We have much to be thankful for, living beings, both plants and animals from long ago ages, stored carbon and died to support our current lifestyles. The millions of years that have passed since the age of dinosaurs and the massive arc of time that spans between the age of ferns and the coal deposits that we claw our way through today are burning up fossil fuel faster than it was ever made. The other day I mentioned this to a friend and he just stared back at me as if I had spoken a foreign language. Some claim that vast undiscovered resources lie beneath our feet and that energy from these fossil fuels are virtually limitless. In response to hearing this fiction, I poured over documentation that has been arrived at by oil industry leaders. If they have an agenda, I have to imagine that they would want to keep us consuming their product right up to the bitter end, so inflating their estimates about “reserves” could be expected.
When we sit down in front of a milkshake, it is easy to understand the finite nature of the tasty goodness. The worst case scenario, if we want more when we finish is to wait a few minutes until another one is whipped up. With coal, oil and natural gas, it takes millions of years to whip up another supply, the conditions that led to the formation of these fuels no longer exist on this planet, so replacement would take even longer, because we would have to have another carbon rich source to bury and fossilize, just to get the process started. When we make withdrawals from any account, knowing the ultimate balance is helpful, if not essential. As long as we try to convince ourselves that the fossil fuel account of this planet is infinite, we will continue to risk economic and social catastrophe. Keeping your foot on the gas when headed toward an immoveable object might be a good idea if you have a death wish, but for our children’s children’s children to have a chance at survival on our planet, we need to slow down our consumption of finite resources and find ways to more efficiently use the dwindling supply to avert dislocation and poverty from overtaking first world nations. As humbling as it may be, we need to begin to see the vulnerability that is built into our massively subsidized lifestyles, rectify the disparity between deposits and withdrawals and commit to making the future liveable for those who will come after us.
According to oil industry experts, we have less than forty years of oil left. With the rapidly escalating use of internal combustion engines in China and India, we could easily face a doubling of our use characteristics before the ultimate end of the age of oil. This in-turn would bring the end of oil half as far off in time. Fifteen years seemed long when we were all children, but as you know, decades have a habit of passing more and more quickly as we age. We are begrudgingly making changes that we knew were necessary thirty years ago, and it is looking more and more like it will be too little too late. We may eventually have to hit “rock bottom” like those who suffer from other addictions but in this case, there will be no more of our drug of choice when we do.
When we think of a hydrogen economy, who does not instantly envision the Hindenburg, in flames at it’s mooring tower? Never mind that the color of the flames that fateful day were described by eye-witnesses as bright red, and that hydrogen burns invisibly. The thermite reaction, on the other hand, looks red and is probably what brought down the airship that day. It seems that powdered aluminum and iron filings were ingredients in the paint used on the skin of the massive hydrogen bag. Hydrogen took a giant leap backward that day. In spite of the fact that it is the one fuel we can burn that has no toxic byproducts, or that the amount of energy that can be stored in a limited volume is greatest in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which, when combined yield pure water. Now we even have fuel cells that, while made of relatively rare metals, convert this chemical reaction into electricity directly and can allow us to use hydrogen and oxygen tanks in place of batteries for electricity storage devices. just because continuing business as usual is easy certainly doesn’t make it the right decision.
Just as we each learn in our own way, during the course of our lives, a reputation takes a lifetime to build and only a brief moment to destroy. This is true for countries as well as people. When I was a child, we had a proactive approach to world affairs. We were the beacon of freedom, liberty, democracy and living proof to the world that greatness was achievable. We went the extra mile to do things that were right, without concern for the naysayers and petty BS doled out by our enemies. If some element or force said, “You can’t do such and such…”, we only made whatever it was a more important goal a higher priority. Time after time we held our own achievements out as a “hand up” for other countries around the globe. There were, of course, some that didn’t pan out. After all, the nuclear age is currently crashing down around us. The “Green Revolution” has ruined more land and indebted more farmers and their countries than it has ever liberated. We have surely made our share of mistakes by not understanding the nature of our wealth. Let us not make the same, or worse mistakes because we continue to ignore what we know to be true today.
We need to re-institute the give back. Establishing a new economic and social order based on facts and reason rather than hyperbole and fear will be essential to making the changes that we need to experience before we can tackle the mammoth task of regaining the moral high ground on the world stage. When we are seen as the planetary takers, the lazy borrowers and those who would poison the well of every good thing that we come across, no matter whose nation it comes from, it will be a very short step to being hated by every sentient being on the planet. We are quickly becoming the people whose citizenry is most beloved, but whose government is most uniformly distrusted and hated. As we drift further and further from the stated principals that helped found our nation, especially the idea of a government by, for and of the people, cracks are beginning to show in other foundations as well. Who can say, which came first, but to argue about that would be as futile as the chicken and egg controversy. We have become so alienated from our inalienable rights that few can enumerate the rights that we have forsaken in hope of making our lives more secure. By all reckoning, we have sent more of our own people to their deaths in the sands of foreign nations than were killed on 9-11. I’m sure that the same righteous indignation that was in the hearts of the couple dozen attackers who brought down the twin towers still exists in many of our young recruits who die needlessly on Afghan & Iraqi soil. Can we not see the need for qualitative change?
For years I have advocated sending each American service person to the “Middle East” with 1,000 native fruit and nut trees. Their service would be finished when they got them all planted and found a local villager who would agree to tend them and care for them after the soldier’s departure. If the taliban (which means “local people” in the lingua franca of that region) wanted to fire upon people who are obviously trying to help, that would seal their fate amongst their countrymen, proving that they are as evil as we have said they are. If the trees flourished and the families of those who were helped to live better lives were to understand that their friends from across the world had given them back their trees, we would be free from attacks by their ancestors as long as those stories were told. Instead, we have made a point of creating stories of demolished buildings and terror in our wake. As Gandhi said so eloquently, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”