Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, is one of America’s top scientists and researchers. In this episode, he and Robert discuss his work on decarbonization, dematerialization, land-sparing, Leonardo da Vinci’s DNA, the Census of Marine Life, the industrialization of the oceans, why the “Tesla is a Soviet car,” and why wind and solar energy “may be renewable, but they are not ‘green.’”

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert rice on this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics and I’m very pleased to welcome my friend, Jesse ossible to the podcast Jessie, welcome to the power hungry podcast.

Jesse Ausubel 0:19
Good to be with you, Robert.

Robert Bryce 0:21
You know, I’ve, we’ve known each other a while and I could give you a long bio and a long bit of praise here but Jesse, you know, I asked my guests to introduce themselves so if you don’t mind, please introduce yourself.

Jesse Ausubel 0:32
I’m Jesse possibel, director of the program for the human environment at the Rockefeller University, also adjunct faculty member at the Oceanographic Institution and Woods Hole Massachusetts, account fish. That’s what I’m best known for. More broadly, I’m interested in elaborating the technical vision of a large prosperous society that emits little or nothing harmful and spares large amounts of land and sea for nature.

Robert Bryce 1:06
That’s a very good summary Thank you. So you can’t fish well you now have a well I don’t know if it’s official, how would be classified but you have a big thanks to your work on the census of marine life. You have a species named after you. What is that? What Tell me what that is?

Jesse Ausubel 1:21
Yes, both species and the genus. In fact, a species of lobster discovered in the Philippine Sea, east of the Philippines, about 4000 feet down. Also Bell’s mighty claw lobster, but by no Kelis like Dinah, like dinosaur Kelis means claw. They don’t tell us a valley. The original specimens that were found are in the Natural History Museum in Sydney, Australia and in Paris. The Natural History Museum there I visited them both. And more recently, a genus of bryozoans, a kind of moss like sea animal was named for my family or for me, it’s called the Jessica. So we now have both the dado callousness of LA and the Jessa Bella, it’s one of the great reasons to work in in, in taxonomy, ocean science, Marine Science, bio diversity, that you can you can acquire immortality.

Robert Bryce 2:23
Also Belle’s mighty claw lobster that’s the name that’s the name I love that

Jesse Ausubel 2:30
has one very large plot as Muslims do

Robert Bryce 2:33
mighty claw. I love that I wish. Anything mighty next to my name would be awesome. So you’ve been busy and you introduce yourself you just a quick bit of background, you’ve co authored something like 160 different articles, reports or authored or edited 160 articles, reports and books, your work on dematerialization decarbonisation, we’re going to talk about all that the senses marine life, the Encyclopedia of life, the International deep Carbon Observatory, international quiet ocean experiment, you’re involved in all kinds of different things. What? What are you working on now what’s what we want to talk about a lot of those things, but what’s the focus at the moment,

Jesse Ausubel 3:15
a lot of marine science, a lot of development of new techniques in genomics, and also acoustics and signal processing, to try to identify both the kinds of marine life species and also the abundance of marine life. So a lot on that front. And also interested in always in technical change, technical progress. And a lot of our focus now is looking at humans from that point of view. Of course, we’ve looked at automobiles and lightbulbs and many things like that over the years from the point of view of technical change, but we’ve been trying to apply the lens of technical change that ordinarily one would use for machine objects, chimneys, tractors, whatever, to humans themselves. It’s a kind of study of human performance enhancement. One aspect of that is trying to obtain and sequence the DNA of Leonardo da Vinci, who had extraordinary visual acuity, which is an attribute which of course, many, many humans would like to have or improve, but they have to see I’m wearing eyeglasses so I have a I have a particular interest would be great to have eyesight like Leonardo

Robert Bryce 4:45
and when you say visual acuity it is what do you mean by that?

Jesse Ausubel 4:51
Leonardo saw better than people normally do it both in space and time. So it In space, it’s you can think of it as pixels. If you think of the way the image on your cell phone has improved over the years. If you magnify Leonardo’s very small drawings, many of them are really just about just a few inches high. And even his most famous trines, like the vitruvian man is, you know, a small sheet of paper, they can be magnified 10 or 20 or 30 times and they’re still perfect. So we, we could see extreme detail, he could also make very, very small drawings very soon on drawings that are almost hard to see with the normal ear, the human eye. So that’s the visual acuity and space and visual acuity and time refers to a phenomenon called flicker fusion. If you recall, Robert, silent films and early early movies that had fewer frames per seconds, you can see each frame and then as the frames become more frequent, it looks continuous to a human eye, different animal species are able to sort of say watch a movie at different rates. So let’s say a mosquito or other kinds of flies, maybe seeing not 48 frames a second that a human may see but 150 frames a second which helps them to evade you when you’re when you’re trying to swap them. So to them to a human might appear as if in slow motion to apply so to say. So we humans don’t all have identical flicker fusion rates and we think Leonardo may have had exceptional resolution in time. Let’s say he perhaps he saw 60 or 70 or 75 frames per second. And that might have enabled him to make the extraordinary drawings that he did have a motion of water of dragonflies and fight the motion of the wings of Dragon five of birds in flight. Most of us simply can’t see much less draw what he saw so he had extraordinary visual acuity

Robert Bryce 7:06
there’s one thing this is just maybe random but you mentioned his ability to draw and make very small drawings and yet have them be very accurate it just brings to mind I read a biography of Isaac Newton I’ve forgotten who the author was at the moment but Newton apparently because paper was in very short supply he was he drew very small on some of his notebooks and wood that was one of his then characteristic later was that his ability to make notes on very small pieces of paper was that part of the Leonardo’s you Why was he drawing so small? Why why making such small small figures?

Jesse Ausubel 7:40
Well, paper was very expensive, huh? The This was these were this was early in the days of paper, paper was really a byproduct, I’d say of industrial ecology, as linen, as textiles became, were more produced in larger quantities and the Saudis became wealthier. So did the number of rags the amount of rags the quantity rags that that society discarded. rags. Of course, linen rags, especially were the first basis of paper. So paper was a kind of secondary usage of materials. And as the textile industry expanded in places like Tuscany, and low countries, and societies had more clothing that they could more woven clothing that they could throw away, in contrast to, let’s say, clothing made from deerskin or other highs. Paper began to be introduced, and it was the falling price of paper, of course, which was very important in the development of the printing press. Also, because, you know, paper was phenomenally expensive there, you weren’t going to print 1000 copies of anything, anyway. So it’ll be an artist’s time paper was still expensive. If you bought large blocks of it would cut it up into the small sheets and then wrote on both sides, perhaps 14 15,000 pages of notebooks in the course of his life, about half of which appear to survive, but he used every bit of paper. And his first biography, biographer Buhari, wrote also that the Leonardo had hands of stone, meaning that he could, you could draw very straight lines proprietary carefully. Right and dry and these make these very small drawings. Now, he may have also made small drawings, sometimes for his own amusement, or to hide things he liked to write backwards also, mirror writing, and so making very small images, micro images may have been away, also of being discreet.

