Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Longhaired Hippies and Today's Energy

These days, lots of males are shaving their heads as bare as the ostriches you see on the farm. There’s something horribly symbolic there: I mean the animals, not the people. I’ll get back to them…

I still remember when we said “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” This was back when the “older generation,” the “establishment,” really didn’t like long hair. The hair symbolized youth solidarity, with all youth wanting to bring in a new improved world, one where everybody would know words like Ecology and Environment and Love. Far out! Soon the world would be groovy with alternative energy, we could almost touch it—it was just around the corner! And if “the older generation” claimed they too had always wanted a better world, then we just figured they were talking down to us. Call it a generation gap.

I was amused when our high school coach compromised. For team photographs, our coach said he merely wanted to be able to see our earlobes. Some years passed. As an adult, I have a memory of keeping my roommate awake by laughing aloud at a comic book I found in a “head shop.” It was of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a bunch of drug-using longhaired freaky people. At the time my roommate and I both had short hair. No, we weren’t science nerds: We were in barracks, within a city of longhaired youth. Of course I liked my civilian peers—and I liked liberals too. What didn’t I like? Those blasted longhaired hippies!

Looking back, and having read a sociology paper, I can see the young hippies were taking time out from society as a rite of passage—like doing a stint in the peace corps or the navy. Except the sailors, “in the service,” were engaged in service to society, while the hippies, to my eyes, were just useless parasites. On the one hand, I hated hippies for rejecting my wholesome clean-cut values. On the other hand, I hated them for being members of the upper middle class, that is to say: rich. They had that certain inner confidence that comes of never having heard their parents argue over the bills. Naturally these kids could take time out from life: They had waiting for them, at a moment’s notice, money and a warm bedroom and funds for college. It must be nice. I wouldn’t know.

Many of the scruffy young men would go on to major in basket weaving or business, not something hard like science or engineering. This was partly because hippies are lazy, partly from rejecting the establishment, and partly from trying to take easy courses so they wouldn’t flunk: Flunking out made them eligible for the draft. In time the hippies and the other rich boomers got degrees and business suits and short hair. Like their elders, they too came to condone US imperialism, no matter how much this infuriated the rest of the world. Forget Love… You know, sometimes I don’t love my US civilian peers very much.

I still smile over a big picture I remember from the Freak brothers comic. Instead of wasting city space, the brothers had converted a big flattop roof into a lush garden with hammocks and, get this, an environmental wind fan for electricity. No, not to keep from wasting energy: The brothers with their hammocks were just too lazy to pay for power. And besides, it was so cool! The fan was quaint, looking more like a common elephant ear factory fan than a modern stir stick turbine. Since my youth the science nerds have continued to research new turbine shapes.

As I said, not many hippies went on to study science. More of them became business yuppies manipulating the devil’s invention: compound interest. This morning I am gritting my teeth: Couldn’t any of those affluent idealists ever stop and think about “compound research?” Didn’t they ever reason that research knowledge grows not linearly but geometrically? So that a constant trickle of research-dollars, steadily growing ever since the 1960’s, would mean that by today all of our household appliances could run off a little disposable battery kept under the kitchen sink? And that by now any glamorous James Bond sports car could be fully electric, not just a hybrid? That atomic electricity could, to use a phrase from my youth, be “as safe as houses?” I guess not. A phrase from my mother’s youth went, “I’ll tell the cock-eyed world!” Now I’ll tell anyone: I didn’t like arrogant longhaired hippies then, and I don’t like arrogant ecological baby boomers now.

But then again, thinking calmly… the first time I ever saw a wind farm was in the desert, outside Los Angeles, on a TV detective show, back in the early 1970’s. I breathed, “Wow.” The silent spinning turbines looked just like the ones I see today, a couple hours south of town. Back then there were solar panels too, in basic black. Again, just like the ones I see today. What if, down the years, there has indeed been a steady stream of research producing a state-of-the-art green energy … with only teensy improvements left to discover? It beats me, I’m only wondering aloud. Keeping calm… just like those bald executives at General Motors. I certainly don’t expect to see any excited GM executives chanting slogans like:
“Capitalists, unite to fight!
Cheap green energy, is your right!
It’s just a-round the cor-ner!” …Poor GM; it takes so many ergs to smelt a car.

The good news is I see various government jurisdictions, both here and abroad, (Germany) putting a little effort into a little green alternative energy. Clearly, the effort is not as coordinated as, say, the D-Day invasion, the Manhattan project or the Apollo program. I sense no urgency, no deadlines and no collaboration-with-accountability. Still, at least there is a little effort. Especially now, after the Wall Street melt down—I guess the stimulus money has to go somewhere. Yet… what if the effort’s all wasted? What if the laws of nature will not be mocked? Maybe extracting clean energy from Mother Gaia is like extracting gold from seawater: Doable, yes, but forever too costly. The latest word on the street is that extracting clean helium, to run my car, would put out even more carbon dioxide than my car would have spewed using traditional petroleum.

Some folks keep saying a brave new energy industry is just around the corner. Really? Maybe we are just as mistaken now as we were back in the 1960’s. Perhaps various governments have their head in the sand, like ostriches, in fearful reaction from aggressive green eco hype.

Ostriches… Come to think of it, here in North America, I’ve seen ostriches. Not in a zoo, in a pasture, along the main Highway West of town. Thanks to the government, such farms came out of nowhere, slowly increasing in number. But no more. All the time the farms had been spreading, it turned out, “the fix was in. ” It was only a glorified government pyramid scheme, with older farmers selling birds to newer farmers, dependent on government dollars. No sustainable brave new ostrich industry is just around the corner. It never was.

Sean Crawford
In the foothills of the Rockies
June 2012
~Footnote: I don't write detailed stuff myself, so here's a link to a guy who writes lots about eco-energy

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