An open letter to Gadhafi

Make the right moves and you'll remain a world power in energy

Daniel Caton

Special to The Observer

Published: Thurday, April 25, 2006


Dear Moammar,

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 green.

These tales caused me to realize that you have a fantastic opportunity to remain a world power in energy. Indefinitely

First, think solar

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.

Research hydrogen

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.

We're stuck on oil

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.


Daniel Caton

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