Robert Bryce 9:54
Well, since we’re talking about Leonardo and I want to come back to one of the things that was the first thing That you the first bit of work of yours that brought your your name to my attention was an article that you wrote in 2007 called nuclear No, decarbonisation and nuclear heresies. I’m looking at my notes here, I’m not seeing it right off the top of my head. But let’s let’s continue with that with Leonardo for a moment because what was the origin of this in looking at the news clips that you and your colleagues have found 14 living descendants of Leonardo, where and what was the origin of this project?

Jesse Ausubel 10:32
Well, the interest in Leonardo goes back actually about 25 years to my mentor Italian physicists, Cesare Marchetti, with whom I first worked on decarbonisation, and other subjects, right, I’m sure we’ll turn to write up. I was talking with Marchetti one day and he said to me, in a kind of casual way, said, Well, of course, you’ve studied Leonardo. And I said, No, and of course, for Italians studying that the some of the notebooks and the work of Leonardo is like studying Shakespeare for English speakers or good for French speakers or pulsepoint, or Russian speakers. He’s so central to Italian culture so, so as part of the normal good education in Italy, one is has a lot of exposure to Leonardo. But of course, growing up in America, that’s simply not true. You may know about Mona Lisa or something but so with some tutelage from Marchetti, I started exploring Leonardo and of course, he’s infinite it’s, it’s like the oceans or astronomy, the enormous body of work and enormous variety. great insights into nature, into humanity into beauty. And in 2014 Marchetti and another colleague of ours, Brunetto Chiarelli, a physical anthropologist at the University of Florence, and expert on bones, we were sitting around one day and talking and Brunetto actually was the one who said, Well, you know, among us, we have the knowledge and contacts to try to plan and sequence the DNA of Leonardo. And we looked at each other and said, Well, why don’t we try so we involved another outstanding paleontologists only to eliminate from the Institute of human paleontology in Paris. And we set off on this quest, which continues, I hope in the next one to two years, we’ll succeed along the way already, we’ve learned many things, and developed some powerful forensic techniques for obtaining biological traces from sheets of paper. Everybody’s used to the idea by now have DNA in the courtroom from, let’s say, from Monica, and Bill. But people when you handle a sheet of paper, when you handle a pen or a glass, and of course, the FBI and other police groups by now, notice, well, you’ll leave DNA leave biological traces, cells, every cell has DNA, you may leave other other biological traces as well, on what you’ve held. And with the magic from companies like New England bio labs, it’s now possible to do an extraordinary amount on the basis of the DNA from from one cell. And so what we’re trying to do is, we’ve developed techniques for recovering DNA from ancient paper, and that from some other surfaces, and we’re hoping, over the next year or two, to compare the DNA that we find from sheets of paper that we believe Leonardo may have handled and put in the pages of his notebooks or drawings. With DNA from descendants of his half brothers, he himself had no children. But

Robert Bryce 14:25
also how did you find the 14 living descendants how well this was because you haven’t sequenced the DNA yet, right? So you don’t know. You don’t have you don’t have that full information, but you still were able to find 14 living descendants? Yes. So

Jesse Ausubel 14:39
well, some historian colleagues of ours in Tuscany, Alessandra vezzosi, and I know, they saw that, oh, a long time had been interested in in Ordos family and the genealogy has taken on new importance because of the possibility of, of living descendants. First that there are no bastards in between, but that their true biological descendants of Leonardo’s father? If so, they would carry the same Y chromosome. And Alessandra on Yes, I did extraordinary historical research, in archives, documents, various times, birth records, last will and testament, all kinds of things like that. And they’ve been able to build a huge genealogy covering almost 600 years, it’s really an extraordinary feat of historical scholarship that was published on July 5, of this year, received quite a lot of attention around the world. And it leads to as many as 14 possible living descendants male descendants who would have a Y chromosome, and several of the descendants have said they’d be excited to, to participate in the research, if they have the same Y chromosome. And if that Y chromosome matches with some of the material that we get off the notebooks or other sheets of paper that in our domain example then we really have something up course the paper would have been handled by many other people as well there’s always terrible contamination that’s why this Y chromosome to match with the living the sentences,

Robert Bryce 16:22
says a genealogy was or the genealogy word was separate and apart from the DNA work then

Jesse Ausubel 16:27
well, it’s, it’s, it’s a part of the project and necessary, you know, in order to verify that the DNA that we think is Leonardo’s DNA, we need some you know, it’s like dual factor authentication, which is or using, yeah, ranking or whatever, you can’t just say now, there’s a tomb in the beautiful royal Chateau in on blast in the Loire Valley in France for Leonardo that was built about initially about three months after his death in 19. And then changed a few times since then and opened a few times but it’s possible that there are bones or teeth are hairs in that tomb. Of course it’s a beautiful tomb and there’s a real proper reluctance on the part of the the Columbus to sound the way the French entity that controls the Chateau and the tomb to to open it and of course what what’s in there may or may not be Leonardo’s moments, there may not may or may not be anything they may not they may or may not be in good condition. But at some point of course if we have the match from other sources it’s possible that we can also with the cooperation of the branch right wrench or thority is possible we could go there but even if we were to open the tomb first we would have to compare that to something else because after all, that the bonds could have been swapped sure at some point or other so the living

Robert Bryce 17:58
descendants then give you that two factor authentication so yes, I’m with you. So let’s since we’re talking about e DNA let’s talk about e DNA which when you first told me about this some years ago now I thought well this is as close to magic as science gets but it rather than me discuss it what is the DNA project and how does it How does it factor in with your work on, on on fish and oceans and and and understanding what’s underneath the water the surface of the Seas in the oceans and the ponds that we see. The DNA?

Jesse Ausubel 18:33
Is DNA forensics, you can say, as well, whenever an animal swims, or is in the water, whether it’s a fish or a lobster, or a clam, or a human swimming in Barton Springs is that the name of

Robert Bryce 18:55
Barton Springs that a mile from where I’m sitting right here yes love that place where every day if I can,

