The Path Forward
Our History and Our Future
“I have seen the future. I know how it starts. You were there.”
Today we stand at a very interesting and unique crossroads whereby our history and our future form a confluence that is twisted and knotted by unrealized innovation and misguided leadership. The wind here lifts the dust to an eye-squinting storm of concern, yet within that torrid shape is the fabric of opportunity and abundance, if we can only muster the courage.
We are a country of immigrants who carry the memory of social injustice. We are a melting pot of ideas, dreams, desires, and ingenuities. Yet we have a collective vision. We see the future and long for its peace, dream of its crystal blue azure skies, and so yearn for the crisp and shining gleam of its technology and purpose.
We fondly reminisce of the hope we have felt growing up in American society. We feel its energy at the core of our being, and yet know that this hope does not come without fear. Our hope begets trust and carries with it the courage that our good nature will prevail, that good men and women will rise to lead, and that our confidence will blossom from our strong belief that we, the collective we, will do the right thing for the right reason.
Today, we need to realize the truth in the crises that face us. We need to take action to learn, act and lead within the areas of your influence. We must act now to realize the freedom of the future that we all so desperately desire and yet so disparately fight each other to attain. We must bring our collective vision to bear upon our collective actions, and step forward with compassionate understanding and acceptance of each other.
I ask that every one of you reflect upon your own opinions, identify the gaps caused by your actions and inactions, and ultimately recognize where you can make a difference toward realizing our collective vision.
Consider our American history. Our young and diverse experience is rife with examples of innovation, ingenuity, developmental success, and corresponding pitfalls and injuries. Our collective history of immigration and escape from oppression and strife have ingrained our desire to improve the lives of our children, better the experiences of our brothers, and to do so with great passion. This driven spirit is part and parcel of all of us who call this land home, regardless of our color, creed or class. Our history has shown that we are at our best when confronted with a challenge, or a threat, and through such our collective spirit will always prevail.
Our history is our future. Please consider the following points of rise and fall and the potential path forward that ranges before us now.
Our national heritage sits squarely on the pillars of innovation, be it for better or for worse.
In the early American colonies and as early as the 1620s, cotton was perceived as a very important trading commodity. As the colonies grew and American independence was won, cotton quickly became the chief crop across much of the burgeoning United States and manifested as a key trading item with Europe. The growing prevalence of spinning wheels across then-modern societies dramatically increased the demand for cotton across Euro-American commerce.
In 1793, as necessity bore the need to simplify the arduous task of hand-separating loose cotton from sticky seedy cotton bolls, Eli Whitney invented the labor-saving cotton gin as a means to an end. Cotton had become a highly sought textile source and was quickly becoming an important part of young America’s global economy. As a result, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin drove enormous growth in the southern United States whereby raw cotton yields doubled every decade after 1800. With the invention of the steamboat and industrial weaving machines, America, by 1850, found itself as the provider of three-quarters of the world’s cotton supply. International commerce grew exponentially.
As the balanced hands of fate would have it, the demand for an ever-increasing cotton supply drove the same demand to increase field labor needed to pick, gather, bundle and manage cotton production. Farm owners and their investors were blinded by their greed and quickly succumbed to accepting the corresponding expansion of slavery as part of the young American landscape. Slavery in the south found its pinnacle by the mid-1800s, reaching a total of over 3 million slaves and representing nearly 14% of the US population by 1850.
Such ominous and disheartening shadows brought forth from young Whitney’s mind were surely never intended. Driven toward innovation to ease the labor of those relegated to working tirelessly in the cotton trade, he had inadvertently spawned the most negative period in US history, birthed from his innovation; the cotton gin.
Eli Whitney lived to the age of 59. At the time of his death in 1825, he likely couldn’t have imagined the depth of the impact of his simple invention. But as fate twists the fabric of history, balance comes inevitably. Ironic as it is true, it was Eli Whitney who in 1798 began manufacturing musket rifles for the new American government. To reduce the burden of hand-tooling each rifle, he engineered a method to manufacture muskets by machine so that the parts would be uniformly fabricated and thereby interchangeable. Not only did this innovative approach earn him the title of “Father of Mass Production”, but ironically was the invention that enabled arming Union soldiers in the 1860s, thus leading to the defeat of the Confederate States and the abolition of slavery by way of our nation’s immense and bloody civil war.
Although Eli Whitney opened the door for King Cotton to rule the south on the backs of slavery, enabled by ignorance and greed, he also enabled the technology by which the collective United States became a true union, ending the civil war, and bringing emancipation and an end to slavery.
