Nikola Tesla, the genius inventor of alternating current, radio and robotics, still provides uplifting guidance in this time of automation, climate change, globalization and political division.
Tesla died in 1943 at the age of 86, but his time has come again — particularly in light of the Trump administration’s decision earlier this week to roll back the progressive environmental policies that former President Barack Obama championed.
Adopting Tesla’s vision involves a new way of thinking about our relationship to the planet. Although great environmentalists like Teddy Roosevelt, John Burroughs and John Muir were articulating this new role during Tesla’s lifetime, world leaders today will also need to embrace Pope Francis’s radical “integral ecology.”
That means adopting a holistic approach to energy — intensive activities and tossing self-centered, widely held attitudes that takes man out of the center of his Ptolemaic universe.
Pope Francis, in his Laudato Si encyclical, doesn’t dispute the science behind climate change. The planet is getting hotter and man-made activities have some part in it. Last year was the hottest 12 months on record.
We need to get over ourselves and do something about the situation.
By “greening” all of the major systems of civilization — energy, transportation, manufacturing, building and consumer consumption — we can implement national networks of renewable energy and production.
President Trump rolls back Obama climate policies(1:57)
President Donald Trump signed an executive order that begins the process of reversing climate change policies put in place by President Barack Obama, including his predecessor's Clean Power Plan. WSJ's Shelby Holliday has the details. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
Tesla was a firm believer in green energy. He supported hydro, geothermal and solar power more than 100 years ago. His vision for wireless power is still a major engineering challenge. Yet what if we produced clean energy from 24/7 sunlight in space and beamed it down to our planet? Many engineers are working on this problem across the world.
Although Tesla’s alternating current systems power most of the world’s electrical grid, he saw the dangers of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. It’s still a massive problem contributing to global warming.
Since the earth is a closed-loop system, integral ecology recognizes the fact that we can’t keep extracting resources forever. A growing world population will demand more and more of the planet to sustain us.
As physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra writes:
“At the very heart of our global crisis lies the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet…In this economic system, the irrational belief in perpetual growth is carried on relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption and a throwaway economy that is energy and resource intensive, generating waste and pollution, and depleting the Earth’s natural resources.”
How can we provide enough fertilizer and arable land to growing countries? How do we conserve water where it’s most needed? How do we switch over from burning fossil fuels in every country to a renewable portfolio of solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydrogen systems? How do we replace SUVs and McMansions with highly efficient, healthy homes?
All of these ideas have been on the table for decades, although progress has been made most notably in Northern Europe, which is working toward ambitious goals to free itself from fossil fuels and create a renewable energy grid.
The biggest obstacle to change has been our human-centered entitlement to global resources, which should be transformed to a responsible sharing of the commons, not an increasingly privatized resource. The earth can be managed more like a public library, not a buffet.
Ultimately, the almost immutable human mantra “it’s all about me” needs to be swapped with a shared prosperity and purpose “made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” the Pope notes.
Focus on quality of life over quantity of goods.
The most radical concept of all to be considered by world leaders? How to replace the damaging, universal dogma of economic growth with what the Pope calls “authentic humanity.”
That means more efficient and hospitable cities that embrace the poor, smaller/local commerce, better public transportation, respect for all species, and a new focus on quality of life over quantity of goods.
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In crafting a truly integral approach that treats ecology, economics and ethics as points on an equilateral triangle, we’ll not only be addressing climate change, but safeguarding our deeper spiritual journey on this bountiful planet. Since Tesla was fervent advocate of world peace, he would’ve endorsed this worldview.
But to achieve this mission, we need to adhere to some of Tesla’s principles. We must visualize, conceptualize, and create solutions, then aggressively collaborate to make them blossom. Ecology is about relationships, but nothing can happen without consensus and cooperation.
John F. Wasik is a journalist, speaker, and the author of 17 books. This column is adapted from Lightning Strikes; Timeless Lessons in Creativity from the Life and Work of Nikola Tesla (Sterling, 2016)
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