THE issue of energy rises toward the top of many agendas for the 21st century. It doesn't even make it onto Freeman Dyson's list. ``I don't regard that as a real problem,'' says Professor Dyson, with the chuckle of a man who knows all sorts of wonderful secrets and who is eager to spring them upon the unwary. ``If you have advanced biotechnology, I don't see any difficulty in getting all the energy you want from the sun,'' he explains. ``It's only a question of redesigning trees so that they produce something other than wood. Gasoline, for example. Alcohol. Convenient fuels.''
You mean, he is asked, you would get fuel the way you get sap from a sugar maple -- by tapping the tree?
``I wouldn't do it so crudely,'' he says. ``I would have a sort of living, underground pipeline system, so that the gasoline would be delivered where you want it.''
Direct from the tree, with no refining?
``Why not?'' he replies. ``All those things I think will be available in at the most 50 years -- looking at the ways the [genetic] technology is going.''
It's the kind of thinking that for years has flowed from this small, second-floor office overlooking the quiet lawns of the Institute for Advanced Study. Mr. Dyson, a slender man sitting with his back to the window, takes a refreshingly unfamiliar perspective on the world's problems.
``I take a long view of things,'' he admits. ``I find it difficult to discuss . . . day-to-day events, because I'm looking to another century.''
As the author of ``Weapons and Hope,'' a well-received book setting out the possibilities for dialogue between the military establishment and the peace movement (both of which he knows first hand), he naturally puts the problem of nuclear weaponry high on his agenda. He notes, however, that ``I have nothing new to say'' on the subject.
Instead, he turns to a handful of other issues that he feels will demand particular attention in the next century, including biotechnology, space, population, education, and class distinctions.
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