There is one quote I always remember from my high school U.S. history class: Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” The quote just made sense to me and the reason it has stuck with me after all this time is probably because it can be applied to countless situations. The industrialized world is just beginning to see the effects of depleting fossil fuel supplies, and in many countries common people are struggling to pay for automobile fuel. It is no coincidence that in many of those same countries, some of the greatest advancements have been made in developing alternative fuel technology. They have struggled, and therefore found the motivation to overcome the hardships and move toward progress. In the United States, it seems like we would much rather sit around and complain about paying $100 to fill up our Hummers than try to do anything to fix the problem. If I had it my way, gas prices would be much, much higher.
European countries have seen some of the highest prices for petroleum fuels in the world (prepare yourself for some harmless statistical data). On May 21, the national average for a gallon of premium gasoline was $8.62 in Italy, United Kingdom $8.16, Germany $7.91, and France $7.61. The main reason for these lofty prices is due to heavy taxation imposed by their governments. In Germany, for example, the price for a gallon of gas was $3.47 before taxes. Remember, it was $7.91 after. That’s a 128% increase in price because of taxes. The national average of the US was $3.59 before and $3.97 after taxes, a mere 11% increase.
If such a tax as the one in Germany was imposed on Americans, there would certainly be a violent overthrow of the government, pitchforks and torches included, and this is where I make my point. Perhaps the German government has a bit of an eye on the future. By forcing citizens to pay exorbitant prices on fuel, German auto manufacturers are left with no other option but to look for better, more efficient ways of transportation. So that is exactly what they did. Take BMW’s fleet of Hydrogen 7 sedans, which was the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen powered car. Of course, that’s old news, BMW had that project finished six years ago. Now, they have moved on to the beautiful electric plug-in i3 compact and i8 hybrid sports car which have a planned mass-production date of 2013. If gas was $8.00 a gallon in the U.S., there would be plenty of motivation to come up with something better than.. err.. the Chevy Volt.
We should all remember what we learned in middle school: fossil fuels are non-renewable. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. So, when the day comes that the last molecule of gasoline is injected into a combustion chamber and burned off, German manufacturers will be years ahead of American manufacturers in the development of new forms of energy technology — and this doesn’t just include Germany, but any other industrialized nation faced with high fuel prices.
So, where does that leave the United States in the race for efficient alternate energy? Definitely not in first. And that really bothers me. I do not like to lose, but it seems some Americans would rather go back to horse-drawn carriages than look a few years into the future.
Being the positive thinker that I am, I feel that all hope is not lost for the country that I love (the SpaceX program has recently erased any doubt). My generation (sen’10rs ftw!) needs to look at the energy crisis just like the cold-war era looked at the space race. The United States secured itself at the top by competing with the Soviets and beating them to the moon. NASA gained priceless technological knowledge by building spacecraft more sophisticated than anything the world had ever seen and that knowledge quickly spread throughout American industry. This was all thanks to the response of our government to not back down in the face of adversity, but to overcome it with as much funding as it took to reach our goal. In order for the United States to establish itself at the top in this generation’s test for technological dominance, it is crucial for American businesses (and most likely the government) to start dedicating whatever resources it takes to producing automobiles truly capable of competing in the international market.
As an engineering student, I have taken this challenge to heart, and I hope others will follow.