Where are our leaders?

17 years ago

To the editor:
    I started the following letter almost a year ago and recently Sen. Susan Collins almost stole my thunder by calling for a Herculean effort to become energy independent, but she missed the mark on several points. First she did not say by what mechanism we might be able to achieve such independence. Secondly she failed to mention hydrogen and called instead for research into bio-fuels.     I think it is a terrible idea to turn our food into fuel for our cars. It would cause the price of our food to rise at a time people are struggling to put food on their table, and would do nothing to address global warming issues. Only hydrogen burns clean enough to be an acceptable replacement for our hydrocarbon-based economy. It could and should be used immediately to replace the coal and oil power plants and factories now use.
    Here is the rest of my letter that was originally addressed to President Bush and our current leaders in Congress.
    On October 4, 1957 a full-scale crisis erupted in the United States when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite. This had a “Pearl Harbor” effect on American public opinion, creating at least the illusion of a technological gap and provided the impetus for increased spending on aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of new federal agencies to manage air and space research and development. Congress and the President of the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958. NASA’s birth was directly related to the pressures of national security.
    Then on May 25, 1961 President Kennedy announced before a Joint Session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon and back before the end of the decade. This decision involved enormous human efforts and expenditures to make the July 20, 1969 moon landing a reality, only the Panama Canal in peacetime and the Manhattan Project during wartime were comparable in scope.
    I doubt few would argue that the moon landings would not have been possible during that time frame without the creation of NASA to oversee and manage one of mans most ambitious undertakings. We face a crisis today of greater proportion than the early space race between two superpowers, and that is the energy crisis. Even if we forget about the global warming debate for now, we know that asthma and other lung diseases are now a major problem with children and senior citizens, particularly in California from smog and the Eastern States from Mid-Western coal burning power plants. It is obvious that even if we can find more fossil fuel by drilling off our coasts and elsewhere we will only continue to pollute the atmosphere and speed the pace of global warming.
    We are told that spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants remain lethal to humans for thousands of years. Is this a legacy we want to leave our children and their children? Also the threat of terrorist attacks against nuclear power plants makes this choice an unwise one, at least for now.
    Is it sane policy to continue giving billions of our dollars to unstable terrorist regimes in the Middle East such as Iran, which allows them to continue developing nuclear weapons which could be used against the United States or Israel? Not only Iran but also other supposedly friendly rich oil producing countries in the Middle East secretly donates millions of dollars to extremist and terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Clearly we must stop giving billions of dollars to these countries, and the only way to do that is by becoming energy independent.
    If the space race was deemed to be such a national security issue that it necessitated the creation of NASA, doesn’t it also just make sense that a similar agency be created to handle the energy crisis and by extension global warming? It may require a new separate agency or maybe dual roles could be created for NASA’s scientists and engineers, which would give it a goal and sense of direction that it seems to have been lacking for some years now.
    Space exploration may be important and necessary but if the planet becomes uninhabitable through wars or continued global warming such exploration would become superfluous. The scientists and engineers that enabled us to reach the moon should now turn their talents to developing new sources of clean renewable energy, to ease the threat of global warming, and to cut off the funds that are now being funneled to terrorist organizations.
    One of the most promising sources of renewable energy that is available now, is hydrogen. The world’s oceans cover three quarters of the earth’s surface making it one of the most abundant resources on the planet and an almost unlimited source of hydrogen. Most people are aware that the byproduct of burning hydrogen is water, what could possibly be cleaner or better?
    We are told that currently it takes more energy to produce hydrogen then is returned, but that is just an engineering problem that could be quickly solved. Think of the Wright Brothers and the first airplane. Everyone except a few, thought it would never get off the ground and after it did, that it would never be of any practical use. Hydrogen should first be used to replace coal burning power plants in the Midwest, which along with producing electricity also produces air pollution, acid rain and a host of health related problems here in the East. If handled properly hydrogen is no more dangerous than gasoline or any of the other flammable gases and liquids routinely used in this country safely, each and every day. It would still be far less dangerous to this country than a nuclear Chernobyl would be, if that were to happen here, whether due to simple human error or a terrorist attack.
