Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Chance for a Cleaner, Safer Tomorrow

The Chance for a Cleaner, Safer Tomorrow

(c) Bob Perrin

In theory the technologies and ideas that will shape our future are almost too simple, but their evolution into reality has been steadily creeping up on us for over four decades. These same ever evolving ideas are emerging as the dominant forces in world energy solutions, as well as important tools in the fight against global terrorism. As I write this, "New Technologies" and ideas are expanding at a staggering rate of speed and may prove to be the saving grace our world needs so badly. Put simply, We may be living in the most significant decades in human history. What each of us does from this point forward, Matters.

The Chance

"We now have before us, the chance to shape our own destiny and the future of our very fragile world. I believe we all have within us, the ability to choose wisely and to embrace these gifts of wisdom from all those who grant them to us".

"You are one of those people".

The draw for me is a personal one. I have children and grandchildren I would like to see grow up in a world safer and cleaner than the one I grew up in. In my world as a child, we practiced disaster drills curled up under school desks with our hands covering the backs of our heads as if to shield us from a nuclear attack. Later in life we grew bolder and squandered energy like there was no tomorrow. We robbed Peter but never paid Paul back. When we finally woke up from our feeding frenzy and realized the destructive path we had laid before us, we protested against the Great powers of authority. We never realized that we were in fact ourselves, the Great powers of authority. Forty years later we are now at a crossroads, a little battered up, but a lot smarter and full of hope for the future.

The technical term for a "Baby Boomer" is: anyone born from 1946 when the world birth rate spiked, usually attributed to soldiers returning from war and starting families, to 1964 when the birth rate started to decline. But some people simply say, its anyone born after World War Two that still remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis. I belong to this group, I was born in 1950 and remember it vividly.

For Thirteen days in October 1962 a stunned world held its breath as we stood at the very brink of nuclear war while the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. For our parents, the years during World War Two were their defining years. For me, they were the years following the Cuban Missile Crisis and thirteen months later the assasination of President John F.Kennedy.

The years following these two events brought major changes in world policy. Economical, political, environmental and human rights policies changed almost over night. We were suddenly aware of the dangers of non action and moved quickly to try and right the worlds wrongs. Sometimes we realized great successes and sometimes we suffered terrible losses.

In our path, laid some of the worlds most challenging times. The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, Womens rights, abortion legislation, protecting our environment, and the fight against drugs and violence tearing at the very fabric of our families and communities.

The rising cost of health care, the homeless, the steady decline of American capitolism and the events of September 11, 2001 all seemed to cripple our ability to deal with so many problems in such rapid succession. Today against staggering odds, we are finally gaining ground and can look ahead to a brighter, safer, more productive future. The challenges that lay ahead are not easy ones to solve, but they can be solved if we recognize the fact that we have a problem that won't go away on its own.

Terrorism on a scale unseen before in history is an enormous threat to the security and economic stability of our world, but it can be turned around. A terrorists favorite weapon of choice is the one they use to create fear and discontent among otherwise stable societies. Its a tool that will never work in "My Country". We have a better way.

Our climate is changing on a global scale due to natural periodic geocycles the earth goes thru over many thousands of years. Human interventions such as "The Industrial Revolution" of this country and many other emerging economies may have speeded it up, but we as a people didn't cause it all, This will be debated in political circles for many years to come, but the reality is, "Its much to late to lay blame now".

Climate change can be dramatically slowed down, if we act now.

The advances in current and emerging technologies can and will play a huge role in the future of our planet and the stabilization of our economies. These are not pipedreams or empty promises, they are real solutions easily within our reach right now. With a serious concerted effort on the part of free enterprise, a little innovation and some helpful effort on the part of a few serious, caring non partisan policy makers these problems can and will be solved in a few short decades.
The innovative technologies to wean ourselves from the crippling costs of foriegn oil and the terrorism that follows it around like a plague, have been slowly methodically evolving over the past 40 years and are finally yielding great promise and products.

Businesses and governments that recognize and act to put into place supportive infra-structures will reap the benefits of a self sustaining, cost effective alternative to the economic choke-hold of foreign oil and realize enormous profits both monetary and with some much needed political capital.