I find it interesting that innovation drives us to solve problems, and yet the same has unintended and unforeseen consequences in most instances. Is this then, innovation balanced by the hand of God, or just a strange twist of fate? Regardless, and with the most sincere respect to our national heritage, it is this American-bred drive towards solving a problem and easing the burden of others, that brings our history full-circle, for better and for worse.
Innovation is at the heart of America.
In many cases, our national history has been founded on invention that necessity was not necessarily the mother of. Take the automobile, for example. Brought to life out of curiosity for such things as mechanical engines and put into use more as a novelty than purpose, the invention of the automobile has changed the global landscape as much, if not more, than any other comparable innovation. Rejected by society at its first appearance on stage, the automobile has not only been responsible for writing the calculus of commerce but has managed its way into the heart of this nation through a long and incredible love affair with nearly all of American society.
In 1896 Henry Ford built his first automobile, the Quadricycle, utilizing a small gas-powered engine and four bicycle wheels mounted on a horse buggy. As a young steam engineer working for the Edison Illumination Company, Henry Ford was bitten by curiosity and enamored with the ultimate dream of making cars for the average American. In 1903 the Ford Motor Company was created and the Model A was introduced. In 1908 Ford released the Model T and Henry’s dream came to fruition as Model T demand quickly outpaced the best that Ford could muster in manufacturing volumes. To ease the labor burden of single-unit assembly, and increase manufacturing output to meet the ever-growing demand, Ford innovated the “rolling assembly line” and put such into practice in 1913.
Heralded as one of history’s great industrial innovations, this leap forward in productivity and manufacturing methodology transformed the automobile industry worldwide. By 1927 Model-T sales had topped 15 million. Through his incredible success, Ford realized his dream of building motor cars for the “great multitude.” Not only did the “rolling assembly line” enable his dream, but the mass-produced Model T helped to create the American middle class. Much of what we understand of our modern societies today came as a direct benefit of mass-produced automobiles. Labor unions were born, fair-wage labor and competitive workforces were created, and the freedom of the American Dream began to be within reach of most Americans. The transitory freedoms we enjoy and relish on US roads and highways today have come as a direct result of Henry Ford’s curiosity and innovative spirit.
As a result of the overwhelming growth in the auto industry, national infrastructure became a necessity to support the gas drinking, road pounding automobile revolution. Cities sprawled, rural America became connected, and interstate commerce began to flourish. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 8,000 registered vehicles. By 1920 there were 23 million cars on the road. Along with the acceptance of the gasoline engine and the nation’s desire to feel the open road, there grew a burgeoning network of gasoline filling stations and an infrastructure to ensure a consistent supply of fuel, oil and all the amenities the free-wheeling traveler could ever desire. The American highway system grew to connect us all.
As typically follows great innovation that seeds great success, the reality-bending factors of human greed manifest in such ways to tarnish the bright gleam of possible futures. Lust for money and power became the focus of the wealthy few. These few subsequently riveted and securely attached our dependency on fossil-based oil fuels to our way of life and used their financial power and political corruption to stave off any attempt to move to the contrary. Oil barons were born of the automobile revolution. Through their enormous wealth and power, they secured their financial fortunes by ensuring our nation’s dependence on the oil and gas products they alone produced, provided and controlled. Sadly, it’s still the same today.
The stark truth that we face today in American society, and around the globe, is that our very fabric of life and our way of living has become heavily burdened by the incredible proliferation of the automobile, the unclean fossil-fuel gas-burning engine, and the wealth and power of the few. Collectively, our global society has been burning fossil fuels for more than a century and doing so at extremely high rates and volumes, while opportunities for changing innovation are squelched by money and political bias.
But as fate twists the fabric of history, balance comes inevitably. Today, environmental scientists and automobile engineers combine their innovative spirits to address the negative bi-products of the automobile revolution. Societies are more aware of the issues and encroaching threats of carbon emissions than ever before. Our national collective is actively striving to rid itself of the negative encumbrances that have been in place for so long. While along the way we hold dear our love of the automobile and the reality of freedom that the open road brings. Herein resides at this time, at this crossroads the fabric of opportunity and a new stage for innovation.
Our American spirit genuinely thrives in the heartbeat of innovation. Whether it be through necessity, through goodwill, or curiosity, we will address the challenge. We are addressing the challenge.
Our collective American spirit rises when called and always in the name of peace.
