Op-Ed: Why Can't America Make Alternative Fuels Work?

60 years ago, there didn’t seem to be a single challenge America couldn’t overcome. Now, there’s just a lot of negativity about America, especially when it comes to alternative fuels. What are these people so afraid of?

In particular, I’m talking about how in the same breath a person can criticize Big Oil for rising gas prices, and then start talking trash about any kind of alternative to gasoline for fuel. It makes no sense to me that we, as Americans, should have nearly infinite options when it comes to buying just about anything you can imagine, except fuel for our cars. That’s all I really want. Options. I want a gas station that sells more than gas. I want CNG, I want propane, I want different ethanol blends, and I want charging stations that are built by a combination of private and public investment. Is that really asking so much?

For some people, it apparently is. It’s as though we’re afraid of messing with the formula that has made America the most effective economic giant in the world for the last century or so. Make no mistake about it, putting cars into the hands of the common people radically altered the human dynamic. No longer were people confined to the towns where they were born, or reliant upon massive railroads who dictated where tracks were or weren’t laid.

If I had to pick one symbol for America in the 20th century, it’d have to be the Ford Model T. For thousands and thousands of years, the fastest mode of overland travel was the horse, which like humans required lots of food and lots of rest. But with the advent of the automobile, people now had a source of mobility that could take farther and faster than even the swiftest thoroughbred, and required only a few gallons  of a seemingly inexhaustible source of fuel.

But we’re in the 21st century now. America may no longer be the world’s most prolific economy in as little as 5 years. There are many billions more people in the world today than there were 60 years ago. And there people are starting to get their hands on automobiles too, changing the dynamics of their lives as well. The world is changing, and if America wants to stay on top, we need to be the innovators in the 21st century that we were in the 20th century.

The problem is, there aren’t a whole lot of things left that we can take the lead in, and not everything we’re first in is exactly admirable. So why would anyone believe that, at a time when the entirety of the rest of the world is leaning towards renewable fuels, would we want to in the other direction? If Europe and China want solar panels and electric cars and wind turbines, well they should buy it from America. That’s a surefire way to get our economy back on track, and the oil companies called before Congress this week have the knowledge and resources to make it happen. So why don’t they?

We’re afraid. We don’t want to mess with success. Oil is cheap and abundant, except its not anymore, and we’re afraid that our lives our going to be lesser for it. So we want to drill for more oil and build bigger highways to we can sit in longer traffic jams and pay ever more for gasoline, because there really is no other option?

That’s bullshit. That’s an Americant attitude, like there is something out there that we, as Americans, can’t do if we just put our noses to the grindstone and make it work. I’m a big World War II buff, and I still marvel at how, almost overnight, this country was able to completely re-machine its entire infrastructure into the Arsenal of Democracy (such a badass name.) People grew victory gardens, recycled everything, carpooled to save fuel, and only bought meat on certain days of the week. People really got into the war effort, to ensure victory in the face of adversity.

So why can’t we do the same today, only do it for alternative fuels? Electric cars and the battery systems in particular will require some time and investment, but it is certainly doable, especially here in America. So why are we letting companies like Nissan and Renault take the lead? Why are the Germans and the Chinese leaders in solar and wind technology? Why are all of these countries developing newer and faster trains, when America used to have all of the top 10 fastest trains in the world. We already use natural gas and propane to heat our homes, why not use it to fuel our cars? There’s nary a home in America without a 240 volt connection, so the electrical infrastructure needed for EV’s is already here. Why can’t we have gas stations that sell more than just gas While we’re at it, lets bring back victory gardens and make recycling a bigger priority than it is for many Americans right now. Offer tax credits for people who grow their own gardens and keep track of their recycled goods. Republicans want tax breaks, right? Well, let’s make them work for it, and make it work for the average fellow, not just the right folks.

If we really worked at it, streamlined the approval process and just got down and dirty, there’s no reason we couldn’t have our economy completely revamped in a decade, creating millions of private and public jobs, preserving our natural resources and natural beauty and setting ourselves up to continue to be a world-leading economy in the coming century. The rest of the world wants to buy this stuff, so why not sell it to them with a good ol’ Made in the USA stamp on it.

So next time someone starts spouting off at the mouth about how they hate alternative fuels, ask them if they hate America too. Because the formula for the last century isn’t going to work for us by in the next century. There’s a lot of work to be done, but its nothing we, as Americans, can’t overcome, if only we give it a chance to work.

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.