Jesse Ausubel 19:00
so you from from skin cells from the surface, fish from the gills from urine and deputation from wounds from saliva. Animals leave the DNA, yeah, so in the water, so called aquatic DNA, also it can wash into a stream or a pond or the ocean from nearby. So if, if a let’s say a deer comes down to drink at a pool, of course from its tongue, there might be DNA but but Ghana for let’s say a deer designates near a pond and then it rains and some of the DNA will wash into the pond. So you’ll get a cap. Water is a catchment for DNA from from the water itself and from around it. And when you share the DNA, it’s a long string of course. Total number of letters of DNA You can think of a DNA as like a very, very long phone number with like, let’s say, a piece of mitochondrial DNA, it may have, let’s say 10,000 letters in it. Finally, the full the full piece. So when it’s initially shared, it may be very long, over the course of a few hours a day, and certainly two days, it breaks up into a lot of short pieces. So if I have a long piece of DNA, I might be able to say this is a very long piece, I might be able to say it’s Robert price, by have a somewhat long piece, I might be able to say this is a homosapiens. If I only have a very short piece, I can’t say much at all, we’ve known that there is this loose DNA, environmental DNA, or extracellular DNA and water for about 30 years. But we had nothing to compare it to, we had no reference library. One of the things that the census of real life program from 2000 to 2010 did was greatly accelerate the sequencing of the DNA of many forms of marine life. So there are now reference sequences for 10s of 1000s of marine species in the big DNA library is like, like GenBank in the US or bold in Canada. And so now, it if I go to the river in Austin, or if I go to the Atlantic Ocean near where I am now, and just get a Gatorade bottle, so to say, of water, and then put it through something like I’m alita coffee filter, there’ll be a little bit of sediment on that filter, and I extract the DNA from that sediment, and then I do what’s called amplifying it, which means you make more copies of the DNA you want. And you can grab using what are called primers, you can grab exactly the piece of DNA you want. So getting the there’s lots of lots and lots of different pieces of DNA, but I want DNA to come from a particular gene, let’s say the cytochrome oxidase or from the 16. S, these are just different pieces like saying, saying, you know, I want to grab from sitting looking behind you, Robert, there’s a school in a chair, I’d say I’m interested only in chair Deanna. And so I get a primer, which just gets which just recognizes chairs, so so we do that, and then then we’ll have we’ll get a list of sequences. And then I’ll match those against the database. And some of those will say, this is a wooden arm chair, and some will say this is a lazy boy recounting recliner. And some will say that

Robert Bryce 22:46
rocking chair or something else? Yeah, right. But the rocking chair aligns the same, the same to speciation, then are species the database that you have on these 10s of 1000s of other species and then making the match from there.

Jesse Ausubel 22:59
Yes, and beyond that the number of pieces of DNA let’s say the number of pieces of wooden chair DNA correspond they’re an index of the abundance. So we cannot only say let’s say there are blue fish and striped bass or brokers or red snappers, but we can say there are a lot of red snappers, or a lot of tuna, or a few humpback whales. So it’s, it’s an extraordinary technique, because all you need is actually about a half a liter of water in a cup, so to say, and you can collect that with a drone, or you can collect that from a kayak or you can collect it from a big survey vessel, you can do it. It’s a traditional means of assessing what lives in the ocean involves usually pick nets, or complex acoustic arrays where you ping and listen for echoes. Or scuba divers. In lights and cameras, sometimes traps sitting with bait and cameras, all of these things are much more complex and difficult in the course of the case of nets, you’re really transforming or maybe harming the animals will take them out of the water. And you change the environment around them theory or just it’s like a blood test, you know, for let’s say now a blood test, let’s say for cancer. So you would just it’s completely non invasive and no harm to the context. And out of it you can get a list of the the let’s say the different kinds of fish or all the vertebrates You know, we’ve done freshwater environments where you can also you know you’re in a place where people are very interested in bats, for example. So bad DNA will be found in streams or ponds. Sure it’s the bats are nearby. So you can do complete really biodiversity assessments.

Robert Bryce 24:58
With just with it with a smile With this moles your water meter, essentially,

Jesse Ausubel 25:02
it’s like a blood test, which now again, if you’ve got if you go when you go to with, with 20 or 30 years ago, and you had a blood test they might have, there might have been, let’s say, four or five things that were looked at maybe cholesterol, whatever. Now, of course, it’s a big long list, right? Which tells you, you know, again, if, for example, with regard to cancers, so the, we’ve been studying what’s the chemicals in water for a long time, you know, the salts, and also radioactive traces, things like that. But we’re just learning now to make use of the biological information in a in a cup of water. And it’s a revolution and really, over it will over the course of this decade, it will I think it will become the dominant form of surveying aquatic life.

Robert Bryce 25:52
Well, like I said, it just seems almost magical. And it gets it is magical. Really, you know, as a kid, we talked about this before that, I remember watching biologists in Oklahoma, they would have these electro electric machines that would shock the fish, right, and they would have these probes and they bring them to the surface. And that was how they would do the survey of the surveys. But in what all the things you described before the nets, the divers, that was all physical observation, they’re seeing the fish in one way or another, either, but now you’re just seeing their DNA footprint without having to even capture them or see them. And it just, it’s an incredible, as you say, so what’s the resistance to this? We talked a little bit about the, the resistance to, you know, the incumbent technologies and why they’re going to be slow to necessarily adopt a DNA. Can you just talk about that briefly?

Jesse Ausubel 26:40
Well, the, there’s a wonderful remark by an early 19th century rabbi, the loudest sound in the world is a habit breaking. So, I would say first of

Robert Bryce 26:52
all out of sound as a habit braking,

Jesse Ausubel 26:55
yes. So, first, I would say people have been doing things a certain way for a long time. The same is true in the art world, by the way, where now, we think as a result of projects, likely in the auto project, increasingly, it will be possible to use biological traces DNA, other possibly other things. Also our artificial intelligence, image recognition. So, a computer or you know, a six year old child may be able to say whether something is a Rembrandt and the you know, the people have developed whole careers on the basis of connoisseurship and expertise. And in you know, in zoology, botany, was there a similar situation, so people are afraid that they’re there, the hard one expertise is being devalued. Now, I don’t look at it that way, I would say this is another tool to add to the toolkit, I was mentioning the dual factor authentication earlier, right, and so obviously, everything all these things are stronger when putting up genomics are stronger when coupled with acoustics and the genomics may tell you the animal that’s there but it may not tell you whether it’s a healthy animal or it may not tell you whether it’s a two year old or an eight year old so so you know they so really what we want to do is integrate the genomic techniques with with with other techniques, but first I would say there’s just some there is some fear that this will be value some of the ways that people are currently doing things and the system vessels and crawls and you know it’s a highly developed quite good at what it does. But so you know, there’s there’s

Robert Bryce 28:45
inertia in the system exists and you know, it’s going to be some reluctance to change it.

Jesse Ausubel 28:49
And then you need people to learn the new skills, I make it sound very easy, it’s not quite as easy as I’ve made it sound but the but people people need to be able to do some continuing education, younger people coming out of schools of course will have grown up with you know, like so. But for the people currently practicing, and then you know, the, again, the the URL, some of what we learn, of course, it’s not always the people’s liking when we started doing the so called DNA barcoding. We’ve made the front page of the New York Times to high school students who were supporting and working with back about a dozen years ago, they did a study of fish that was being sold in New York City fish stores. And a lot of it was being inaccurately labeled, in all cases, something inexpensive being sold as something expensive. Yeah, well, we don’t think it was a surprise. Yeah, it was probably the wholesalers, not the not the retailers who were doing the markup. It’s the wholesaler who really has the incentive to take to take some waiting and Calling halibut or scallop or to take some, some other inexpensive, efficient label that is something more expensive. But the but, you know, the, you know, I was mentioning that the tomb and on was obviously if it turns out that there are no bones in or if the bones aren’t Leonardo, that’s not good news so sure. And so in the art world world there’ll be no there’s a lot of, of copying. And it may turn out that some famous works are not what they are believed to have been. And and so there’s a, you know a whole set of it’s a disruptive there’s no question that the the DNA identification in different realms is disruptive. So people are some people are nervous, but I have to say the top levels of the National Marine Fisheries Service and us chief scientists there Cisco were under the leadership of no other under the Trump administration, Tim Gallaudet. And now Rick’s been rad, Craig McLean, and the current administration have been 100% supportive, and are really trying to, to absorb the new technique.

