Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Did Abraham Lincoln talk about sustainability?

The new president has been inaugurated and we are embarking on a new road toward a less energy intensive lifestyle. Next month we will celebrate the 200 hundredth anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth on February 12 1809 in Kentucky. Honest Abe was the first president to be born in a state outside of the original thirteen colonies. There are several parallels that can been drawn between Obama and Lincoln, however I will use the Gettysburg Address to tie in the Green Theme of Change that must happen if we are all to thrive in these United States.

The Last sentence of the Address given by Lincoln on November 19, 1863 is as follows: ”That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Our nation needs a new birth of freedom by moving away from living in our carbon intensive past. Most of the environmental legacy of the period since Lincoln has been based on the combustion of wood, coal, oil, and natural gas. On May 10, 1869 the last spike on the transcontinental railroad was driven into the ground and since then, we have extracted BTUs from carbonaceous material to propel engine driven vehicles or devices at an ever increasing rate.

We will not stop deriving BTUS from carbon hydrogen bonds, however we can moderate the pace at which we combust fuels. I have opined previously that is improbable that there will be significant hydrogen fuelled vehicles or power generation station in the next thirty years and that in the majority fuels for the generation of electricity and the propulsion of vehicles, trains and planes will remain carbon based. What is going to happen is that the people as well as the government of the people, by the people, and for the people will embark on a program of energy savings and efficiency improvement that will be massive.

For years the Department Of Energy – Energy Information Agency has forecast that by 2030 the US will be using 30 to 40% more energy than it presently does. The latest preliminary forecast from the agency is that they are now predicting only 13% more energy will be used in 2030 than in 2007. I have news from Gettysburg for the agency, we will be using 13% less energy in 2030 than in 2007. Already in 2008 we used 5.5% less oil than in 2007, albeit because of the recession. More than half the BTUs in our fuel ends up as waste heat in our engines, furnaces, and power generators. Much more than half the electricity we use for lighting ends up as waste heat. Much can and much will be done over the next couple of decades to remedy this waste. The laws of thermodynamics teach us that not all the wasted energy can be eliminated due to our old nemesis “Mr. Entropy”. However much like Gettysburg the efficiency enemy is ourselves and we must commit ourselves in the words of Lincoln that “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us”

The Ford motor company should in honor of Abe’s 200 birthday and the billions of dollars we are likely to have to give them, reengineer the Lincoln brand of vehicles. It is not a fitting testimony to the sixteenth president that gas guzzlers are named in his honor. I pray that if in 100 years time a vehicle is named the “Obama” it will have better gas mileage than the Model T. There is not a single 2008 Lincoln vehicle that exceeds the gas mileage of the 1909 Model T.

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