The Sky Is Falling

Do we want to live in a world where the word "help" is our only course of action?

Copyright © 2005 Dorian Scott Cole

Hellllllllllllllllllp! The sky is falling and I can't get out of the way! Whatever shall I do?

OK, well, maybe it isn't quite that bad. But fuel prices are nearing $3.00 a gallon. This may sound like justice to Europeans, who pay up to $6.00 a gallon, but they live and work in a much more compact area (think large states compared to small nations). It is easy to spend $60.00 or more a week driving an SUV to work.

President Bush recently signed a new energy plan into law. Sorry, maybe I should repeat that so it will seem significant. President Bush recently signed a new energy plan into law. Yeah, well, it's just about that significant. I'm for ethanol. I'm not for shoveling money to the oil companies, especially when they are raking it in like a casino in Las Vegas. That seems to be the main significance of the new legislation.

The average person, the backbone of this country, wants to drive his vehicle to work, drive it home, and have some of his paycheck left. If this is what the multitude wants, and it is even beneficial to the economy (think capitalism), why not push legislation in that direction? Nah, I guess that wouldn't make any real sense.

Maybe the Democrats will stand on this issue in 2008. It should automatically get them about two-thirds of the votes in the nation. Nah, I guess that wouldn't make any real sense, either.

The refineries haven't increased production in about 10 years. Hmmm. I guess that increasing production wouldn't make any sense. Why not create a crisis and drive prices up?

Car companies have pushed gas guzzling SUVs for years. They pushed SUVs, which aren't required to get good gas mileage. The public didn't squawk. The government didn't push for new legislation to make SUVs conform to the same standards as car maker's other products. Bah, humbug - it might get in the way of profits. Who is on watch, anyway?

Today's SUV is a bulky vehicle that takes up a lot of space on the highway - like a full size van - yet hardly has any more room in it than a minivan. In fact, from what I've seen, extended minivans have much more room than SUVs and people have little trouble getting in and out of them, and they sit up high enough that you can see. And minivans get good gas mileage. But SUVs are fun, and in vogue, aren't they? Ehhh. Uhh... Why?

OK, people should have their choice of what vehicle they drive. Who can question fashion? The real question is why are SUVs permitted by the public and government to send fuel consumption through the roof?

The US consumes more petroleum than any country on earth. Is there a wake-up call in there somewhere? Petroleum reserves are shrinking, and new discovery is not happening as quickly as depletion. Is it the sheer size of the US that accounts for such excessive consumption? Well, the US isn't getting bigger at the rate consumption is increasing, is it? Is East Coast waste being dumped on the shore so that we have more land?

Is it time that people began to look at how we travel, our vehicles, and pushed for more fuel efficiency? Is it possible that we can travel as much as we desire, in the comfort and style that we want, and have affordable vehicles and fuel?

Are we thinking in the right direction? Is the push there to develop the technologies needed? What if solar power stations were set up across the US to supplement the power grid, and the great Western States set up huge solar power stations that could supply as much as half of our energy, and this energy was used to power vehicles, street lights, etc. With efficient Direct Current power transport, possibly using frozen ceramic conductors (superconductors), the energy could be brought efficiently to States that need it, at great profit to Western States. Indian reservations could get rich.

What if "town" vehicles, those used for work and shopping, which travel shorter distances than for other special trips, were half the weight of today's average vehicle, with the same essentials, and were powered from solar energy sources? What if during braking, their motors were used as generators to recharge their batteries? (Acceleration is where most of the energy is used (getting the mass moving), and it can be recouped during deceleration.)

Solutions like these work. For example, there hasn't been an electric power plant built in the US in fifteen years, despite large population growth. Are we running out of electrical power? Only if a power company artificially creates a crisis. There was some "reserve;" the system was slightly overbuilt. Companies today meet high demand by using small "peaking" units distributed throughout the grid to handle the short increases in daytime peak power loads.

Peaking units are much less expensive than building an entire plant. Plus, appliances, heating, air conditioning, and home energy design have gotten much more efficient. But as the increase in efficiency peaks, it will cross the continued increase in demand, so it is a good thing that the new energy policy includes building new nuclear power plants - or perhaps Iran plans to sell us nuclear power when the oil runs out.

Do we have to consume all of the oil in the world, or can we become more efficient? We have been on the trail of alternative energy sources since the 1960s, or probably even before. My science project in the '60s in high school was the fuel cell, and I got my information from a local company that made tractors. They had developed a fuel cell driven tractor. Proven technologies exist. Mass production brings down production costs and makes new products affordable. Experience irons out the wrinkles.

There are annual solar power races every year, and fuel cells are already in use in many proven applications. There are battery/gasoline engine hybrids peeking into the market - ridiculously expensive ones - but they are here. There are turbine engines that will burn nearly anything - unique combinations of fuel from multiple sources, that can be used in vehicles. We don't want for solutions, we want for a clear direction and a real desire to reduce petroleum consumption. It takes leadership. Where did those pesky Democrats go? Oh, yeah, there having a leadership crisis. Maybe the Republicans... No, they have bitten off more ideology than an elephant can chew.

The ice caps are melting at the polls (I'm not talking about political polls), and raising the levels of the oceans. The frozen tundra in Siberia, frozen for thousands of years, is melting and giving off methane gas that harms the environment and accellerates global warming. It isn't going to refreeze. Mountain peaks are now being seen without their snow cover that haven't been seen in 10,000 years. 10,000 years!

Much of this is actually natural, but indications are that we are at a critical point in climate history in which the assistance of man may push natural climate change beyond threshold points over which there is no return. Most scientists now think that global warming is real, not a myth, and major climactic climate change could occur if we don't make an effort to control it. Petroleum usage is one key element in this process. Wake-up call number 2?

It's time to give the earth and our children a break and conserve some petroleum for the next generation so that they can mow their yards.

But who among us has the vision and leadership ability to capture the American spirit and lead us toward the necessary change?

Fuel consumption through the roof? What goes up, must come down. The sky is falling! Everyone run in circles! Helllllllllllllp?

PS: Have a look at this CNN story: 250 miles per gallon? They're doing it

- Scott

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