Robert Bryce 31:22
Let’s talk to you just briefly about the census of marine life because I think we first became acquainted when you were actively working on that, and what was the what you how many countries were involved? How many researchers and what was the bottom line you found? And how many 1000s of new species what was the mean, it was a remarkably broad and ambitious project and you are one of the founders of it, what it seems like is success on by almost any measure, were you happy with how it came out? And what were the results?

Jesse Ausubel 31:55
Well, let me step back a little further sure is worth we’re talking too much about subjects that are of interest to your reader to your listeners. But, but going back to the start of my career in the late 1970s, I worked a lot on climate change and and decarbonisation and change of the energy system. And then in the mid 80s, early to mid 80s, I became very interested in dematerialization and the possibility that in the same way we could greatly improve the efficiency of the energy system, we could also greatly improve materials use. And then about 1990 with my agronomist colleague, Paul Wagner, restart the whole body of work on land sparing how much land can be spared from nature and man’s bearing is like dematerialization except for land, or you can say in some ways like decarbonisation and trend toward supports high yields. And he said, Sure, but but the question was always sort of hanging around when we were working on on land sparing and sub exam on dematerialization. Also people would say, well, and Jesse, what about the oceans? So in the, in the, in the mid to late 90s, with the marine biologist Fred Grassley, the I was trying to learn more about what do we actually know what really what are the real observational data about the changes in diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life. And it turned out that there had never been a global survey of marine life near shore to mid ocean, sea floor to sea surface and seabirds, microbes to mammals. And so, Fred, and I thought, well, no, rather than nibble at the edges of these questions, which is really what people have been doing, we decided we would try to organize the global census of marine life. You know, kind of Noah’s Ark effort. So you know, the tuna people, the squid people, the sponge people, the crustacean people, everybody and using all the techniques that were available and developing new ones. And fortunately, the the president, then president of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, and then have Ralph Comrie mathematician, but who had served in the Navy and also worked in the Office of Naval Research early in his career, really liked the idea and gave us some walking around money to get started and gave us a platform or secure platform for A decade, which enabled us to slow and drive in about $75 million. Over a little more than a decade, we raised and spent about 650 million in total for the program. And about 80 countries were involved. say to you know, it’s 1000s of researchers. And we were divided into 17 teams, there was an Arctic team and an Antarctic team, there was a seamounts team, and there was a, an abyssal plains team and the Continental margins team and reefs team. The and each of these worked on its own, but also together integrated through a common database, which, which has is one of the most important legacies of the program of the ocean biodiversity information system. And so everybody agreed that by 2010, they would do the best they can and we would share data and put together a global picture. And so they

Robert Bryce 36:04
were and where can people find that now, Jesse? Is that that’s online now?

Jesse Ausubel 36:08
Yes, it be. It’s if you search on census of marine life, the full content of the website is no longer there. It was maintained by University of Rhode Island actively to about 2016 or 2017. Now a good chunk of it is there but not the whole amount. But overall, the program is very well documented. And there are excellent the books summarizing the program as a whole one edited by Alistair McIntyre, one written by Nancy Milton, on by Paul Snelgrove, there is a summary report of which I’m one of the three authors. And all of that is available. And yeah, we discovered about 5000 new species, we sequenced about 30,000 species and really gave a big boost to the we made estimates of the total number of marine species. The total number of marine species now already described was about 250,000. But the estimate is that there are somewhere between, say 300,000, and 2 million more still to be discovered. And we did a lot of work on also them trying to understand what controls the the, the, the diversity. And this in terms of I’ll say a little bit of a transition. Of course, the program also with part of the original motivation for the program and what comes out it is a deep concern about the industrialization of the oceans, something I know you’re interested in as well,

Robert Bryce 37:46
I am. So let’s let’s talk about that, because that leads to this issue of power density. And just as a quick station break up, my guest is Jesse also bell. He’s the director of the program for the human environment at Rockefeller University, you can follow up on him at Ph. D. So a quick bit of background Jesse, I think we met maybe 2008 2000 2007 2008. She first came to my knowledge in about 2007 for your articles, renewable and nuclear heresies in which you introduced this concept of power density, which I’m not flattering you at all, or as my father used to say, blowing smoke up your skirt changed the course of my career to understand what power density was and how it matters. And so what let’s go back to that because it seems to me power density matters in terms of both decarbonisation discussion because nuclear as you point out pointed out in that article is the is the densest form of power generation therefore the greenest? How does the How to decart, let me put it this way how to decarbonisation and dematerialization and land sparing? How did they relate to power density? There’s that a fair question, because it seems to me that that ties, there’s a tie between all of those issues.

Jesse Ausubel 38:54
Yes, there is. Let me go back. Let me go back to the beginning of my career, and Okay, so even though people want a little bit more, it’s 1977. I’m in graduate school working on oil spills and other problems of the environment.

Robert Bryce 39:09
And this is it and this was at Columbia,

Jesse Ausubel 39:11
Columbia that I was awarded a fellowship to go to actually Sloan fellowship to go to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. And my application had been about petroleum in the marine environment, which the academy and published important reports When I got down there. The people who are advisory said, Well, you know, there’s, it’s great that you’re working on oil spills, but a lot of people are now working on those we thought about working on an atmospheric issue. And I said, No, although in fact, I had co authored a play about global cooling, which I can tell you about when I was an undergraduate. The and there were three equally important problems at that time. For ozone depletion, the acid rain and global warming climate change. I went away for about six weeks and read a lot of reports and I came back and I said, Well, it seems like everything needs to be done on this climate issue. And so the mentors were very happy about that. And I spent much of the next 10 years working on the now extremely popular climate problem. And the climate problem, of course, the climate question you have, it starts with emissions, from changes in land use, and primarily from the energy system, then there’s the question of the fraction of the emissions that stay in the atmosphere, which could be let’s an emissions could be nothing, or they could rise by one or two, or three or 4%. A year at that time they were they had been rising by more than 4% a year in the 50s and 60s into the 70s. Then, and that’s the carbon cycle question who will 1/3 or half of the carbon emitted to the two thirds say? How much will go into the oceans and forests and so forth? Then there’s the climate question itself, you know, will the climate change by a degree and a half, or three degrees, or four and a half degrees for doubling? Then there’s the physical effects? Will ice sheets melt? Will co2 itself enhance the growth of forests, whatever, and then there are the human effects and electoral happen where people migrate. So will people be richer, or so everything needed to be done? Now, if this all seems very obvious, but everything needs, everybody? And so I ended up being actually one of the, I would say, really only probably one of the first half dozen people in the world to make object projections of future emissions of greenhouse gases. The leading figure initially was a civil engineer from Oak Ridge National Lab named Ralph karate. And there were a couple of Russians trying to do it. Bill Nordhaus, or sue them, actually won a Nobel Prize for very brilliant work. So I got involved with all these people have worked on all the aspects of the climate question both especially on the emissions and the impacts. And so I started learning about energy systems. And thanks to positions at the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and international students applied systems analysis, you know, I got to visit power plants around the world actually, I even got to work on the Chernobyl cleanup a bit late 80s. And so I was, I saw coal mines, I saw coal burning power plants, I saw pipelines, nuclear power plants. And the work involved a lot of analytic work. And with Marchetti whom I mentioned and to other I’ll save this for initially research assistance, then people went on to very distinguished careers also on their own niroshan, aka China, veteran arnulf group, where we started doing all kinds of calculations during the 1980s. I wrote a paper called climate change on the carbon Wealth of Nations and another paper called economics in the air and traction, the atmosphere, downstream climate. And one of the things we started doing at the based on insights of Marchetti was looking putting all the fuels that were used into a blender and then looking at the the hydrogen to carbon ratio. Right. Marchetti was was one of the early advocates and developers of the concept of the hydrogen economy. And so we, we started making these charts and we found a monotonic trend. In the hc ratio where the course fuels can be a

