known as a society to steer away from terrible ideas. And if there’s money to be made, people might look beyond the cautionary tales. I just saw a headline yesterday about a leopard that escaped from the Dallas zoo. As soon as you have one of these recreated animals in a zoo, they can escape, too.”

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