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Thursday, March 30, 2023

In history, there have been scientific discoveries responsible for the general well-being of the human race. Moreover, many of those discoveries were found by accident. In 1928, Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming was doing work trying to rid the world of the super inconvenient staph infection. When he left his dirty dishes out over the weekend in his laboratory, an unfamiliar fungus covered them. That fungus, Fleming learned, killed all surrounding bacteria. Thus, penicillin was discovered, or invented, forever changing the world of medicine. If that doesn’t convince you that some of the most amazing scientific projects succeeded by accident, the fact that Viagra was originally created to combat minor chest pains should.

Now, in 2016, the cycle of accidental occurrences, crucial to our human species, continues. Just this week, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee stumbled upon a chemical reaction that efficiently converts carbon dioxide into ethanol. This technology, dear reader, could be groundbreaking in the battle against human-caused climate change. By the way, 97 percent of scientists agree climate change is a legitimate threat and not just a conspiracy invented by the Chinese to impede American businesses, as one of our presidential candidates would have you believe.

The amazing things we can do with this newfound knowledge, however, are not a joke. For science’s sake, this discovery allows us to turn wasted carbon dioxide into ethanol. Ethanol in the right scale, mind you, can be used to power vehicles, generators, homes, offices, etc.

Even more miraculously, the process to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol requires very little energy. The machines that underwent this process in the first place can be started and stopped at room temperature, resulting in little energy use and little energy cost.

We all know there is no such thing as perfect in enterprises like this. There still needs to be a process by which the carbon dioxide hanging about in the atmosphere can be harvested. We also need to find a way to harvest carbon dioxide as it is emitted by various energy-using machines.

Regardless, the power of human accident is a pretty miraculous thing. The power of accidents in general is awe-inspiring. There’s a large scientific consensus that argues the formation of the universe was an accident. The fact that life could occur at all is an even bigger accident, let alone intelligent life capable of discovering technology that could save humanity from the plague it created in the first place.

Seriously, this technology could be the type of thing we teach children in textbooks in the not-so-distant future. It’s building on a larger canon of Bob Ross-style “happy little accidents.” It could very well be a fundamental pillar in the battle against climate change.

Whereas climate change reduces resources available to us, which in turn causes political relationships to be strained — when nations bicker over resources, bad things usually happen to perfectly innocent civilians in the crossfire — this discovery might even carry political weight that could help us outside the realm of just climate change.

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