Robert Bryce 44:04
hot seat, you’re saying the ratio of hydrogen atoms to carbon atoms and then over time, the ratio of hydrogen relative to carbon was increasing, right and that was the move from wood to coal to natural gas or wood wood to coal to oil and now natural gas and then eventually to nuclear as a long term trend toward a smaller carbon footprint or carbon intensity I guess would be the way to put it.

Jesse Ausubel 44:26
Exactly you can think of what as being 10 carbons for one hydrogen Breck call let’s say is one carbon for one hydrogen. Petroleum is one hydrate one carbon and two hydrogens and methane natural gas is ch for once. And julier of course, is zero, right? So so we were on the one hand looking at the at the hc fuels themselves hydrocarbon fuel and the trends. And then we were also looking at the total amount of carbon as the numerator in relation To a denominator of total bt use or total jewels or whatever, sure. And so by those and then there are some other ways you can do it. But basically any way you look at it, if you went back a few 100 years, you found that this phenomenon of decarbonisation, and I think we are we I’m not that the word decarbonisation might have been used by others in other ways, but I think we started using it in the 80s this way, and I think we were I think, I think in that sense, I think we can claim credit for it. By the way, I also published the first paper with the word geoengineering, published in 1977, a paper called on geoengineering and the co2 problem. So and then, but then we were using, we’re using itself, the word itself, I think I published the first paper with the carbonization in the title or in the abstract. That might be 90. But we were charting it and analyzing it in all these different ways. So and, looking, if you looked at the long term trend, it looked like an evolution from the plan from leadership of what to call what down, hey, that’s a very important for the animals, coal, oils, gases, and then to eventually the pure hydrogen. So and I call this the light path to light. li te, Li ght, because, of course, you were your lightning, the, you know, the the weight, so to say, for for energy produce. So we became really very excited about this whole notion of decarbonisation. And then the question comes, how do you get beyond natural gas? How do you get beyond ch four, and obviously, you need a non carbon non carbon source of heat or electricity to get the the, the pure, the pure age, which could be vision or fusion, or could be solar and when in principle, and so, then we became interested in comparing the different attributes. But we became convinced or I became convinced certainly that the eyes and all of this is that the, what was driving the system was the, the spatial density of the level of the end user and spatial density, you can say the jewels or the kilowatts that were being used in, say, a barn, or a home, or a workshop, or finally a skyscraper. Right? So this the, and what you see with the evolution of cities, of course, is that the power density keeps growing. So the amount of the kilowatt hours consumed per square meter keeps going up. Right, especially with the 20th century with skyscrapers. So you’re having to provide enormous amounts of energy from the hinterland, let’s say, and concentrate it. And so to us, it obviously made sense that you, you would also favor at the generation side, the the systems that would have that would generate densely. So if you have to, you need a vast hinterland to provide Hey, it’s expensive and wasteful. And so the if you look, the evolution comes both at the level the end use for hydrogen, but on the we think on the generation side, toward systems, including machines, you’re obviously sure that our power plants that are

Robert Bryce 48:50
super density, because as you’re talking about this, the way I think about it, everybody I’ve even written about it is that when you get to the city where you have very high power densities of hundreds of watts per square meter, you need then as you say, instead of having vast areas in the countryside to in order to make that density work, you need high power density generation systems in the countryside to meet that high power density consumption in the cities is Is that a fair? Exactly? Yeah, for a shorthand way to talk about it.

Jesse Ausubel 49:22
And for all the propaganda I’ll say about nuclear and solar, if you assume that wind and solar if you if you would do the arithmetic on the the wind farms or the the solar farms that are being developed now, whether onshore offshore, you know, offshore in Singapore or Indonesia, you know, floating solar fields or, you know, these, the 13 megawatt new, whatever turbine wind turbines, you you’ll find that there’s really very little technical progress. Things are things are getting more expensive, they’re making exactly the same mistake that agriculture made before agriculture figured out how to achieve high yields. It’s just extension. So it’s, you know, it’s like Britain colonizing Argentina for wheat, or, or the Americans. So that’s what the solar The, the so called renewables. The are finally you’re getting, let’s say, one 1.2 watts per square meter from wind, right? Whether you have a lot of small windmills, or a few very large ones. And solar, you’re getting maybe seven, eight watts per square meter. And solar is better than the wind, right? But they’re still extremely expensive, which means then this is the link to the dematerialization. Because then you need enormous amounts of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass, or galleon, whatever you want. So, so it’s Go ahead. Yeah, so so these become extreme. And so when I you know what I wrote in that paper, Bob, which are their members that I said, renewables may be renewable, but they’re not green renewables.

Robert Bryce 51:09
And that changed the course of how I thought about things because, you know, I’ve been writing about energy and power for a while. But the way, the way I’ve been couching it is the lower the power density, the higher the resource intensity, you have to counter the low power density with other inputs land for in the case of corn, ethanol, fertilizer, in the case of wind, solar, you know, a silicon, poly silicon, concrete, etc. I mean, they’re just remarkably large inputs. But I wanted, that was one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on the podcast, because that that paper did in fact, change the course of how I changed my career and thinking about why power density matters and why density is green, whether you’re talking about the cities themselves, or the power generation, etc, etc. So let me switch gears here,

Jesse Ausubel 51:50
let me just another way of saying this is that renewables may meet the decarb test, but they don’t meet the dematerialization test, the B map test, yeah, they fail miserably. They also don’t fit, they also fail the land spirit. So I think the it’s a mistake, one of the big mistakes that the world is now making is the complete identification of environment with climate. Climate is very important. But but the but land sparing, and the materialization are also extremely important. Need a way of saying this about the materialization, I think the most fundamental slogan in a wave for the need for environmentalism for outside my own shade of green is no new structures. And the the implied new structure is by the the wind and solar economy, it’s just, it’s nightmarish, both on land, and I’ve mentioned this industrialization of the oceans, you know, covering 1000s, of square kilometers of ocean with wind farms, and thus, with structures in the in the water column and on the sea floor, and cables to connect everything together. And then, of course, the vessels to service them, and the further concretization of coastlines in order to provide the specialized the shipping and so forth, to do all this. So again, it, they may be renewable, but they’re not green, they are they just miserably fail. The dematerialization test in the land sparing test, and decarbonization is great, but it’s not enough.