For us to achieve energy independence and the security that goes hand in hand with it, we have to get serious now, and take the nessasary steps to support an energy efficient society with the goal in mind to be free of foriegn oil within the next 3 decades. After all its been a very long time since we were energy efficient, and we will experience some growing pains. I also must add, with due respect to my grandchildren, I'd like to see it happen in my lifetime, Sort of the icing on the cake thing.

Setting aside for a moment my personal motivations for writing this, my deep inspirations are rooted in these simple words spoken from an untouched pristine world on July 20, 1969. "Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed". We had arrived on the moon, and will forever after, gaze skyward.

The Solution

The steps to a realistic energy solution are as follows, but keep in mind, although these technologies are constantly evoving, the basic premises are non negotiable nessasary steps to real solutions well researched by the greatest collection of minds of our times.

Surely, one of the most obvious major sources of our dependence on imported oil is in the transportation sector. Cars, aircraft, trucks and military transportation are at the very top of this list, yet are are still incredibly inefficient for the fuel they consume and the carbon emissions they produce. For example the average automobile uses about 77% of the fuel it consumes just to move it down the highway while only 23% is needed to move its occupants.

A serious effort to reduce vehicle weight while still providing the structural integrity nessasary for vehicle safety standards is underway in much of the auto industrys future plans. Light weight super fuel efficient electric-hybrid automobiles are now considered to be our best choice in the short term, with an eventual shift towards plug in hybrids able to run on a combination of low carbon produced electricity and low emission biomass fuel.

New materials to take the place of steel at half the cost and nearly 12 times the strength have been developing in the aircraft industry for years in the form of carbon fiber reinforced thermoplactics "CFRTP" which can easily be utilized in the production of other types of vehicles as well. The tooling costs nessasary to implement these changes are but a fraction of the profits that can be realized by auto makers willing to step out of the past and into the future of automotive design. Keep in mind, these are market driven incentives, not mandated by, nor regulated by any government intervention. Its a choice and a challenge to free thinking innovative industry.

New fuel sources are developing as the biomass industry steps up to the plate with ethanol based fuels derived from corn in the U.S. and sugarcane in Brazil and other U.S. aligned countries as well as agricultural detritus such as cornhusks, switchgrass and wood chips known as cellulosic biomass, all of which are market driven as well.

Producing ethanol from biomass requires first releasing sugars in the plant polymers called cellulose, with a combination of mechanical and chemical enzyme actions and then distilling them thru fermentation with yeasts and bacterial cells to produce ethanol. Its a process similar to making whisky, only on a much larger scale, and with much more punch per ounce. Mainly derived from a sugar unlocking enzyme derivative called celluases, its applications in the textile industry have been around for many years, and are used for such things as weathering blue jeans.

Another promising technology in the forefront of chemical engineering are anerobic enzymes. These little microbes may prove to be an even greater boon in the production of ethanol than previously thought by growing them on cellulose and harvesting them, further reducing the cost of ethanol production.

In the coming years, the integration of these technologies coupled with market driven free enterprise will prove to be invaluable as stepping stones to real energy independence and a safer, cleaner world.

I'm often asked which is more important to me, energy and the environment? or safety from terrorism?. My response is this: If you want a world free of terrorism, you must first position yourself to be a self sustaining power, free from the constraints of doing business with unfriendly, self interested, greed stricken countries on the verge of collapsing from their past selfish actions. In other words, "You reap what you sow". If we plant it, it will grow, and it is.
Last year alone, venture capitalists invested $917 million in U.S. green energy technology companies and that amount is expected to grow to over $167 billion worldwide over the next decade. It is money well invested.

The Challenge

I told you at the beginning of this article that the ideas were almost too simple to grasp. You can choose for yourself to follow the lead of the Six O'clock news, where every story is generated on the previous days news and live day to day, or you can take cues like I do, from my own personal experiences and apply them to the future. A change "is" coming and its up to you to make it a bad one, or a good one.

Some so called "Experts" say the transition from fossil fuels to greener ones could take 50 years or more and are getting rich conducting this study or that study, while the real experts are "laboratory grunts" (and I use that term with the greatest respect and admiration) who are sowing the seeds of your future and mine, one enzyme at a time. My money is on them.

"My ear is laying on the tracks, and I can hear the train coming"

Can you hear it too?

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