"That can't be done."
I've just told 27 seventh grade larvae that their upcoming task is to build a tower of 4X6 index cards that is strong enough to hold " The Terminator". The Terminator is a standard clay brick painted black with 2 old labels attached.
The towers must hold the brick for 5 seconds. If it will hold that long, it would hold all day.
One says, "The Terminator" and the other says, "I'll Be Back".
They shake their heads and roll their eyes when I share the additional news that you may only fold your cards ... no stapling, no gluing, no gum, no paperclips,no taping, no tearing or cutting, and all folds must be angular, no tubes are allowed.
"Is that a real brick?"
"Yes"... I hand it to the nearest kid to verify that The Terminator is indeed all brick.
"Your tower must be at least one foot high and hold the brick. If it does so, you made a 100 on this project."
"What if it doesn't?"
"That depends on you. If you get flustered and stop trying, you fail the project. If you try all period, even if it doesn't ever hold the brick, you make an 80 ... that's a B-. If you DO give up and stop trying you fail this project."
"How do you do it?"
"I'm not telling you how to do it. Try your ideas, if it doesn't work, change them, try again. Pay attention to designs that are working for other kids. Don't be married to your original plan."
"If your original plan keeps failing to support the brick, then change it."
" After you make a successful brick holding tower of at least one foot, you can combine cards and brains to build it taller for extra points ... it still has to hold the Terminator though."
On the day of the project, after I supply 4x6 index cards(out of my pocket) to the half of the class who never brought their own cards in, there is much anxiety at first.
Before too long, someone (usually a girl) builds a successful tower and I make a big deal out their success. Pretty soon, I am dashing from tower to tower with the Terminator, gently setting it atop them and counting ..."One thousand and One, One thousand and Two, ..."
By the end of the period, usually each kid has at least made the 100 and most have kept building right up to the bell in their quest for extra credit points and the title of class champion engineers.
So what they first assumed was impossible was actually only difficult.
That seems to be where we grownups are when it comes to energy independence.
We think it's impossible.
We've squandered the time since the first big warning bell in 1973, ignored both Carter and Nixon's call for energy independence, and now we're whining about the price of gas, even though it's cheaper here than in most of the world.
For the last 15 years, I've caused my wife's eyes to roll every time I expounded on the fact that gas is too cheap. My point being there was no incentive for fuel efficiency innovation or conserving while it was so artificially cheap.
It would be redundant to point out the surge in giant, gas sucking vehicles during those years, but I just did it anyway.
It creeped me out last week to hear a Saudi spokesman say something similar bout the US, because, frankly, I don't like the Saudis and don't really care to be on the same wavelength as them.
It was a case of convergent evolution I suppose.
I've been inside lately, staining, sanding, and varnishing boards while the 24 hour news talking heads banter about the energy situation.
The overwhelming theme running through their chitchat and their political guests is lowering gas prices.
They don't get it.
Gas prices may fluctuate a little seasonally, but they will steadily climb and that steady climb will be punctuated by rapid price increases due to this or that crisis. It will not matter much if the crisis is real or only a perception.
If I buy a new car this year, I know I'll be paying $6-$8 a gallon by the time it's paid for.
You can write that down and see if it isn't true.
It's a case of the rest of the world, especially India and China, catching up with our lifestyle. It really is about supply and demand.
We need to be in a position to stop demanding oil and move rapidly on alternatives and efficient technology. The positive side is that high prices are spurring some amazing research while also making the price of wind and solar very competitive. While I'm not so crazy about corn ethanol except as a transition plan, cellulosic ethanol is very interesting.
The holy grail of transportation energy sources is probably hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells. There are constant technology improvements there too ... but how will all that water vapor exhaust affect the planet? (Just kidding ... I'll take dihydrogen monoxide over carbon monoxide any day)
I don't do "doom and gloom" so I know we'll get through this. We just happen to be living in the painful transition period, which, in my opinion, has only just begun to hurt. Like the Terminator Tower project, it only looks impossible.
The future energy picture needs to be more of a paella with many ingredients vs. the current cheese pizza of coal and oil.
(Am I hungry?)
Working on the living room remodel job, one very obvious fact keeps jumping out at me.
The foam brush, the wood stain, the paint on the walls, the varnish, the nitrile gloves, the plastic drop cloth, the plastic paint bucket lids, the foam sanding pads, my sneakers, and the plastic sawhorses are all made from oil.
Petroleum is truly a magical substance. The list of nonfuel products made from it is incredible, and it goes a lot farther used in that manner than as fuel. To burn it seems incredibly shortsighted, yet here we are, just trying to get by.
That bothers me, as I think future generations will look back and say, " They burned it? What were they thinking? Did they think it would last forever?"
That's the same thing I say when I look back at the 19Th century loggers of virgin timber, the market hunters of buffalo, passenger pigeon, and waterfowl, and the whalers.
What were they thinking?
The same thing we are.