Robert Bryce 53:30
I really liked the way you’re talking about that, and particularly on the offshore part of this because I think that that’s the part that that most Americans, most people just simply simply don’t understand that when you talk about real analyze what the Biden administration is talking about in terms of this wind, offshore wind energy build out where you’re talking about 30 40,000 megawatts, leaving if you assume a 10 megawatt structure, you’re still talking about 1000s of offshore structures off the eastern seaboard, which is one of the most heavily navigated heavily fished areas in in the world. And it’s to your point about the industrialization of the ocean. And in the midst of that there seems to be in this rush to provide these permits to these offshore projects, which are very controversial, that there’s no very little consideration for marine mammal migration and these other issues that have traditionally been in the sweet spot of in the environmental movement in general, and that seems to be tossed overboard and just because, oh, well, these are renewables and therefore they’re, they’re good where you’re making the absolute Well, you’re making a very clear distinction about that idea. They’re renewable but they’re not green.

Jesse Ausubel 54:38
You know, the, we’ve horribly abused the oceans for hundreds of years. We remove much too much live again, we’ve changed the coastlines, destroyed habitats, with the acoustic environment that probably been mounted Probably adds about as much noise to the oceans now as the natural noise. The waves break ice cracks rainfalls animals themselves make noise so the oceans you know there’s there’s the animals communicate Of course themselves but we’ve from from shipping from oil and gas extraction now from the wind farms from trawling for fishing, jet skis tourism we’ve really changed the acoustic environment and you know, it’s really it’s we’re really the oceans are 100 years behind the lab, I like to say we’re, it’s really we really need to think much more sensitively about about what we’re doing with the oceans pulling force out that people become concerned about the plastics, which is part of the dematerialization problem. Again, the I would say the people are really under estimating, I feel the importance of the the materialization and the Lansbury now that there was just a very good study published in May about the the entirety of the Czech economy, the Czech Republic, and only 7% of the materials deployed in a new year by the Czech economy are secondary materials. So recycling is you know, I’ll say it in the broadest sense where it’s 7% so people are talking about a circular economy and so forth. But 93% of what the Czech economy produces is from new materials. And so when you look at something like the this huge materialization which is implied by the by solar and renewables, it means just mining the crust just tremendously just chewing up lots of new material and of course the famous horrible battery question another area that I feel for I’ve been reading press releases from around the world about batteries for 14 years and it’s a big lie batteries are only improving a little bit the end use is improved because we went from vacuum tubes to the solid state electronics but the actual improvements and batteries are which my group has studied and published some things about is really quite small and the

Robert Bryce 57:27
and the material intensity is enormous I mean well this

Jesse Ausubel 57:29
Tesla Richard Tesla is a it’s 1000 pounds of batteries to carry a person who weighs 150 pounds it’s the same as a horse it’s no better and so it’s the the old Soviet economy of about half of the coal that the Soviet Union mind was used to transport the other half of the coal in rail cars and when I see a Tesla I it’s like a Soviet card to me because it’s it’s it’s it’s basically just this load of lithium and other things to carry this is pathetic cargo and the same as either the so called power wall you’re supposed to have 1000 pounds of batteries in your one bedroom apartment in New York City to so your backup in case it’s

Robert Bryce 58:22
so and hope it doesn’t catch fire.

Jesse Ausubel 58:25
Yeah, and the and this is all being dug up in you know, in northern Chile and northern Argentina and southern Bolivia. Beautiful, beautiful, arid, beautiful environments. So anyway, it’s a it’s just the horror, the materialization associated with the thought of No, there are a billion motor vehicles more or less in the world, the thought of a billion motorbike. And of course, some of them that trucks and so forth will need more than 1000 pounds of batteries, right? Sure. 10 or 20 or 40,000. Anyway, the thought of a billion vehicles with each with 1000 pounds pounds of batteries. Not to mention if we have to put those into all the residential structures. electrification, of course is a dream and great and more should occur. But it really only fits with nuclear and hydrogen. The you know, the idea of 100% electrification and batteries is it’s it’s so disruptive environments horrible.

Robert Bryce 59:27
And one of my future guests on the podcast. In fact, I just finalized the data. It was Richard Harrington, who’s the director. He’s the head of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in London. He’s done some very good work on that analyses on the intensification of mining and so on. So, let’s, we’ve talked about offshore when we talked about decarbonisation. dematerialization So what are the biggest your your you’d like big challenges you made that clear in one of your presentations when you I think when you quoted when you were, you got hired on at Rockefeller, he The President heard you said, Well, we don’t do small projects here. We think big we think about big ideas and big, big challenges. Am I remembering that correctly? It was better than that. Okay, I’ll make it better than by all means.

Jesse Ausubel 1:00:15
President University, Frederick Seitz so in his office to talk on what I might do, and I was babbling like this, and he turned to me and said, well, Jesse, just remember one thing, there was no reason to do anything trivial here. So

Robert Bryce 1:00:29
excellent. No reason to do anything trivial. might sound like that. So then we’ll assume no, nothing trivial. What are the biggest? What are the biggest challenges facing? The, I would say all of the people on it, what’s the big one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today?

Jesse Ausubel 1:00:44
Well, on the engineering side, I think there are these of course, again, we need to, we need to break this rule of the ton I mentioned, you know, the, the horse or the 1000 pounds of batteries in the Tesla. And there’s in mobility, there’s a way to do that, which is with the magnetically levitated trains, maglevs have no, they don’t carry fuel. They don’t need an engine or fuel, so they can be like, and the, the, that’s the we need maglev Metro is at national continental scale, to replace a lot of aviation to replace a lot of the use of the surface also for transportation. So I’d say the Hyperloop, some things in the right direction are now happening. In that regard, we started advocating this back in the 80s, and wrote a lot about it, but in the 80s and 90s, published a lot. But I’d say making that actually happen in the right way is very important. zero emission power plants, operating on large on natural gas, but with some capture and sequestration, the operating at very high temperatures and pressures, so you get very high efficiency and you get, you can get 70% efficiency. That’s a huge, huge challenge. Of course, high temperature nuclear reactors that can be used to produce hydrogen. I’m not optimistic about electrolysis, it’s another thing which I’ve been reading about, you know, the US Department of Energy and others are always putting out statements about it. But electrolysis really hasn’t improved much in 40 years, I think we have to try something different. And the you know, the, the high temperature, thermo chemical production of hydrogen, I think is the is the way to go. So there are a bunch of on the on the, on the energy, decarbonisation side on the dematerialization. Again, we really do need to move in the direction of bits rather than kilos, putting more and more intelligence into the system so that less material is actually needed. And of course, we see that in some ways, with things like cell phones, which are also alarm clocks and cameras and so forth. Right. But we need to make heritage, be careful. Mark Mills has written very well about this, the whole the whole weight and energy consumption of the telecom system isn’t so great that we’re just displacing the demand. The demand, the the electricity demand and so forth by server farms now is something I sort of put it

Robert Bryce 1:03:26
another way we just we need we need to accelerate these efficiencies throughout all of the systems.