The genetics of who we are as a collective nation was truly tested through the threats and rigors of World War II. Through historical echoes of tyranny, we found ourselves quietly threatened, yet our bond was to peace. We embodied Teddy Roosevelt’s words and policy of “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Our “melting pot” of diverse cultures was brimming with life, brought together by the hope of freedom and opportunity, and carried upon a national psyche that strove for peace, equality, and fairness. This was the combinatorial logic of our DNA. Yet even out of the peaceful sleep and homemade assurance we found ourselves so comfortable in, we brought our collective strength to bear when needed most, when threatened, when called to duty.
At the onset of World War II, our economy was idle, having suffered greatly from the Great Depression. Accordingly, our public opinion advocated isolationism and non-involvement in international politics or conflicts abroad. The combination of the Great Depression and the memory of tragic losses in World War I contributed to pushing American public opinion and policy toward isolationism. Even as war broke out in Europe in 1939, the American psyche was still not prepared to risk their lives and livelihoods for peace abroad. It took the surprising wake-up call of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the alignment of the Axis powers to convince our American populace that the United States could not successfully continue on an isolationist track.
Yet before the United States was willingly involved in the war with Germany and before Pearl Harbor, the steady Nazi rape of free Europe drove many of us to enlist in English and French militaries in hopes of satisfying our need to fight for peace and push back on Hitler’s advancing terror. With the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the jittery nervousness that exemplified our daily lives by way of War-In-Europe headlines was fully galvanized into a nation hell-bent to take action. Stunned out of our slow awakening, we found ourselves threatened by world-wide war and fronts of conflict to both the east and west of North America. We dramatically rose to the need.
Our national psyche brought forth its “big stick” and the US military grew from a little less than 500 thousand in 1940 to nearly 4 million by the end of 1942. By the end of the war, the military included over 12 million servicemen and servicewomen. Innovation brought changes to US military technology that caught up with and eventually exceeded the unique German engineering of similar military weaponry. US Military manufacturing innovation and pure drive outpaced all manufacturing output of the Axis powers combined. By the end of the war, US factories had produced over 300,000 planes and produced more than two-thirds of all Allied military equipment used in the war.
Ours was a response of collective strength as we faced the reality of world war. The remarkable mobilization of our idle workforce created 17 million civilian jobs. The war brought full employment and fairer wage distribution. Blacks and women entered the workforce for the first time. Wages and savings increased. Far-reaching changes in agriculture were realized and housing conditions were better than ever before.
We were threatened. We fought back. But what is it that underlies our drive in such situations? What is it that brings us all together to form such a unique and unified force? The answer, I believe, is in the diverse heritages of our populace. Our ancestors fought oppression and hatred to only struggle mightily to attain their freedom on the shores of North America. Their struggles are ingrained in our genetics, and as such, we love peace. We believe in the values of compassion, tolerance, honesty, and integrity. Iron will is stitched steadfastly through these fibers of our collective persona. We reach with a kind hand, yet we rise tall and strong when threatened. Our ancestry demands it!
We arose from sleepy states and the weariness of economic depression to develop the strongest economy on the planet, all as a result of being threatened. Our core values were put to task and from them, we found an entrepreneurial spirit that stood in sharp contrast to Germany’s socialist and centrally planned economies. We out produced, out manufactured, and simply overpowered the Axis powers through our drive and ingenuity. The result brought us security in an exhibited new strength of knowing that we can, and with that, we created a bevy of new and burgeoning technologies, industries, human skills and the desire to innovate.
Innovation has been our natural response to the challenges that face us.
When our American collective has perceived danger, has been called to stand, or has been asked to accept a challenge, we have always responded to the positive. But even more than the focused work and heightened energy that we bring to bear, we innovate new beginnings from the experience and learnings of our efforts. As bi-products, the attributes of our ingenuity and perseverance spawn new industry, new technology, and continued betterment in our ways of living.
Between 1955 and 1961, United States spy planes and associated intelligence operators were able to make the grim determination that the Soviet Union was training two to three times more rocket and missile scientists as compared to the United States. In 1957 the Sputnik 1 satellite was launched from the Soviet Union and took its place in orbit, and history, around planet Earth. Not only did the sudden “red-threat” seem very real, but the thought that the USSR could potentially hold a serious and dangerous technological advantage over the United States presented a frightening concern that our national psyche could not swallow. After all, it had only been a few years prior that McCarthyism had stoked the fires of suspicion and the fear of communist subversives.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy was focused on closing the “missile gap” between the USSR and the USA. The government’s sight was intently focused on ensuring that we kept abreast of, if not ahead of the Soviet Union’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons. The idea of manned space flight was not on the fore-front; that is until the Soviet Union launched the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin in April 1961. What followed was a resounding and apparent gasp from the US populace that our very way of life may be threatened by this perceived disadvantage in space and technology.
