open letter to Gadhafi
Make the right moves and you'll remain a world power in energy
Special to The Observer
Published: Thurday, April 25, 2006
As you are no doubt
aware, last month the moon came between us and the sun, providing an opportunity
for scientific study. This happens twice a year, when the geometry is
just right, and even in the age of space probes our own natural satellite
does what can't be done any other way. The glare of the disk of the Sun
is blocked out, allowing measurements of its faint outer atmosphere. This
time it crossed your area of the world, with some of the best viewing
available in central Libya.
A colleague of mine
traveled to your country, joining many others to study solar physics.
His stories of the trip inspired this letter.
He said that you are
essentially flush with cash, able to afford to give everyone a job. That
gasoline costs less than a half a buck a gallon at the pump. That you
are pumping water from deep below the Sahara to make areas of your country
These tales caused
me to realize that you have a fantastic opportunity to remain a world
power in energy. Indefinitely
Since our administration
won't listen to scientists and my fellow Democrats are too busy listening
to focus groups to come up with a truly forward thinking agenda, I write
to you about the future of energy production on this planet.My plan will
take a bit of sacrifice initially, something we are clearly unwilling
to do over here but should be a little less painful for you. You may have
to raise the price of gasoline a bit and back off on the greening of the
desert. But that is not sustainable anyway, given you only have a few
decades of oil left.
Here's what you should
do with the revenue you generate.
Think solar. After
all, for Allah's sake, you live in a desert. There's plenty of sunshine
and it will be there long after the oil is gone. Well, at least until
the rest of us so totally screw up the Earth's climate that the subtropical
jet stream shifts and Northern Africa reverts back to rain forest.
You should initially
invest in two things. First, solar power for your own, internal use. Photovoltaics
are pricey but, heck, you use wads of 100-Dinar bills for doorstops anyway.
Develop enough solar power to run your country and then some.
Second, invest in
solar and hydrogen technology research. We used to do industrial research
here in the U.S. Once upon a time some engineers at Ma Bell did cool things
like discover radio astronomy and the big bang. They found distorted galaxies
whose light had been bent by gravity. Staff astronomers at AT&T --
go figure! Along the way Bell Labs invented the transistor, without which
all modern electronic technology could not work.
Nowadays, we are only
concerned with this quarter's profits and their impact on stock prices.
We simply buy each other's companies in lieu of actually making anything.
Research? Forget it. We are even starting to offshore those functions.
But you, Moammar,
can afford to do the research and development. You can develop the technology
for efficiently making hydrogen. You have water, remember? With the electricity
from the sun you can make the hydrogen by electrolysis of water. When
the Sahara wells run dry, desalinate Mediterranean water,
Our president is worrying
only about the technology of hydrogen-powered cars, as if we pump hydrogen
out of the ground. You, Moammar, are smart enough to realize that we have
to make the hydrogen. Your people can be the ones to do it. Then you sell
to the rest of the world -- all of us who are sitting on our hands pretending
oil will last forever.
Hydrogen can be shipped
either compressed or cooled and liquefied -- that technology already exists.
So, you can supply the world with energy, reaching beyond your current
European oil market.
You should have little
competition from us. We Americans will continue to elect neo-cons who
will somehow convince a majority that we should go to (the next) war for
oil. But then, you've already figured that out -- giving in to Dubya on
nukes so you won't be invaded. Good move!
So, all of our discretionary
funds will be squandered on wars. We will have to buy your hydrogen as
it eclipses declining oil as a fuel.
I hope you find these
ideas useful. We are depending on you.
Your future customer,
The Good Ol' U.S.A.
Observer community columnist Daniel B. Caton is observatory director and
astronomy professor at Appalachian State University. Write him at the
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Appalachian State University, Boone,
NC 28608, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.