Jesse Ausubel 1:03:31
Is that Is that a fair way to put it? Yes, yes. And the same is true for

Robert Bryce 1:03:35
those efficiencies, that the big challenge is that those efficiencies aren’t diffusing fast enough are occurring fast and ever. We just need to accelerate them.

Jesse Ausubel 1:03:42
Well, I think accelerate and choose right. Again, I think some of the good ideas like maglevs and the zero emission power plants. Some of these ideas have been around for decades, and we’re not pursued. Right? So some sometimes things are there on the shelf and not being pursued on the terms of land sparing on the diet side. You know, there’s, there’s, there’s too much obesity, that’s you know, a billion people are overweight, there’s 30 30% or so of all the food that’s produced is thrown away as waste, and a huge amount of, of food is wasted by being turned into especially corn by being turned into ethanol. For cars feeding feeding food to cars is stupid. So on the demand side between reduction and obesity, reduction in in meat or growing meat more efficiently, chickens rather than cattle or cellular meat, or fake meat that the kid wants to go to using beet juice and so forth. So there’s a collection of things we can do to reduce demand for food products. But then equally or more important yields we can go on raising yields and genetics, we’re nowhere near the ceiling of yields and the the yields around the world are very far below

Robert Bryce 1:05:09
the best practices just the way the way I’m sure I abbreviate is we need more densification and e densification. To for Well,

Jesse Ausubel 1:05:16
I did a site. In the case of the agriculture I think precision agriculture is a better term, okay? Because people, when people think intensity, they tend to think of pouring a lot of fertilizer on a lot of land, or a lot of water. But I’m talking about bits rather than kilos using the water smarter, not you know, not irrigating when it’s going to rain and so forth. So so I think precision agriculture and smarter demand, people talk about hunger and food security, but the real problem on the planet is that we’re, we have 50% too much agriculture, we should be we can vastly shrink, we can make a third or more of the land that’s now used for for for the bioeconomy could be released. Ed Wilson is right about half the work we could so we could have a huge increase in in conserved and protected areas. If again, so this idea that we have to produce more calories and protein we’re over producing, which is why a billion people are overweight and why a third of food is thrown away and why Iowa is shoving corn into into cars. And again and farmers can live yield so so continue to live field so So anyway, there should be lots of land sparing so those are those are very big challenges in the oceans. I think we need a kind of moratorium, you know, we just sort of have to say, you know, we’re going to pretty much leave you alone for a while and let you try to recover in a lot of respects. Obviously, shipping and so forth. Some will continue. So the Go ahead, no, no.

Robert Bryce 1:07:02
Okay, so we’ve been talking for about an hour and again, my guest is Jesse also bill he’s the director of the program for the human environment at Rockefeller University you can find him at ph Now Jesse I know you’re a sports fan you have been you’ve been a Yankees fan your whole life if you’re born and bred New Yorker been a longtime Yankees fan but you don’t mean just a little bit ago you don’t watch sports anymore what’s up

Jesse Ausubel 1:07:25
when COVID started sports stop and at first I had suffered a bit of withdrawal and then I started reading and I of course I’ve always read a lot but I read sort of professionally during the day and when I was young I read lots of fiction and other things but I started reading a lot of classics that I hadn’t read you know Canterbury Tales and the camera on the botros and the foundation trilogy and war in peace

Robert Bryce 1:07:56
we will you read war and peace

Jesse Ausubel 1:07:59
oh it’s it’s amazing you know all these things are famous for a reason where it’s just it’s

Robert Bryce 1:08:07
really reading it and

Jesse Ausubel 1:08:10
and there’s so he’s so profound about history and all some of these subjects that we’re talking about. And I read 4000 pages of the Pallisers the Trollope series about politics and Britain

Robert Bryce 1:08:26
so it wasn’t it wasn’t discussed about doping or about you know just disenchantment with the big salaries or the corruption in sports it was more just a your own

Jesse Ausubel 1:08:36
well then and then I started from time to time as things started up again I would turn on the sports and the I feel like it’s been degraded the everything all the all these games that were meant to be two hours long now take three and a half to four hours. That’s awesome. Yeah, the it’s just it’s always advertising. And then in regard to baseball in particular. The the I feel the game really has deteriorated in the sense that the I really dislike the frequent changes of pitchers now having 11 1213 pitchers perform in the game who can remember who they are, who can even care who they are. And then also I would say the defense got ahead of the offense. Were there these games with, you know, three walks and 25 strikeouts. I don’t want to watch strikeouts. I want to watch the ball in play. I want to see fielders make great catch.

Perform Well no I’ve continued going to some minor league games I saw a couple of Coney Island, Brooklyn cyclones games this summer, but I feel pro sports. And now it’s been turned over to the gambling enterprise. And they’re all in cahoots. You know, they the they figured out that the whether it’s the NBA or the NFL or Major League Baseball, they’re they’re all you know, they they’re all gonna say they’ve all taken ownership positions in the, in the gambling companies. So it’s not about the play anymore. And it’s it’s all anyway. So I think sports have entered a very bad phase. My guess is there’ll be some resistance and rebellion, and also a lot of scandal, as has always happened when when the gambling gets too close. So anyway, I’m yeah, I’m after being a lifelong sports fan. I’m, I’m now basically just not and, and it’s freed up enormous amounts of time for other things, which is great. But to come back to your question about the big challenges I mentioned at the outset, this question of this relates to sports to human performance. Again, you can think of you can compare a car in, let’s say, early Ford, you know, with a 1950, and a 1980, and a 2021, Ford, and lots of things, you know, windshield wipers, headlights, electric starter, airbags have more efficient motors. So we’re used to looking at technological change. And in that way, and together with my colleague, Alan curry, 10 years ago, we had the idea to start looking at humans this way. Now there’s a big field started by people like hey, Jose conseco. And Mark McGwire of human performance enhancement. And people think of it in terms of steroids. But we are trying to look at people in a broader way. On the one hand, with these peak physical performance, Olympic kinds of things, you know, how fast can somebody run? How high can they jump? So there’s short term physical performance. And that’s been improving the and then there’s the long term, the lifetime performance, longevity of height, eyesight, things like that, sure, those for the most part have been improving or with prosthetics improving interventions, then there’s cognitive performance, IQ or literacy at one time. And then there’s immune system education, which COVID has really brought front and center, you know, that tendency to become ill or not so. So we’ve been trying to develop an analytic framework for looking at these four aspects of human performance and trying to think how humans have changed, let’s say, since 1900, are Americans and then humans of the future? What will be actually, you know, if everybody says, well, windmills will be better in 2050, or, or whatever it may be. But we’re interested in the question of what will be the human of 2050 or 2080? Or 2100? Why should we assume that people will stay the same? The The, the, if you performance nutrition