It is here, at this pivotal point in space and time, that the technological revolution grew wings. Kennedy set the goal of landing men on the moon and returning them home safely before the end of the decade. What followed spawned the longest run in technological innovation known to man. We, as an American collective, rose to meet Kennedy’s challenge. The Sputnik crisis spurred substantial transformation in the science and research policies of the US. This innovation-driven focus drove the very basis of today’s modern academic scientific research. By the mid-1960s, nearly ten percent of the federal funds for scientific research was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Further expansion was made in the funding and research of space weapons and missile defense in the form of anti-ballistic missile proposals. Education programs were initiated to foster a new generation of engineers and support was dramatically increased for scientific research. Congress increased the National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriation for 1959 to $134 million, almost $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget stood at nearly $500 million.
The benefits are tangible, have been long-lasting and are easily seen around us today. Not only did we put men on the moon and return them home safely, but we also developed new commercially viable technologies in many forms and business sectors. Semiconductors stormed the tech markets leading to computing technologies that have grown to be an expected extension of today’s populace. Industries boomed in every aspect from Corning Ware to Post-It notes, and the “space-age” led us to such heights. Consider our world today; cell-phones, laptops, voice-activated assistants, self-driving automobiles, and more. All of this technology was born on the wings of those few words brought to us by John F. Kennedy on September 12th, 1962. “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. … Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. … I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. …. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. … We choose to go to the Moon! …We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept….”
Our American economy became rock solid and we grew to own the pinnacle of technological achievement. The entire world looked to us, and our innovation for the answers and leadership. We uniquely held the world stage, front and center. Teddy Roosevelt’s words of “walk softly but carry a big stick” rung true in our fabric as we let technology lead the way to peace, compromise, understanding, compassion, and strength.
TODAY: Caught in the Crosshairs of Crisis
Why is all of this history important? Who cares how we came to be here? What difference does any of it make for us today? Realize, that today, we are caught squarely in the cross-hairs of crisis. The world looks to us, calls us to do the needful thing that we do so very well. The crossroads we stand at today, beg of our deeper integrity to come together, to act, and to address the most profound challenges we have ever faced in human history. We are threatened on every front. From economical, ecological, social and personal perspectives, we are being truly threatened in ways that none of our ancestors, or our fathers, would ever have imagined. We have but one path forward, and that is for us, the collective us, to embrace our inner drive, our heart-felt voice that houses our innovative spirit and rise but yet again. It is who we are.
The environmental crisis is at the forefront of our daily news every day. We see headlines declaring the disastrous impacts of global warming, the decline, and extinction of species, heat records being set everywhere, massive storms and weather records broken with subtexts of “for the first time in human recorded history”.
These crises are further underlined by the frightening by-lines in the daily news business sections; Looming recession threatens the U.S. economy, Brexit failure, and worldwide economic collapse is imminent, U.S. trade war with China driving increased manufacturing costs and decreased demands, U.S. farmers facing a crisis due to China trade war, etc.
All of this while at the same time we see different, yet related headlines; Oil giant BP reports better-than-expected second-quarter net profits despite reduced oil prices, the White House vows to revive the coal industry, Trump attacks renewable energy, the White House rolls back emission standards for automakers, etc.
Although headlines paint tangents in every direction, the evidence is clear that the crises in front of us today are all inexplicably interconnected. Global warming is impacting farmers and their ability to produce food crops, which in turn increases trade costs, which in turn drives statutory roll-backs (in the name of creating jobs) on laws intended to protect the environment, which then only bolsters the staunch of the wealthy few and further locks them into their investments into old technology and the rusty ways of the past. If it’s not a vicious cycle, then it is certainly an interdependent and symbiotic feeding frenzy that is so knotted up that it is very difficult to even begin to understand where to focus any substantive effort toward making a positive and lasting impact towards correction.
The crises all around us are threatening, and the entire ball of twine is as difficult to make useful as de-seeding a cotton boll by hand. However, we know how to unknot the mess and correct the root cause. We have the fabric in our ways of innovation to solve or significantly reduce the negative impacts of these frightening aspects of our current place in time. We have already innovated the solutions. But we must face what stands at the core of this mess: the blackened tenants of greed and the lust for power.
The solution to our dilemma rests in what we know to be true at the very core of our beings, and what we have historically exhibited as American ingenuity and courage. Our strength must come to life from a concerted populace, from the direction of our spirit, and upon the truth of “doing the right thing for the right reason”. But that spark, that “reach for the moon” motivation must come from those bold and courageous few that we elect and choose as our leaders, our representatives. For what we lack as a capable populace is the courageous leadership to stand, to open the creative dialogue with the wealthy few, to motivate the possibilities of limitless futures, to bend Congress and governing bodies to the will of the people, to drive funding from both governmental and independent entities for technological advancement, and to be bold enough to set the goal for resolution within a specific timeframe.
