Friday, July 04, 2008

I Does Not Stand For Impossible, It Could Stand For True Independence


"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.


Daniel said...

It's always good to see a post ostensibly about peak oil, without actually mentioning the "P-O" words.

I got 99 problems web 2.0 ain't one said...

Amen Lots of people laughed when I bought the little Scion. Now who is laughing. My truck is a small four cylinder. I think there are many options. I could have always bought bigger, but was always happier when I didn't. My next truck will be a Diesel. I will run it on waste Veggie oil. I thoguht of selling my truck, but converting it to electric would also be interesting. Time will tell.

David said...

Well said FC - there was also a time when we were dependent on a different type of oil: whale oil (which was also largely depleted). Change is possible! Thanks for an insightful 4th of July post.

Doug Taron said...

Preach it, Brother FC! This is such a timely post for Independence Day. Some might say that the warning came much earlier than 1973. It was sometime in the 1890s when Arrhenius first postulated eventual global climate change as a result of burning fossil fuels.

Anonymous said...

Very well put FC. You are preaching to the choir here. Just by not making frivolous trips in the car and combining errands, I have reduced the dollar amount of my monthly gas bill from $100 to $60, even with the higher prices. You know, I don't even feel deprived. We can do it. Lets quit complaining and use our brains to find a better source.
Arkansas Patti

Anonymous said...

Whooa, where'd that soap box come from. After all of that I recomend take 2 Buffetts and kick back a while. But,unfortunitly, you've got a very strong argument. There's been plenty of proposals brought up, only to be shot down by congress. Have a good 4th FC and all of yours.

Dr. Know said...

Whoa! I had to do a double-take and make certain I was reading the right blog. But you are absolutely correct, and glad to see the truths of our Energy Blues coming from a southern cracker for a change. Our landfills are overflowing with plastic disposable crap (VCRs, TVs, Diapers, plastic bags, etc.)from China, all made from oil, and everyone in this area (hell) drives a huge-honking SUV with the aerodynamics of a Super WalMart. Yet there have been CAFE exemptions for these things for years. Why? Shortsighted greed, most likely. I've been bitching about this for 30 years, to no avail.

And it cascades down -- I have a larger than preferable car so that I might survive the inevitable collisions which occur here with alarming regularity. (I've been rear-ended 4 times at 55 mph+ in SkankLanta.)

Finally, here's a little ditty for youse guys.

Miz S said...

Straight talk from FC! I love it. And I'm with you 100%.

cedrorum said...

Unfortunately, the "masses" won't get any of this until it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well. You need to rant like this more often! I wanted to stand up and cheer.

In some respects, it follows the same line of thinking for why I'm against drilling off the coast of Florida. Doing so doesn't help us to find alternatives, reduce our use of oil, nor is it going to bring prices down. Just like the kids who attempted the impossible with the cards and the bricks, so we must find alternatives to our dependence on oil, and find them soon.

An excellent post for Independence day, FC!
btw, we'll need a new Governor eventually. I'm going to write your name on the ballot, just so you know....

Anonymous said...

Very refreshing, Fc and spot-on. Somehow, you manage to encapsulate about 105% of where I'm at with only 2% of the rancor and angst. Please let me in on your secret.

Just kidding. Rancor, angst, and me - we go way back.

Happy 4th to you and yours. It's pouring and thundering here, and I am stuck on-call. I won't be going out today.

Alternate plan for the Wife and daughter (who are going to go to the beach and try to see the fireworks with friends) will be weenies on the grill here at the Homestead - just me, my Wife, my kid, and whoever else they may want to bring along.

The house is clean (my turn to do it today), so all are welcome.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

There are so many of us who think this way, one wonders why we aren't making more progress than we are. Pish.

h said...

Good thoughtful post. I had a similar wave of revulsion when I found myself partially agreeing with the "Saudi" oil minister.

I could solve the entire PROBLEM in less than 2 years. And it is a PROBLEM not a freaking "crisis". Talk about an over-used word!

kathy a. said...

very good post. i've had trouble understanding how the hummer/SUV/monster truck phenomenon even happened after the oil crisis of the 1970's -- remember gas rationing? why all those tiny fuel-efficient cars became so popular, so fast? for that matter, the idea of conserving energy by turning off the lights?

jojo said...

