Monday, August 2, 2010

Buck Up, America

This week's newspaper column: (Read it in the Hattiesburg American.)

“If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way, you’re right.”

Attributed to Henry Ford, this is one of my favorite quotes, and it’s especially applicable to the current debate over fossil fuels and renewable energies.

Voices arguing against moving away from traditional dirty energies – most notably oil, gas, and coal – in the direction of clean energies proclaim that running America on renewable energy is a pipe dream, a fantasy – “pie in the sky!"

But I ask you: Whatever happened to that good old American “can do” spirit?

True, Henry Ford took a lot of ribbing for his idea of bringing horseless carriages to the mass market. (The buggy whip manufacturers were especially skeptical.) “What a silly idea,” they said. “Who would want to ride around in one of those things? They’re too expensive. They’re ugly. There are not enough roads to handle automobiles. They can’t possibly work for everybody. Pie in the sky!”

But we got over it, and by the mid-twentieth century, the automobile had transitioned from pipe dream to the American dream. And the buggy whip manufacturers somehow managed to make the transition too.

And now look at us arguing against our own ingenuity once again. This time, it’s not horseless carriages taking the brunt of the mocking criticism, it’s solar panels and wind turbines and alternative energy technologies we’ve only begun to explore. I don’t believe for a moment that we, as a society, are incapable of transitioning to clean energies; it’s simply a matter of will.

The vision of a clean-running America may very well be out of reach for those who close their minds off to the infinite creative possibilities lying ahead of us. But American innovation can only be throttled for so long. Eventually, either we advance as a nation, or we’ll be leapfrogged by the rest of the world. China, with its substantial investment in renewable energies, sustainable cities, and high-speed rail is on the verge of doing just that.

But everybody isn’t quite as down on renewable energies as are the current crop of nay-saying politicians and oil men. Right now, all across the US, in garages and labs, innovators and entrepreneurs are positioning themselves to be the next Henry Ford – this time, in the area of renewable clean energy.

That’s why I’m optimistic about the future of renewable energy. That’s why, regardless of all the negative talk, regardless of all the “here’s why we can’t” diatribes, this country is about to go through a fundamental revolution in the way we produce and use energy, and we’ll all be better off.

Years from now, our children will look back and wonder why we put it off for so long.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only real issue is: how soft have Americans gotten and do they still have what it takes to make the kinds of sacrifices in lifestyle that must necessarily come with moving wholesale to renewable/green energy.

Alternatives simply do not have the energy to simply ever be "drop-in" replacements for fossil fuels. It's physically impossible to do. This is why reductions in energy will be necessary. Go to a developing county and you'll start to understand what energy conservation really means.

If you don't think such sacrifices will be necessary, you are smoking something. Be assured from me, an engineer well-versed in thermodynamics and 30 years experience, that it absolutely will require a significant per capita energy consumption reduction to be viable or successful.

If this sacrifice isn't made, America will simply be heading toward a sheer cliff and will proceed to speed out into the empty abyss of a 18th century living standard. The choice is stark: voluntarily embrace change or have the reality of physics force the same or worse upon you. The rational choice is clear but people aren't often rational.