We already have the know-how. The technology exists today to remove our dependency on fossil-based fuels, to reverse the effects of global warming, and to put our global population back in balance with the geo-nature that sustains us. Our innovations await our calling. Yet oddly, the powerful factors of money and greed are blindly clinging on to old-world technology, not seeing the enormous wealth that can be gained by investing in clean energy technologies and all of the tangential industries there in association.
Ironically, it is the few that control the purse strings of today that have the power to enable the strength and power of a new economy tomorrow. With the proper investment and technological guidance, we can bolster American agriculture, drive brand new industries and skillsets, positively and directly impact the issues of today’s environmental and economic crises, and take the lead in the advancement of such technologies and businesses now burgeoning on the global center stage.
If we miss it; if we refuse to garner our courage and act; if we allow political bias and selfish division to prevent us from taking the needful strides, we will leave the incredible opportunity of the future to someone else, to another global power, or worse yet, we will fail the future altogether. The time to act is now, and the time to execute with urgency and efficacy is upon us. We are being called by the demands of a global economy and a global crisis. The world is watching us, yes us, this nation of strength and capability, and they all look to us for leadership and action. To do anything less, to not pick up the mantle bestowed upon us by generations of Americans and immigrants before us, is to fail on the world stage, and to fail the desperate cries of our individual and collective histories.
Envision the future
The ability to loosen the grip of the knot so intrinsically wrapped around our American and global economy resides in leadership and guidance toward investment in today’s and tomorrow’s technologies that have the power to remove our dependence on fossil fuel-based energy. Herein lies the key to undoing the knot.
If we can remove our dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, we cannot only manifest significant positive impact on the environmental crisis, but we can also spawn new industries, new jobs and a new scale of economic leadership driven from associated technologies and bi-products of growth and change.
Think about a day when the American breadbasket is not threatened by global warming and climate change. When dry and arid portions of the great plains are fertile and teeming with productive farmers creating the core of our new energy industries. When the sky is clear blue and fuel for personal and interstate commerce costs only pennies per the gallon. When the very breath and respiration of the planet fuels our homes, schools, and businesses with inexpensive solar and wind power. When our global biological footprint has been reduced to near net-zero. When the impact of the old wasteful ways has been eradicated from our forests, streams, lakes, and rivers. It’s not a dream but a vision of a truly realistic future, and one that can be realized within the next two or three generations.
We owe to it our ancestors, to the immigrants they were and the blood bound sacrifices they stoically endured, and more importantly to their future generations yet to be born. We are the sons and daughters of the greatest generation, direct descendants of those who rose up to every challenge, pulled courage and drive from their very core, and who gave us a better life than they ever had. We are the generation that has haphazardly abused this great privilege bestowed upon us by their sacrifice. We must, therefore, be the generation to deny any furthering of the greed and ignorance that has defiled our ancestor’s legacies. We must, by our actions, rise as they did, pull deeply from our core and muster the courage to enable the life of liberty, equality, and happiness that they enabled for us, and that we have so blindly abused.
Where to Begin
With the inspired catalyst of representative leadership, beginning this journey is not as difficult as it may seem. For in the opportunities available in technologies that have already been and are still being developed, resides the fodder for investment and economic growth. To begin we need to look no further than into technologies that are available today, yet only burgeoning in the marketplace.
Biofuels from Algae
Algae will soon become the most important biofuel source on the planet. Using microalgae as a source for solid, liquid or gaseous biofuels has the capability of producing 10 to 20 times more fuel than other agricultural forms of biofuel generation. Algae has a sustainable and high growth rate, requires less water than standard farm crops used for biofuel generation, and is highly efficient in the mitigation of CO2 gasses. It is essentially the most cost-effective fuel-stock over all other standard farming methods utilized for the same purpose.
Algae-based farming and production, with the intent to generate biofuels, can combat greenhouse gas effects by removing enormous amounts of CO2 from the environment, releasing more oxygen into the atmosphere than forests, depolluting waters, while consuming less space and using land unsuitable for other forms of farming agriculture.
The potential for algal-based biofuels to completely remove our dependency on fossil fuel crude oil is very real. The reality is so clear, and with enormous potential, that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has taken up the call to develop new technologies, and help to prepare a new generation workforce to enable commercialization of algal biofuels.
