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Sage grass & cedars
by Darrell Thompson

Time to Declare Our Independence

Sometimes finding the solution to a problem can cause as much aggravation as not being able to find the solution at all. At first this may sound absurd; but think about the times that you have diligently searched for a solution only to finally realize that the answer was right under your nose all along. It happens all the time, or at least to me. It probably happens more than I realize because I’m sure that there are times that the answer is right under my nose and I never recognize it. If I realized how many times that had happened, I would really be frustrated.

This scenario may be playing out in America at this very moment. When a real cure for cancer is found, it may be from something as common as dirt. The solution to our energy crisis may be in as simple a substance as water. While these may be real possibilities in the distant future, we can only frustrate ourselves more by neglecting the present while waiting on that future possibility.

I am talking about our current energy crisis and what we are willing to do about it. America has faced many crises in the past and has always seemed to answer with a resolve that guaranteed success. Our forefathers wanted liberty so badly that they were willing to pay the price, whatever that was. You and I are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice and the sacrifices of many such as them, both past and present. National crises are not always won with bullets and bombs, but always with resolve and willingness to sacrifice.

When America won her freedom over two centuries ago, the war was caused by unfair things imposed by England. These impositions were not things that America could not pay but was simply unwilling to pay. The situation is similar today. Oil rich countries are not threatening our freedom (directly) but are holding us hostage by our own thirst for their oil. We can’t blame them for gouging us if we are willing to pay. Rich American oil companies quickly joined in on the profits, boasting profits as large as thirty billion per quarter. They were willing to charge and we were willing to pay.

We consumers may have been caught in a bad situation where we had no short-term choice. The real question is, are we willing to continue? When a solution is found, don’t expect the oil companies to stand idly by and let their profits dwindle for the good of America.

America’s foreign policy and national security is also influenced by oil. Often America is forced into bad situations of national security by the necessity of keeping the oil flowing. If Sudan was a nation with rich oil reserves, you can bet that America and the rest of the world would take more of an interest in the events happening there. America is not the only country whose national security and well being depends on having an abundance of oil as a source of energy. It’s not a Republican or Democrat thing. It is a statement of fact that America runs on oil.

It is a bad situation and will stay that way until we as citizens have the resolve to do something about it. We can’t expect Uncle Sam to take us by the nose and drag us into a state of energy independence. We won’t get there until we have the resolve and willingness to make sacrifices that our forefathers had over two hundred years ago.

Sacrifice may come in many forms. We might have to reconsider our choices in automobiles, choosing fuel efficient instead of gas-guzzlers. Will we be satisfied to vacation closer to home instead of far off destinations? When faced with the choice of cleaner burning, home grown fuels, are we willing to pay more or choose the cheaper fuel that promotes our dependence on foreign oil?

There is also the question of having the technology and resources to be energy independent. A friend of mine recently returned from a hunting trip to Iowa and told me of an ethanol plant there that used 1000 bushels of corn every four minutes. To me, that is a mind-boggling amount of corn that it takes to run that plant for continuous operation. That may be great for the corn farmer, but do we have the resources to supply many such ethanol plants?

A partial solution may be growing right under our feet. Dr. David Bransby of Auburn University and other energy pioneers are working on many projects involving biomass and ethanol or bio-diesel from perennial grasses such as switchgrass. Dr. Bransby’s studies have concluded that switchgrass can be more efficient for ethanol production that corn. He says that "emerging technologies" are continuing to make switchgrass ethanol a cost efficient and viable solution for our energy needs. Here again is the question of land. Where will the acres come from to supply the enormous amount of switchgrass needed to make this worthwhile?

A few years ago, a thirty-mile stretch of four-lane highway was completed through Lawrence County. By my estimate, at least 1100 acres was taken for right-of-way. I think it is safe to say that 700 to 800 of those acres are growing grass and have to be mowed or otherwise maintained by the state highway department. That is on just one thirty-mile stretch of road. There are no doubt millions and millions of acres of grass that the state is paying to maintain on Alabama roadsides. This could be that enormous source previously mentioned.

I’m sure there are several concerns about this. The main concern I can think of is safety. Drivers are already used to being extra careful around construction sites or "paying double." As a matter of "national security," I’m sure this problem could be dealt with. Whatever the cost, our grandchildren’s grandchildren may be depending on us.

I wonder if Dr. Bransby has done any research on sagegrass as a potential alternative fuel source. I have let a sagegrass fire get out of hand a time or two and have been really impressed with the amount of energy that was released. And … if switchgrass bears any resemblance to a switch, it could be handy growing on roadsides. I know my mom could have thinned out a good stand of it on my brothers and sisters and me. Wild plum bushes are now just beginning to get established again around where we live.

Darrell Thompson is the Moulton store manager of Lawrence County Exchange.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006