Remember Pons and Fleischmann?

These were the guys that announced to the world that they had solved cold fusion. For those of you who have no idea what cold fusion is, it is the ability to release energy (more energy than it takes to cause the cold fusion) from water at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. It would have been a safe, cheap, renewable, environmentally-friendly way to produce energy. It turns out that no one else in the scientific community could reproduce the results (sort of essential for it to have been a real scientific discovery), but I always wondered about this technology and what it would mean to the world if it were true.

Now in case you’re wondering how this relates to living your life as a practice, which is what I write about, bear with me.

Here are two guys who claimed that they found a way to generate energy from water at room temperature. No exploration required, no transportation required, no negotiation with foreign governments required, no refining required. Hmmmm…. Can you imagine how this news might have been greeted by the oil companies? Their entire business model would go out the window. Now I’m sure that cold fusion technology would spawn entirely new business opportunities that would make many people rich, but compared to what it would be replacing, the fossil fuel industry, this would be a small matter. Entire countries not to mention multi-billion dollar energy industries would collapse in a very short period of time. We’re talking a huge disruption to the world economies that could not be allowed to happen without government control.

I’ve always felt that the Pons/Fleishman story was perfect for a thriller novel/movie, and I would accept that these guys could have been “silenced” in real life. The only trouble with this is that I cannot explain why no one else in the scientific community could not have duplicated their experiments. So alas, it must be that they really were a bit premature in their announcement.

Which brings me back to what it would mean to the world when this announcement is again made, but this time for real.

We’ve been conditioned to think of growth as being signaled by bigger and bigger numbers. Growth is in fact measured by numbers getting bigger (GNP in particular). But is it possible that we could in fact grow yet have economic indicators trend downward? Well of course not silly! Because as long as we believe that bigger numbers is the measure of growth and improving standards of living then those numbers going down can only be interpreted as bad news. And yet in such a situation it would not be.

The only bad news there would be is for the people in the energy industry who would have to reinvent themselves on very short notice, and the end result would likely be much smaller organizations that would be capable of delivering all the world’s energy at a fraction of the cost. It could even be that every person is able to generate all the energy they need by buying a machine the size of a toaster for about the same cost. Now wouldn’t that be something. And wouldn’t this be clearly an improvement over the current system, that is politically unstable, economically corrupt, and environmentally destructive.

How this relates to living your life as a practice is that it demonstrates a cultural and societal shift in how we think about things. In this case it’s about energy, growth and politics, and in your own life causing change requires you to think about your relationships to certain concepts that hold you e.g. failure, truth, right and wrong etc.

There are movements already happening that are creating opportunities to rethink our societal “rules”. There is a relatively new rental car model that allows you to pick up a car anywhere in the city, based on where you are and how long you’ll need it for. This could completely reinvent and “re-size” the automotive industry. This I expect is not taking off because people are not programmed to think of ‘sharing” in this way. Definitely not the “American Way” and perhaps smells a little too “commie” for the American palette.

Similarly when it comes to the hotel industry, consider this: I currently live in a very nice and spacious apartment in New York. There’s a certain educational program that I support by letting participants to their courses who are from out of town stay at my apartment for free. Now many people look at me as very generous and trusting for opening up my home like this, yet for me it’s very easy. The space is big enough, there are enough bathrooms, and I know I can trust anyone doing this type of education with my home. So no big challenge for me. The interesting thing to think about is this: what would happen if everyone did the same? What would this do to the hotel industry? Here would be another example of an industry transforming into a fraction of it’s former self in terms of economic indicators, yet the world could well be all the richer for it.

The idea here is that we can do so much more with less. Whether it’s energy sources, cars, or hotels, and our lives can be richer, our communities wider and deeper and the world and the environment would be infinitely better off because of it. The question is, will this come about because of a higher consciousness or because of forced necessity?

0 Responses to Remember Pons and Fleischmann?

  1. You wrote:

    “It turns out that no one else in the scientific community could reproduce the results (sort of essential for it to have been a real scientific discovery) . . .”

    That is completely incorrect. Cold fusion was replicated by researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, SRI, Texas A&M, Los Alamos, Mitsubishi Res. Center, BARC Bombay, Tsinghua U. and over 200 other world-class laboratories, including Amoco and several oil companies. These replications were published in roughly a thousand peer-reviewed papers in mainstream journals such as J. Electroanal. Chem., Naturwissenschaften and Jap. J. Applied Physics (Japan’s most prestigious physics journal). See:

    Cold fusion has not been developed into a practical source of energy because of intense political opposition by academic rivals. It would cost roughly $300 to $600 million to make it practical, which is not a large sum of money by the standards of the energy industry. If it can be made practical it will lower the cost of energy by roughly a factor of 1000.

    I wrote an e-book describing the changes cold fusion may bring about, such as the collapse of the fossil fuel industry. It was recommended by Arthur C. Clarke and many distinguished professors. See:

    – Jed Rothwell

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.