Microalgae production for bio-fuel “feedstock” is primed and ready to enable the eventual replacement of petroleum-based fossil fuels. Among the numerous and powerful benefits already mentioned, associated production processes have the capability of creating many tangentially associated value-added products. Given that today’s technology limited production costs are perceived as prohibitive, it is continued innovation which has the opportunity to offset the costs of biofuel production through the effective production of these value-added bi-products such as food proteins, carbohydrates and other rich nutrients available in the post-extraction residue. Currently, the only limitation to full-scale biofuel production is housed in the uneducated perception that further innovation is cost-prohibitive. This is simply a myth and can be overcome with focused investment and engaged government and industry leadership.
Biofuels from Agriculture
Since the 1980s, we have seen a slow and steady increase of ethanol fuel production mainly sourced from food crops such as corn which contains easily fermented sugars and starches. Biodiesel, as well, has experienced growth through various oil-seed crops such as soybean and canola. The primary use of ethanol fuels has been mostly limited to gasoline additives. These additives have helped the environment by reducing carbon emissions and boosting gasoline octane levels. A true revolution in alternative fuel sources has yet to be realized. Although these crops have been viable in producing biofuels of various forms, the feedstock crops themselves, as well as the associated farming methods are subject to the same concerns that influence and impact food production, such as weather, climate, growing season, etc. Additionally, any expansion toward using plant bi-products from these standard crops and farming techniques has also been slow in coming, but opportunities exist which include utilizing residues such as crop stover. Corn stover, for example, consists of the leaves, stalks, and cobs of the plants that are left in a field after harvest. This harvest bi-product makes up about half of the yield of a corn crop and is similar to straw from other cereal grasses.
For biofuels to be successfully farmed without imposition on standard agricultural farming, we need to look toward highly sustainable, high-yield, low-impact crops as feedstock for biofuel production. Today, several non-food crops have been proven to be excellent sources for high oil content.
Industrial Hemp, for example, thrives on poor land, requires minimal maintenance input such as water and fertilizer, and yet produces four times as much oil per acre as soybeans. Industrial hemp can far outproduce soy-based bio-fuel generation while simultaneously enabling reduced production overhead. Further, industrial hemp farming utilizes open space farmland that is nearly unfarmable, thereby enhancing the farming viability of open and arid land throughout the western great plains. (i.e. Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico). To date, the only element blocking increased production of this form of bio-fuel is the ill-founded biases of perception and misguided law-makers. Only recently, and with the 2018 Farm Bill, has hemp farming been legalized across the United States. Growth projections indicate that the industrial hemp market is targeted to reach $13 billion by 2026, up from $4.6 billion in 2018.
Another viable crop that can grow nearly unattended and is found as a native plant in the great plains is Switchgrass. Switchgrass harbors potential fuel energy at levels that are more than five times the amount of energy as It takes to grow it and refine it into ethanol. In the case of switchgrass, the predominant limiter to mass production of ethanol fuel is based on limited technology. The technology, as well as the investment energy to convert the grasses and woody plant material to ethanol, has not progressed as rapidly as is possible. Here again, the enabler resides in leadership and directed investment.
Another potential source of biofuel feedstock is Carrizo cane. Carrizo cane is a relative of bamboo and produces more biomass per acre than almost any plant on earth. It has been heralded as potentially a better candidate for ethanol production than switchgrass, but its growth environment may make large scale farming difficult if not impossible.
The take-home message here is that there are many forms of easily grown and pervasive plants that constitute a core set of crops that can be used as feedstock for biofuel production. The benefits are far-reaching and include reduced carbon emissions, increased farming opportunities, industrial and technological growth in many associated industries, and development of long-term sustainable economies of scale. It becomes almost utopian to consider what a future would look like across the arid and nearly unfarmable landscapes that stretch north to south across the nation and run between the 100th meridian and the Rocky Mountains. Great open areas of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Kansas and New Mexico, could see a veritable agricultural renaissance. Imagine a naturally enabled transformation of the inhospitable stubble of buffalo grass, wild sage, yucca, and prickly pear to include far-reaching expanses of viable fuel crops and burgeoning economies. Such a vision is very real, and certainly possible. All that is lacking to enable this potential reality is leadership, the courage to act, and the energy of investment.
The Power of the Sun
Throughout all recorded history and across every culture and land, the sun has been watched, followed, praised, worshiped and certainly deified. Nearly every living organism on this planet draws its life energy from the sun’s light and radiation. Whether it be from energy gained directly from the sun’s rays, or by indirect methods that generate oxygen and fuel for other living things, the sun is central to nearly all life on this planet. It’s not that ironic then, to consider the sun as a resource that can be captured, harnessed and enabled as a boundless and free fuel source to meet the demands of today’s modern societies.
