We are a cusp civilisation. In just over three generations, we have consumed approximately half the useful oil which took photosynthesis around two million years to produce. In approximately two generations we have used around half our useful uranium resources. We are faced with an urgent choice, the roots of which, Keith Barnham explains, lies in 1905 with the discovery of Einstein's 'other' equation, E = hf.
By an extraordinary coincidence, this little-known equation, which began the quantum revolution and could hold the key to our future survival through the generation of electricity from sunlight, was discovered in the same year as E = mc2, the equation that threatens to destroy us. The Burning Answer will investigate the reasons why scientists exploited the equation E = mc2 for energy generation much faster than E = hf, putting our civilisation on an ever-sharper knife edge.
But The Burning Answer is as much about solutions as problems. Through his groundbreaking research, Keith Barnham offers the controversial promise that, despite our much higher energy demands now than in earlier periods of human evolution, our sun can provide all our primary energy needs again. The sunlight falling on the earth in one hour is more than enough to supply all the energy demands of humankind for one year. This solar technology can save us from the threats of global warming, diminishing oil resources, and nuclear disaster – provided we don't allow politics to stand in our way.
Keith Barnham is emeritus professor of physics at Imperial College London and co-founder of the solar cell manufacturing company QuantaSol.