As this MRS Bulletin issue on “Advanced Materials for Energy Storage” was being finalized, the North American continent suffered one of its warmest summers ever recorded. The past two to three years have also been the warmest on record, August 1999 being the 21st consecutive month with above-average temperatures. Such deviations could be quite natural. Indeed, these temperature increases can be explained in part by increased solar activity. Yet, burning of fossil fuels and other human factors are considered likely contributors. Whether from human activities or cosmic effects, for human survival, technological solutions may be needed to keep the global temperature within tolerable margins.
In a parallel development, the price of oil on the New York market has nearly doubled since the beginning of 1999. This current increase is directly related to self-controls imposed by the oil-producing countries. The price will probably not climb to excessive values, mainly because the oil-producing countries do not want other nations to develop competitive alternative technologies. However, these increases in oil prices could have devastating effects on the general economy, and again, the future is unpredictable.
This situation poses an interesting dilemma for the scientific community. Scientists are trained to base conclusions on facts and respond with appropriate engineering solutions. Yet the extrapolation of global climate change is far from conclusive; the economies of nations can be volatile and often are determined by politics as opposed to science; and the needs of individual nations are varied and continue to evolve based on their local resources, economies, and environmental regulations.