Harnessing and utilizing solar power technology has evolved to such lengths that it is now cheaper to produce and deploy than the cheapest of all known fuels, coal. In most parts of the world, sun-generated power will likely be the most cost-effective energy proposition on the table within the next 10 years. The good news is that solar power technology has broken through any sort of stigma that may have prevented its acceptance in the past. Power utility companies such as Xcel Energy in the Mountain West and Pacific Gas & Electric in California have realized the important role that solar energy can play in providing keystone power services to homes and businesses with nearly a net-zero environmental impact. Solar farms or photovoltaic power stations are no longer a dream bound to an engineering pad but are becoming prevalent around the globe. The United States has seen the expansion of solar farms from the largest in California, Nevada, and Arizona, to many smaller-scale operations across more than half of the continental states. Around the globe, free solar energy is being utilized in nearly every capable country with production capacities totaling over 500 Gigawatts.
The pervasive expansion of solar technology has led to the development and availability of many consumer building products that are aesthetically pleasing and nearly non-differentiating in appearance, such as solar roof tiles that look like standard asphalt roof shingles. Others are driving innovation in transparent solar technology that can replace office building glass, for instance. Imagine a cityscape where the high-rises run nearly entirely on power generated within their geographical footprint, and that produces near-zero-emissions. Consider suburban neighborhoods that not only source the power for their entire sub-division but are also able to be public providers to energy companies who then distribute the excess energy to areas and users that cannot harness their own solar power.
In 2016, the US Department of Labor reported that solar energy became the fastest-growing source of energy in the US and the largest employer across all energy industries with approximately 370,000 employees as compared to 187,000 in all fossil fuel energy industries combined. Current projections for the next 5 years indicate the potential for massive growth in the US solar power industry. The current total of 64.2 GW in the U.S. can power 12.3 million homes, and “U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years – by 2024, with more than 15 GW of PV capacity installed annually.”
Here is a great example of the US pioneering spirit, and one that should be echoed in other clean energy fields.
The wind has been utilized to reduce man’s burden for thousands of years. The earliest known wind-powered grain mills and water pumps were used by the Persians in A.D. 500-900. The first electricity-generating wind turbine was invented by Charles F. Brush in 1888. The list of innovation goes on, and in each case, the wind has been seen as a means to an end, or an enabler to electrical power when no other means could accommodate the growth and expansion of remote America.
Today, wind energy is a globally driven and widely accepted form of societal electrical power. Wind power is among the fastest-growing electricity sources in the US. The current installed capacity is estimated to be capable of meeting the power demands of over 30 million US households. The outlook is one of growth and carries with it, the further realization of a goal to reach net-zero carbon footprints in modern societies.
Unfortunately, the current political climate is biased by the wealthy few and their greed-fed monetary influences on political leaders and decision-makers. It is these few that bend the minds of easily manipulated leaders to condemn alternative power generation with ignorant statements that claim, “If it [wind] doesn’t blow, you can forget about television for that night”, and “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house… your house just went down 75 percent in value”, and such idiotic misinformation as “… they say the noise [of wind turbines] causes cancer.”
Even more concerning than ignorance in high positions of leadership is the fact that such leaders have the freedom and power to appoint unqualified leaders to such scientific and investigative government bodies as the US Department of Energy. Ironically, the Department of Energy holds out a vision for Wind power from a 2016 Wind Vision Report that shows that wind can be a viable energy source in all 50 US states by 2050 and that the associated domestic supply chain has the potential to support over 600,000 jobs in the same time frame. In a nutshell, wind energy is projected to save consumers $280 billion in energy costs, and potentially increase community revenues through land leasing and property taxes to the amount of 3.2 billion by 2050.
We are a collective American society that not only innovates to benefit others but also applies our ingenuity to face all challenges. We are a society that comes together in great times of need. We have a history of overcoming the seemingly insurmountable. We are visionaries who dream and strive for a better life for ourselves and our future generations. We lead from the center of the world stage with virtue and urgency, and exhibit positive values through our behavior, instilling hope and courage through reaching for our goals with integrity. We bring leadership to the forefront of global society, by our hand and our support, and insist that they represent the very best of American values, and we require them to strive mightily, to bring us all together, and to realize the future we collectively envision.