WOWZA!! FC lets take this blog out for a spin why don't ya. Didn't know you had it in ya...

Such a good post with a spin. you had me all intrigued with the school project and then WHAM! And so on target. Wholeheartedly agree.

I think there are at least 3 FC-isms that have come from this. I'd like to think we are able to be a Paella. The food analogy is at the top. :)

.. I love our country, but how short sighted we all are at times. I wonder what the next generation will be like. I don't mean your kids or their kids, but further down the line.

Not to get too off target but, you did start the blog off with it. But what made you call it the terminator? and how many students tried to make it taller and succeeded. Is there only one way to make it work? or many?.

Thunder said...

Wow man, I'm out of breath after reading it!
Hey you forgot a few other goodies that come from crude oil: Soap, Shampoo, Laundry Detergent, Shaving Cream, Synthetic Fabrics, ....
I definitly agree that the leading alternate technology for vehicles is hydrogen.
It's actually an awesome process because as you pointed out the exhaust is water vapor, but you also use water to generate the hydrogen in the first place. Sort of a self sustaining reaction (I said sort of).

Deb said...

Yes, you're preaching to the choir here, but I'm so glad to see this thoughtful post. I have been wavering between despair and hope on our current energy situation, but why not choose hope? It may just get our collective selves thinking about what's really important. Like being aware enough to be self reliant if necessary. Like building local food and energy networks. Like getting to know and work with your neighbors again.

R.Powers said...

Welcome to PF!
Glad you liked my rant.

Welcome to PF!
My JEEP's a 4 cyl. also and I look forward to the day I can slip a hybrid engine into it.

Thanks. Funny, but petroleum (kerosene) ended that whale oil dependence.
Little did we know ...

Thanks for enlightening me! Also thanks for hosting the Circus!

I'm with ya. Congrats to you on your conserving.I've really cut back on my own unnecessary roaming.
We can do this.

Bro J,
I blame this post on my new Black Sabbath CD.
Maybe I do need two Buffets and a Zachary Richard.

Somehow, I get the feeling you really don't like Atlanta much!

Miz S,
Good to have you on board. I read Vicki's version of the meeting, waiting on yours!

Not as long as they are fed drivel by the "news" programs.

I had no idea what I was going to write about this morning until I scrolled down through Picasa and there was the tower photo.
Just write in "Skink" on the ballot. They'll know it's me ;)
I can see some strategic, defense reasons for more home drilling, but not $$$ reasons.
Always good to know THE LAURA agrees with me on something. I trust your judgement.

You do rancor and angst very well my friend. I would not try and compete.
I'm pretty mellow and usually get calmer as I get more angry.
Hence the lack of quality rancor/angst.
Rained here too and we have no company due to remodeling so it's a weirdly quiet 4th.

I know what you mean. Frustrating.

It stopped me in my tracks when I heard him say what I've been saying.
I wanted to go take a shower.

Kathy A,
I was in high school and just driving so I remember it (55mph) very, very well.
The first gallon of gas I ever bought was 33 cents.

Thanks! I got plenty of it in me, I just try and keep PF mostly on target with my masthead mission statement.
Variety is the spice of life tho...
As for the tower project, the brick is named the Terminator and painted black after the scifi movie of the same name and because it TERMINATES poorly designed card towers :)
There are many ways to correctly build the tower, the pictured version is a very good design for transferring the bricks weight down to the floor.
Just a note: Girls are almost always better at this project than the guys.

I did go on didn't I? I didn't try to list everything ... I'd still be writing!
I suppose P&G uses a lot of P. derivitives.

R.Powers said...

Thanks. I know you seem to be very aware of using local resources and I respect that. You are probably doing more than most of us in that regard.

Rurality said...

Yeah. Sadly I think it may just be human nature. I'm not sure it's possible to stop society as a whole from behaving in any other way. Hope I'm wrong about that.

amarkonmywall said...

100% agreement from here, even though I just took the DC Metro back from the fireworks with EIGHT TRILLION people and thought I was living through War of the Worlds. It's still yes too mass transportation. You all take it and I'll move to the top of a mountain and life will be good. Seriously, it's ridiculous that we keep wanting the prices to drop so we can continue to do more of the same that is destructive and doesn't work.

