The question of fuel has life or death implications for more and more people on a rapidly quickening timeframe. Both sides of the old argument, which seemed to either stake claims on no nukes, no oil -- or drilling everywhere there's a hint of oil and planting a lot of nuclear plants -- are no longer feasible.
It's naive to think that we can abandon large sources of fuel such as coal or abandon nuclear plants altogether and still be able to maintain even a reflection of our current lifestyles. However, without some alternative plans we may find ourselves having to make sudden adjustments that aren't as carefully thought out or orderly. Nothing would stop us cold across the national landscape as quickly as not being able to get from point A to point B or being able to heat up dinner or warm our houses.
Presidents as far back as Nixon recognized the need to come up with sustainable alternatives for both political and ecological reasons but short-term concerns always trumped what seemed like a long-term issue, until now.
This week, citizens of Japan are staring at the sky wondering if the cloud cover is radioactive or just a sign of rain. There have already been some reports of radiation in the milk and spinach, and that's after just one week. The repairs that are needed in order to restore power and cool the plant are still estimated to be weeks away and another explosion that would be far worse, longer lasting and more wide-range, is still a very real possibility.
Those who have volunteered to work inside the plant are thought to be on a suicide mission for the benefit of others. They're probably right. The Soviet army volunteers who went into Chernobyl died from a variety of complications in the months that followed that accident.
Citizens of Libya are looking upwards wondering if they'll see Gaddafi's bombers in time to run for cover. The tyrant has taken to bombing his own people in an effort to keep his throne. As a result, western countries have seen a spike in gas prices at the pump and the UN has stepped in to create a no-fly zone.
The main reason given is in order to protect the civilian population from Gaddafi's brutality. However, we've been known to have more than one motivation at a time and many countries, including the U.S., are just gaining traction in an economic recovery. A prolonged fight in key Middle Eastern countries could hamper our climb out of the Great Recession by hiking the price of oil and sending us into an inflationary period.
This past summer, the residents all along the Southeastern seaboard of the U.S., were wondering if BP would ever cap the oil flow in time to save the ocean's ecosystem and their livelihood. For awhile, it looked like drastic measures would be needed, and there was no way of knowing how much oil was in that well.
All of these problems now have long-term implications for the quality of life for human beings and the ecosystem that surrounds us. Radiation in particular is estimated to last for thousands of years, once it has sunk into the ground and waterways. All we need to do is look at Chernobyl for a recent example of the costs that even now continue to take something.
But even the political knots we create for ourselves by a dependency on oil are starting to cause problems bigger than we may be able to manage.
The modernized portions of the planet have managed to create a looming question that can't be put off much longer and has tendrils that reach out in all directions. We have to decide whether or not we can sustain our lifestyle without making the planet inhospitable for human life. That's not a simple quest.
We haven't been very good at voluntary sacrifice in recent years. However, there are a few things Americans have going for them that maybe we can build on and still come up with a solution to save the day. The most important thing is our willingness to try a new gadget and then refine it and pass it along to the next guy who then refines it and makes it even better.
When new ideas are kept free and available to the public like the internet in its early days, then amazing things happen. Growth is widespread and at the speed of typing fingers.
Instead of keeping new fuel ideas to themselves in order to gain market share the researchers, which in this case means corporations, could post what they have online and ask others to chime in with tweaks and observations. The idea of an open forum doesn't seem like capitalism on the surface but again, just look at the internet. A billion new ways to make money were found because of one umbrella idea that was allowed to grow in public. Or, we can keep pushing the old energy rock up the hill and hope it doesn't roll back on top of us.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com, or follow on Twitter @MarthaRandolph.