It is Saint Patrick’s day once again - a day of honoring the color green, in honor of the man who legend has it drove the snakes from Ireland. As I look around this island filled world of ours, I am reminded that we might need another saint to grace our presence and help us chase out all the snake-oil salesmen who thrust their green go(o)ds in our faces. We live in a technology driven world where we assume the next magic cure for what ails us is simply waiting for our scientists and engineers to unveil. And like the green dye dumped in the Chicago River, we hope that nature will be able to clean up after us.
Microsoft guru and philanthropist Bill Gates recently promoted the idea that "Engineers are going to invent a magic thermos that leaks heat so little we don't need a power source. “
President Barack Obama encourages Americans to keep the American dream of owning your own car alive because – “We can support scientists who are designing new engines that are more energy efficient;developing cheaper batteries that go farther on a single charge; and devising new ways to fuel our cars and trucks with new sources of clean energy – like advanced biofuels and natural gas – so drivers can one day go coast-to-coast without using a drop of oil.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel encourages her fellow Germans to get rid of one potentially dangerous energy source for something greener - “We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible,”
But like the magic in the recent remake of the old classic the Wizard of Oz, there is mostly smoke and mirrors behind these technological bamboozlers that encourage us to continue burning through the energy to keep our consumptive lifestyles in the fast lane of growth. As a former engineering student, I recall learning that there are thermodynamics limits to how much energy we can get from any process and there are always losses. And having worked for many years as an environmental engineer I have learned first-hand that no matter what the source of energy – there will be waste to deal with in the end. In other words you don’t get something for nothing ever, no matter who tells you so.
Some examples of headlines that remind us of the need to look deeper at these immoral claims for energy immortality include:
So Saint Patrick, we need you today as much as Ireland needed you 1600 hundred years ago to chase away the serpents that temp us with their own false claims. The simple answer to our energy problems is we need to consume a lot less energy and everything else, or we will find ourselves once more driven into the rising sea of our own technological troubles.