Archive for the ‘1960s’ Category

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1960 NASA = Engineers? Do we need another Moon Shot?

August 19, 2008

I had an interesting green tech conversation germinated by the statement “my liberal NASA engineer sister says that she can’t vote for Obama.”  This is based on the expectation that Obama lacks support for the current administration’s doomed manned Mars mission.

I’m skipping over the politics to jump into a different issue: solving our energy problems requires a new generation of kick-ass engineers.  Unfortunately, we have not been cultivating a large crop of our best and brightest to become engineers and scientists.

Oil on the Moon!

Oil on the Moon!

Many kids were inspired to become scientists and engineers when the Nation had a clear Space Race objective in the 60s.  I was part of this generation that grew up *knowing* it was cool and fun to build things.  At every level, our schools invested in feeding intellectual curiosity and funding science education.  While few became actual “rocket scientists” many were inspired and America build a huge technological lead.

In my conversation we generally agreed that 1) science/engineering is not inspiring (or profitable) right now and 2) current “energy independence” and “green environmentalism” initiatives are not sufficiently motivating.

These are very solvable problems!  The solution is LEADERSHIP and COMMITMENT to make this a national priority.  People will follow career opportunities and fame.  The X-Prize and DARPA grand challenge models have proven that we can create programs that inspire and reward people to become scientists and engineers.  Let’s put the sexy back in sextant!

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Energy Analog: 60s Litter?

August 1, 2008

I had an interesting conversation over breakfast with MetroNetIQ.com blogger and fellow Green Geek, John C.  We were comparing the social paradigm shift about litter that occurred in the 60s to the needed change about energy.  In the last 60s, litter was a massive free rider problem where people felt totally OK throwing trash everywhere.  Industrial pollution and dumping were also rampant.

I still vividly remember the anti-pollution adds (albeit from the 1970s).  Through a combination of laws and social change we have radically altered society’s opinion about pollution and litter.  They are simply not accepted – they have become social taboos.  We need the same change for sustainability.

An enduring icon for anti-pollution

An enduring icon for anti-pollution

The change took huge political will power.  It was an major economic burden on the businesses.  People individually took action and changed their behavior.  So what happened to change us? Why is this different than the nascent energy paradigm shift?

I believe that the pollution problem was directly in people’s back yards and visible.  Water and air quality in-your-face disasters.  It also fit with the culture of the era.  So far, our energy problem has been growing silently – terrorism and climate change are hard to link to daily actions.  The recent surge in prices is motivating people to change, but I don’t see a paradigm shift.

What icon will emerge for sustainability?  How bad will it have to get before we have a universal icon?

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Oil prices up or down? Speculation driving them up?

July 23, 2008

I heard on NPR today that Congress determined rising Oil prices were NOT due to speculation.  Here’s an interesting debate about short & long term future for OilMatthew Simmon‘s, a peak oil advocate, suggests that we should put a floor on the price to prevent short term thinking.  He argues that 1) oil supplies will continue to lag demand and 2) we won’t make the long term changes needed until people stop thinking of this is a oil price bubble.  He says, “stop the witch hunt and start looking for solutions.”

Peak Oil Analyst

Peak Oil Analyst

I believe that our government is highly motivated to find a short term fix to the supply problem.  Inescapable election year politics lead me to predict that we’re likely to have an artificial/short return to low prices to stimulate the economy.  I think this will have much more drastic long term costs.

Alternative energy is the only long term solution .  A price floor will protect investors in alternative fuels because real alternatives need time to reach the mass market.

I’ll suggest again, that we should have a 10+ year “energy independence” initiative like the 1960’s space race where we invest heavily in building the expertise (the people) to solve this problem.  Our nation benefited dramatically from that focus.  A sustainability focus would regain maintain our world leadership.