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UCL-Energy seminar: 'Beyond The Fire Age', Walt Patterson

17:30 - 19:30 11 February 2014

Location: UCL Energy Institute


The Fire Age began before the Stone Age. It began even before homo sapiens - but we are still in it. Indeed we have long taken fire for granted. Most of the time, in rich countries, we no longer even realize when we use it. We think of fire as a key to civilization. But fire's greatest contribution may be making possible the human control of electricity. Electricity, in turn, may save us from fire.

For all its usefulness and appeal, fire is actually violent and extreme. Fire in car engines, household heaters, factory furnaces and power station boilers is making the air in major cities around the world poisonous, almost unbreathable. The commonest gas that fire produces, carbon dioxide, is relentlessly heating up the planet. The way we use fire now threatens the future of human society.

Much of what we used to do with fire we can now do with electricity - making light, exerting force, moving things, managing information. But we still use fire far too much, and we still make too much of our electricity with fire. If we are to keep our planet habitable, that must change. We need urgently to move beyond the Fire Age.

About the speaker:

Walt Patterson is Associate Fellow in the Energy, Environment and Resources Programme at Chatham House in London, and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex. A postgraduate nuclear physicist, he has been actively involved in energy and environment since the late 1960s. 

Keeping The Lights On: Towards Sustainable Electricity is his thirteenth book. He has also published hundreds of papers, articles and reviews, on topics including nuclear power, coal technology, renewable energy, energy systems, energy policy and electricity. He has been specialist advisor to two Select Committees of the House of Commons, an expert witness at many official hearings, a frequent broadcaster and advisor to media, and speaker or chair in conferences around the world.

His latest book, now under way, will be called Beyond The Fire Age: What We Do, How We Do It, How We Can Do Better. Walt Patterson On Energy, www.waltpatterson.org, is an online archive of his work since 1970. It averages over 500 hits a day, with visits from more than 120 countries.