Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Future is Now

Perhaps the bright side to the outrageous spike in the price of oil is that it is spurring more research into alternative adn development of fuel sources. Ideas that used to look expensive, like making ethanol from garbage, wood chips or crop waste. Some of the technologies that can be used have been known for a while, but they were relatively expensive compared to cheap oil.

We often do not change our ways until we have to. Back when gas was 25 cents a gallon, nobody cared how many miles per gallon a vehicle got. Then we got used to paying $1 a gallon and many people forgot about the oil embargoes of the 70s and decided that driving huge vehicles that only got 10 or 15 miles to the gallon was affordable. Now with gas at $4 a gallon, nobody wants to buy the big, gas wasting vehicles any more, and lots of people are interested in hybrid cars, diesels that can run on vegetable oil, and other new technologies. It even looks like there are beginning to be more motor scooters on the road which are super fuel efficient.

It was also within our lifetimes (those of us who are a little older anyway) that the U.S. was able to drill all the oil we needed from our own lands.

Then again, when I was growing up, most families only had one car. The street we lived on had room for two way traffic and parking and we played ball in the street. Today, it would be common to find that families with four people have four cars. That same street where I grew up, now has one way traffic and barely enough room for one car to drive down the street at a time. Forget about room to play ball.

Am I happy that gas is $4 a gallon? Absolutely not. Am I happy that this development is turning more attention to inventions that can create or use new forms of fuel? Yes. We definitely need fuel to power our transportation, appliances, computers, heat, and cool our homes and offices. Nobody ever said that the fuel had to be oil.

Some solutions may look back to solar power, wind power, wood burning stoves, maybe even coal burning, if it can be done cleanly. Other solutions may be new, like geothermal power, the conversion of waste materials in to fuel, perhaps nuclear power, if solutions can be found to safely handle the operation and waste generated by nuclear plants.

Difficulties challenge us to be more resourceful. It is natural to follow the path of least resistance. At a point in our history where we could be inefficient and still have a comfortable lifestyle, we did so. Now we need to be ever more ingenious in the ways we conserve energy and develop energy. And our quality of life can still be comfortable.

Just like we have learned to recycle our newspapers, bottles and cans, we will probably pick up other new habits. In the very near future, our houses and cars will be different.

In certain respects we can say that things we used to think of as futuristic are becoming part of our present life.

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