    Some experimentation is already taking place with hydrogen fuel cells to power automobiles and some talk in Congress about developing other energy alternatives, but no comprehensive plan of action or set timetables to bring this to fruition. The creation of an agency similar to NASA is not just one way to achieve the goal of energy independence; it may be the only way. For example imagine if we had worked on going to the moon the way we are now working toward energy independence, it is unlikely we would have ever made it into outer space, let alone land on the moon. NASA has been an agency in search of a mission these past few years, why not change their mission from going to dead planets to possibly saving this one from becoming a dead planet. If not NASA then we should call on Congress to create a similar agency that has total energy independence within ten years as its stated mission. Much like the space program the research into hydrogen and other renewable and non-polluting sources of energy will lead to new spin-off industries and technologies that will pave the way for future high paying jobs and as yet unrealized opportunities.
    So what are the problems concerning the creation of such an agency? It appears that not only this President and his administration, but also much of Congress are in big oil’s pocket. With billions of dollars in profits being declared by the oil companies they have never been richer or stronger and that can buy a lot of loyalty on both sides of the aisle. There is little or no incentive for them to change the way they are now doing business, other than the fact that they live on the same planet as everyone else. The oil companies should be invited by the government to be at the forefront of developing cheap, clean and renewable sources of energy but only under the auspices of a newly formed Energy Agency. But any foot dragging by the oil companies would lead to the implementation of excess profits taxes that would be earmarked for a new Energy Agency and to fund the research and development of hydrogen and other forms of clean, renewable energy.
    In order to facilitate cooperation instead of confrontation at the international level we should invite India, China and other emerging energy hungry nations to contribute monetarily as well as with research and development. If Global Warming is a reality as some seem to think, than we all have a stake in finding a worldwide solution that could result in solving our energy needs in a sane rational manner and that leads to a better future for all.
    Footnote: I started this letter over a year ago when the price of gasoline was about $2.36 a gallon. Today gasoline is expected to hit $4 a gallon by Christmas. Where are our leaders, not only nationally but also locally? Why aren’t any of them putting forward serious proposals to reduce our consumption, other than of course to raise the price of gasoline?
    We should look at the resumption of rail service, particularly as a way to get long haul tractor-trailers off the roads and onto railroad cars. We should reconsider busing millions of kids hundreds of thousands of miles a year in this country. Might there be schools that can be made acceptable to those who live nearest a given school? Why aren’t any of our leaders even talking about increasing public transportation alternatives? I believe many of us would welcome public transportation if it were made efficient, clean, safe and reliable. It should be something that people would want to travel on, Disney never has any problem getting people out of their cars and onto the monorails, as most people actually enjoy the ride.
    My point is that our leaders have failed all of us miserably by their partisan bickering and corruption instead of looking for ways to solve our most pressing energy needs. Sen. Collins’ letter is a step in the right direction and it shows she is aware we need such a Herculean effort, but now she needs to propose that NASA or a similar agency be created to oversee such an effort. We need leaders with the guts and vision John Kennedy showed back in 1961 to gain the world’s respect and admiration by the creation of NASA that enables us to go to the moon. We can achieve energy independence while creating the groundwork for continued prosperity for our children and ourselves.

    We must stop the hemorrhaging of our dollars to terrorists in the Middle East and to a wanna be dictator in Venezuela. The development of hydrogen is our best hope to put a dent in global warming while providing the impetus for research into other areas of renewable resources based energy businesses. Much like the space race did for Silicon Valley the offshoot of a concerted effort to achieve energy independence and its subsequent research and development should provide expanding bubbles of opportunities that will form the basis for our future prosperity. Regardless it is clear we cannot continue the way we are going, we need leaders that understand the risk this country is facing and like John Kennedy did, act decisively and quickly.

Robert Carvell
Presque Isle