Robert Bryce 1:13:47
is better training is better than weightlifting machines are better the science of all the nutrients all

Jesse Ausubel 1:13:53
eyeglasses, hearing aids or artificial knees? So if over a longer active? Yes, all and it’s not just person again, it can be these? It can be the swimsuit or the tennis racket, or dolphin attractions? Yeah. so and so. We think, you know, the, the humans have been left out of the equation and a lot of futurology, including in the IPCC, for example, there’s not a mandate. If you read the IPCC, you there’s no hint that the human the average human will be different than 2050 or 2100. But obviously, we will be right. I don’t, I don’t want to pick in particular, I’m just saying the IPC is the biggest trencher of his time, and right now they produce 1000s of pages, but they’re but it’s because of the scale not because it’s climate, but it’s the so. So it seems to us this is a big blind spot in in, in thinking about the history of technology, and in thinking about about the the future. So so I hope we’ll finish up some of that work. In the next year or two, and I think that’s really very important because thinking that we will stay stationary while everything else changes is almost certainly one was certainly wrong.

Robert Bryce 1:15:12
So it’s great. So, Jesse, I told you I want to keep this to about an hour or so. And we’re over that right now. I always ask my guests what they’re reading and you’ve told us, you’ve been reading Tolstoy and many others, trollop, and, and so on. But I always ask what gives you hope. So, you know, mine, that’ll be my last question. And when you you, you’ve been in, in science now for what, 40 years or so in your career, you’ve seen a lot of things happen over the over your career. There are a lot of reasons to be today to be pessimistic about the future. What gives you hope.

Jesse Ausubel 1:15:50
Yeah, first, let me just add one more book. I’m reading a little, a little, a little known Dickens novel, Barnaby Rudge. Uh huh. udg, Barnaby Rogers, one of his least read books. And it’s incredibly great. It’s about the riots of 1780. In London. These were populist riots. So it’s really like, I’ll say, it’s sort of it’s sort of it’s so resonates with what’s been going on in America the last few years. anyone’s extraordinary. Probably finished it tonight. Extraordinary books. I recommend anyone. Barnaby Rudge, Barnaby Raj, anybody who’s interested in populism should

Robert Bryce 1:16:38
have similar similar today in terms of the like, demonstrations in the streets, the autocracy, the corruption in politics. Yes, just give us a little smattering of went all the things that are going on.

Jesse Ausubel 1:16:52
Nothing, nothing changes. Another Dickens that I read during COVID was Martin chuzzlewit, which is the book in which the hero the young Martin chuzzlewit, comes to America and about 1840. And also, you know, he could publish it in the Atlantic today, it’s a perfect description of nothing, you know, to think anybody who thinks that America has changed, just just read Martin’s visit to America. The you know, that? Well, I need culture as a culture is, culture is very strong. I need to I need to pick up some Dickens here clearly. Okay. But it gives you what you hope I’ll give it. I won’t exactly answer your question. Because I think I think in some ways I answered earlier part of your question, which is that? I think the, well, early in my career, I wrote a paper called because the brain does not change technology must. So I think the, the, you know, I’ve mentioned the zero emission power plants and magnetic magnetically levitated trains, and the precision agriculture. So the all those things give me enormous hope, and I’ve dedicated a lot of my effort to, to, you know, to understanding how they might go, I think, what’s the, what’s that, but it relates in a way to the human performance? I think the the, the real question, I think, for the future is still the seven deadly sins. You know, it’s it’s still lust, gluttony. sloth, you know, lust is the need to story gluttony is the obesity and sloth is the welfare question and how the child tax credit and wrath of course, is the Gandhian question and avarice and envy, the equity question and jealousy? I don’t think so much. So. So I think the real questions in that sense are, you know, I think from a technical point of view after stating the beginning, I’m interested in leveraging the technical vision of prosperous society that can be something harmful and confederal land and sea. I think it’s there I think, I think I think we can see our way but I think that the real questions for me are the old questions about the, the, the seven deadly sins, and, you know, we try to control those with medications and with pills and police, police in various ways, but the ways you know, and we’ve made progress, I mean, I agree with Steven Pinker on a lot of things, you know, the better angels, but we have a long way to go. And when my mother asks me what I think is the biggest problem in the world the I tell her the decline of banners. I feel like that’s the width. Another book I read during COVID. Great book, Quentin Durward about medieval France. And so Walter Scott, great, great writer. And there was a whole system of heralds in the Middle Ages, who were you could say there were early diplomats, and they were they, you know, people could be having the most horrible warfare. And you know, this aerating each other literally. But Herald’s were untouchable. If the Herald came, you know, like they, they’re all the there are all these certain ways they dress to indicate certain things and give them safe passage. And it seems like somehow we’ve,

I feel like there’s just been a collapse in, in the, in the, in the way, in the ways we relate to one another. So I feel like

that’s what would give me hope. One thing that would give me hope is if we, if we somehow recover that, but to add to end on a positive note or a think I think of warranties, less less pessimistic. pendulums really do swing to I mean, while things like energy systems may take 50 years to evolve, social moods really do swing, and, you know, in the case of the war in peace, it’s in 1793. It’s the guillotine and Robespierre and Madame Lafarge and the execution of the French royal family and an 1804 and you know, the quality pod whatever, then in 18 Oh, 1804 Napoleon is crowned Emperor. That’s like, 11 years, they go from one end to the other. So, right, so So, so, you know, I hope that that not, you know, not just in America, I think it’s again, I think it’s true in many places. So, so, you know, I would like to see a swing back to, to somewhat better manners. And again, social, you know, as a New Yorker, I can say, having lived through the, you know, from 1964 to 1989. It was fun city from 1990 to 2010 or so it was really quite different. So, so, so I think I’d like to see a swing toward better manners.

Robert Bryce 1:22:36
civility. Well, I think that’s a good place to stop. Jesse. Awesome. Well, thank you for your time. It My guest is Jesse awesome. He’s the director of the program for human, the human environment, and Rockefeller University. You can find him at ph Jesse, I wanted I told you I wanted to have you on the podcast since I started a podcast. I’ve done it. A million. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

Jesse Ausubel 1:23:00
Thank you, Robert. And hello to all the listeners.

Robert Bryce 1:23:03
Thanks to all of you out there in podcast land. Tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. See you then.

Contact Robert

For information on speaking engagements or other interviews.