Very well written, FC. Thanks.

R.Powers said...

I know.
It's a pretty self centered, instant gratification zeitgeist we got going.

R.Powers said...

Great point about the price drop wish!
Glad you made it back to the hotel safely!

Anonymous said...

*Stands up and starts a slow clap*


Aunty Belle said...

uh-oh...How in tarnation can I be outa step wif' all ya'll fine folks?

Florida Cracker, I reckon I agrees wif' most of this fine rant--we needs to be diversifyin' into wind and solar and hydrogen fuel cells an' all--shure we do. And reasonable conservation is a good principle applied to all thangs.

But jiminy-cricket folks, iffin' we want to drive Hummers and Tahoes, if we prefer our contrary independence to mass transit (of which I'se suspicious -more later)then we DO have the oil we need MINUS the Ibn Sauds.

We have the oil. Here. The 1973 scare had a real real odd effect--we bought MORE foreign oil while we shut down our own exploration. Make any sense to ya'll? Me neither.

So, figger why we did that? Thar' musta been a good reason. (natcherly that reason ain't good fer PR, but thar' IS a reason?)

We can/coulda been "energy independent." Now that oil is hittin' 160 a barrel that might be enough to poke our own holes.

I think youse right, FC, gas is too cheap relative to fair market value...but still, we do have our own oil, doan need nobody else's.

So fer mah money, the real question is not about tellin' Americans what to drive or --worse--force millions into mass programed transportation, but the question is, in 1973, why din't our king-pins decide right thar' and then to become independent of foreign oil?

At least one real good strategic plan done took up residency in mah haid...heh, heh.

MinorcanMeteorolgist said...

That's how I see it.
The "They burned it?!" concept is an extremely good point, and we know that's exactly what future generations will say if we don't change.
Hydrogen is the answer. Ethanol will never work...not even cellulosic...It is important to keep crop residue in the fields to prevent erosion and to naturally return some nutrients to the soil...And we've already seen how corn-based ethanol has affected the food supply. The agrarian in me wants to support it because it helps farmers, but it will never work, so I can't support it.
Falls in line with the whole antropogenic global warming fiasco: I support the environmental policies that come from the recent climate change scare, but my meteorologist self knows that it's not true, so I always speak out against it...Even though the policies stemming from it are very favorable, the ends does not justify the means.
That was the longest rambling comment I have ever left.

R.Powers said...

Bows.Again.Leaves stage. Returns. Bows.

Always feel free to disagree here. I'm a great believer in disagreeing without being disagreeable.
Well, honey, you know I disagree with you. We ARE a major oil producer with still vast reserves. Yes, we could drill in some locked out areas now and pull out even more to BURN in engine technology that dates to the late 1800's.
And while strategically and survival of the fittestly, it is smart to suck other peoples oil while saving ours, it's still foolish to BURN it. And to burn it inefficiently in gas sucking megacars is even more foolish.
New engine technology will not take away choice in vehicle style or size. Already in the first stages of the departure from oil their are SUV's and Trucks with hybrid engines.
We're still at the LUCY stage in this evolutionary movement away from oil.

As for " in 1973, why din't our king-pins decide right thar' and then to become independent of foreign oil?"
If you were driving then, you will remember that immediately after that OPEC kept oil prices low to ensure we'd be fat and happy and forget about energy independence.
It worked beautifully and we remain suckled to their sandy teat.
If we keep doing what we're doing,we might be "contrary", but we won't be "independent".

Well, I think you're wrong on both counts amigo. You're too young to use the phrase "it will never work" ... that's for old farts.

While some crop residue does stay in the field, it's also burned, converted into other products (paper), etc. Plus if you research Cell. Eth. you'll find it's not just about residue, but about perennial plants like switchgrass and others. That is where much potential lies.
As for global warming. Yes, the jury is still out ... sorta,maybe, kinda, but the evidence is very strong.
It makes perfect sense to me, and the scientific cumulative data shows a direct correlation between increasing emissions and increasing global temps.
Even NASA agrees and their meteorologists are the best on the planet.
Don't close that young mind.
Thanks for a good thought provoking comment.