Again, realize the truth in the crises that face us. Realize the ingenuity that has lifted us form a small burgeoning experiment in democracy to the national power that we are. Acknowledge the greatness that we have in ourselves, based on courage and steadfast values of honesty, integrity, compassion, and iron will that have enabled our better angels to overcome the great challenges and threats of the past. Take solace in the truth that we, as a collective society, together with our backs against the wall, have more than what it takes to bring our will and might to bear, to bring leadership to the forefront, and to drive our representatives in business, law, and politics to a needful purpose.
Take heed in the warnings of truth! Take action to learn, act and lead within the areas of your influence, whether it be for yourself, your family, your church or school, or your community. But realize, that there is only one path forward that we must strive upon, there is only one goal to achieve. We must move now to realize the freedom of the future that we all so desperately desire and yet so disparately fight each other to attain. We must bring the vision to bear upon our collective actions, our compassionate understanding, and our acceptance and tolerance of each other.
We must act, and we must act immediately. To fail has no subtle consequence. To fail will bring the utter end to that which we all individually dream of: freedom, happiness, and hope.
I call upon you, every one of you, to reflect upon your own opinions, to identify the gaps caused by your actions and inactions, and ultimately to recognize where you, each of you, can make a difference to begin empowering the world we so desire.
I have seen the future. I know how it starts. You were there.
We have but one chance, one choice, and one path.
I leave with this sincere hope.
That you may be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make His face shine upon you;
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And grant you peace.
Jay Blue – 17-November-2019
“Eli Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin”. National Archives. Sept 23, 2016. <https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent>
“1850 United States Census”. Wikipedia. Sept 10, 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1850_United_States_Census>
“Petroleum History”. The Environmental Literacy Council. 2015. <https://enviroliteracy.org/energy/fossil-fuels/petroleum-history/>
“Henry Ford’s assembly line: How it’s still rolling along 100 years later”. CBS Interactive Inc. 2013.
“American Isolationism in the 1930s”. Department of State United States of America Office of the Historian. <https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/american-isolationism>
Doris Goodwin. “The Way We Won: America’s Economic Breakthrough During World War II”. The American Prospect. <https://prospect.org/article/way-we-won-americas-economic-breakthrough-during-world-war-ii>
“Research Starters: US Military by the Numbers”. The National WWII Museum. <https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-us-military-numbers>
“Military production during World War II”. Wikipedia. Oct 10, 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_production_during_World_War_II>
“Sputnik crisis”. Wikipedia. Sept 25 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_crisis>
“We choose to go to the Moon”. Wikipedia. Nov 4, 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_choose_to_go_to_the_Moon>
“Environmental Issues 2019”. Popular Science. <https://www.popsci.com/read/environmental-issues-2019>
M. Fatih Demirbas. “Biofuels from algae for sustainable development”. Elsevier. <http://iranarze.ir/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/4440-Biofuels-from-algae.pdf>
Zhiyou Wen. “Algae for Biofuel Production”. Biological Systems Engineering Department, Virginia Tech. Apr 3, 2019. <https://farm-energy.extension.org/algae-for-biofuel-production/>
“Biofuels and Agriculture – A Factsheet for Farmers”. U.S. Department of Energy by Oak Ridge National
Laboratory. Sep 2001. <https://plbrgen.cals.cornell.edu/sites/plbrgen.cals.cornell.edu/files/shared/documents/forage/biofuelsandagriculture.pdf>
Brian Barth. “The Next Generation of Biofuels Could Come From These Five Crops”. Smithsonian. Oct 10, 2017. <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/next-generation-biofuels-could-come-from-these-five-crops-180965099/>
“Industrial Hemp Market To Reach USD 13.03 Billion By 2026”| Reports And Data”. Reports and Data. May 6, 2019. <https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/05/06/1817648/0/en/Industrial-Hemp-Market-To-Reach-USD-13-03-Billion-By-2026-Reports-And-Data.html>
Eleanor Greene and Sytonia Reid. “The Bright Future of Solar Power”. Green America. <https://www.greenamerica.org/new-green-tech-promise-and-pitfalls/bright-future-solar-power>
Jennifer Wesley. “US Solar Power Industry Set For Massive Growth In Next 5 Years”. International Business Times. Apr 10, 2019. <https://www.ibtimes.com/us-solar-power-industry-set-massive-growth-next-5-years-2784146>
“Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power I the United States”. United States Department of Energy: Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Nov 2019. <https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/wind-vision>
“2019 Outlook for the US Wind Power Industry”. Energy Central. Jun 20, 2019. <https://www.energycentral.com/c/cp/2019-outlook-us-wind-power-industry>
Max Ehrmann. “Desiderata”. Wikipedia. 1927. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desiderata>
“Numbers chapter 6, verses 24 through 26”. King James Holy Bible.