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PQB organist, science journalist plan green energy concert

‘Future is Now’ will blend science and the arts at Knox United Church in Parksville
Organist Jenny Vincent and CBC science journalist Bob McDonald will blend art and science in a concert at Knox United Church in Parksville on Oct. 22. (Photo courtesy Jenny Vincent)

Organist Jenny Vincent and Bob McDonald, CBC science journalist, are back with another science themed concert in Parksville.

The Future is Now will blend science and the arts in an optimistic celebration of green energy at Knox United Church (345 Pym St.) on Oct. 22.

McDonald will talk about promising ways to help the planet such as harnessing solar power, using ocean wave-generated energy and even advancements in nuclear fusion. Two large screens overhead will provide visuals related to his topics.

“You’re going to hear some great music. Jenny’s a wonderful classical organist,” he said.

Vincent will play organ selections ranging from Bach to Chopin to ‘Chariots of Fire’, and alternate with McDonald as he explains (a few minutes at a time) eight different topics from his latest book The Future is Now: Solving the Climate Crisis With Today’s Technologies.

McDonald said he is optimistic about the clean energy transition because people are more aware of than ever of climate change’s effects — and we already possess the knowledge for widespread renewable energy adoption.

“There’s more energy falling out of the sky on the earth in one hour than all of civilization uses in a year, so there’s no shortage,” he said. “We just have to gather it up and the technology to do that exists.”

McDonald will explain how energy works, and then move on to solar, wind, wave power, geothermal power, nuclear and fusion power, rethinking oil (without degrading the environment) and ideas for improved energy efficiency.

READ MORE: PODCAST: ‘The future is now’, says science journalist Bob McDonald

“It’s not just a technological issue though. It’s a social issue and it’s a political issue and it’s an economic issue,” he said. “It’s still worth doing it because the cost of doing nothing — doing business as usual, is worse.”

This will be the third version of a science-themed concert by Vincent and McDonald, after Cosmic Odyssey, inspired by space, and Earth, Wind, Fire and Life — which focused on the planet Earth.

McDonald said he hopes people will consider green energy options such as installing a heat pump or solar panels.

“I met a guy recently who put solar panels on his roof, and he drives an electric car and he charges his car from his house, so he drives for free. That’s the future,” he said.

Another promising green energy development is advances in nuclear fusion technology, according to McDonald.

“Fusion has been 10 years away for 50 years, is the joke. But we’re getting close,” he said. “There’s a plant being built in France right now, ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), that’s under construction, and they’re expecting to get more out than they put in, which has always been the big problem.”

In order for fusion to occur, the plasma created must be heated to 150 million degrees Celsius — which means no container can hold it and thus it is suspended by incredibly powerful magnets, McDonald explained. Powering the magnets requires a lot of energy, and currently it’s more than what is generated by the fusion — but ITER is a step towards solving that problem.

Canada bid on building the ITER plant, but lost out to France. However there is at least one promising nuclear energy development in our country — small nuclear reactors (not much larger than an office desk) that can be built underground and power a small town.

McDonald said with all the doom and gloom out there about climate change, he wanted to find some solutions — and was glad when he found there are many we can implement with existing technology.

“The other thing you can do is encourage young people to become interested in this stuff — because it’s their future, and give them a sense of hope, and say yeah, we can do this.”

McDonald has been a science journalist and an author for more than 40 years, most notably as the host of the CBC radio program Quirks and Quarks.

Tickets to The Future is Now are $30 and online at Eventbrite. The concert starts at 2 p.m.

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