MinorcanMeteorolgist said...

Hey, the mind's not closed, it's just the speculative scientist in me...And I may be young, but if I may say so myself, I have a pretty darned good grasp on history.
We'll find out about global warming in another 2 decades when they start purporting "global cooling" yet again..."Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." ;-)

robin andrea said...

I haven't read all the comments here, dial-up doesn't permit such a luxury. So, I'll probably be redundant in saying what an excellent, timely, smart, and thoughtful post, fc. Yes, to all of it, and thank you for saying it.

Dr. Know said...

Last I checked, corn based ethanol is inefficient -- the energy costs to produce fuel grade ethanol cancels any advantage. Cane has a higher sugar content, and produces more fuel, more efficiently. Brazil uses cane based alcohol, and they have a surplus they would love to sell us, but we have a moratorium on imports. Go figure.

As to your previous comment, not at all. What's to like about a corrupt, ignorant, mosquito pit devoid of honor, character, and decent women. The city and its character were gutted by carpetbagging sharks beginning in 1993, and the rest of the state has always been an ignorant no man's land. Excuse the negativity, it's just the way I feel about it.

Dr. Know said...

And by the way, forgot to mention the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division, where they dicuss the hidden dangers and current controversy surrounding dihydrogen monoxide. Enjoy! ;-)

MamaHen said...

YEA!!! I agree totally; wonderful post!

R.Powers said...

You rascal. Go back in my post and see if I ever once mentioned Global anything.
This is a post on breaking a dependence on "foreign entanglements" to quote a famous figure from history.
I do value your opinion and yes, I know your mind isn't closed.

Ranting sans politics is my specialty :)
Thank you for the kind words.

I lived in Savannah for 3 years as a fed and it was pretty nice. Maybe you should find the coast again.

Thanks! I thought you might feel similarly.
Hey, I'm doing lots of finish carpentry today! (not as fine as you do... I'm an amateur)
Wainscoting the living room. Thank God for power miter saws!

Anonymous said...

I like the Terminator project, I like it a lot. Are the students allowed an unlimited number of index cards?

R.Powers said...

Welcome to Pure Florida!
Yes, they may bring in as many as they want. I tell them it can be done with 50 ... about half a pack.
On the extra credit part, kids pair up and share cards.
It's a great project for minimal expense.

Anonymous said...

What's the new Black Sabbath CD?

I'm not sure how drilling of Florida or ANWR won't help lower prices. More oil means the supply go up, if demand stays the same it's only natural the price goes down. And I don't think the price was kept artificially low, it's now inflated artificially by the speculators setting the prices. It went up $10 a barrel just because someone thought it would go up. Ethanol is a terrible alternative, it costs more to produce and is less efficient. Not to mention the increase in the cost of corn. A gallon of ethanol produces much less energy than a gallon of gas. And it's terrible for outboard engines! So FC, unless you have upgraded the fuel system on Summer School to be compatible with ethanol don't be surprised if you start having fuel related problems.

Unknown said...

mmmmmm dialup.....not!!!!

i am late but not unappreciative. a very fine rant fc. your analogies are spot on. i suspect that we could add to peak oil and higher demand than supply of oil, the same sort of disaster looming in our financial system. mega-billions of loans and credit advances will never be repaid.

Dr. Know said...

Neat card trick, BTW. A challenge is a rare thing in this idiodic testing oriented scholastic environment. Kudos on building the critical thinking skills.

As for Savannah, I helped my sister move there so that she could go to S. Art College in the 80s -- in August. Got a bogus ticket from some speed trap town off I-16 and the black flies and mosquitoes ate me alive when I got there. Drove right by when I subsequently moved to FL. I've got one move left in me, and it's gonna be waaaay away from crooked Dixie Mafia politicos.

Anonymous said...

I was just at a conference last week and one of the speakers was Dr. Steve Running, part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the group that one the Nobel with Al Gore.

It's not like I didn't know what was going on, but it just really reinforced that behaviours have to change....two decades ago. Or, now, but you know what I mean. We're already knee deep in it and don't seem to be digging our way out just yet.

I told a friend at the start of the war that we'd see gas prices up and she didn't believe me. That was when we were at $1.50 Hrmph.