While energy has always been a driving force in the evolution of human culture, its importance has reached new heights in the first decade of the 21st century.
Due to its overarching macroeconomic importance, energy is now a precious commodity in global financial markets. Energy issues pervade global geopolitics, and will continue to do so in light of the increasing concentration of oil supplies in the Middle East coupled with rising global energy demand.
As if you didn't know that!
Science and religion: just seeing the two words in the same sentence is enough to make some people apoplectic. The commingling of the two words has been one of the most contentious educational and intellectual issues of the decade.
Can they live together? Can a rational person be religious? Or should scientists be campaigning to rid society of what Richard Dawkins calls these "juvenile superstitions"?
The problem is not with religion per se, but it's with the prejudices, discriminations, and backward thinking that can derive from it.
The twenty-first century, we are told, will be China's. Usually this is intnded as a warning: if the world's leading economies fail to respond to the Chinese "threat", we will face a second-class future trailing in the wake of the People's Republic.
In this age of globalization, China is also a partner; which is why we should all be concerned about the challenges ahead. China faces immense social, political, and environmental problems, and whatever is a problem for China is by definition a problem for everyone else, too.
Today in rich western countries, people worry about poisoned Chinese pet food and imported toys tainted with lead. Tomorrow, it could be a global climate meltdown driven by China's exploding demand for energy.
Most senior members of the Chinese central government were trained in that most practical of disciplines, engineering. They know that the nation's present trajectory is unsustainable, both economically and environmentally.
If China is to continue its remarkable development, it must transform itself from an exporter of cheap manufactured goods built to western blueprints into what its leaders call an "innovation nation" which is able to sustain its growth through home-grown ingenuity.
So they are pouring huge sums into science, particularly at the applied end of hot fields like nanotechnology and renewable energy. China's spending on research and development has more than doubled in the past five years, and official plans call for a further rise; from 1.34 per cent of GDP in 2005 to 2.5 percent by 2020.
Can China really reinvent itself as a lean, green technological superpower? Will the rural poor get left behind as the urban middle class reaps the benefits of rapid economic growth? Or will the economic miracle falter or even collapse? And can the Communist Party maintain its grip on power through it all? Will it ultimately be an engine of reform, or an obstacle to change? Will China eventually embrace democracy as it is practiced in the west? Or does conflict lie ahead?
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