Been There, Done That

United States Is Sleeping as Energy Is Changing

By RICK MELLERUP | Jan 08, 2020


I grew up in the late 1950s and the 1960s, an age of invention. As a boy I loved transistor radios. Being able to cart a radio around in your pocket to hear the newest Beatles song or the latest news may seem quaint now, but it was incredible at the time. It allowed me, for example, to listen to opening day baseball games while in elementary school classes by looping a cord up my shirt sleeve to an earphone hidden by my hand. OK, I’m sure the teachers figured it out, but they let me slide.

Trivial, right? But transistors, which replaced vacuum tubes in electronic equipment, ushered in the second generation of computer technology. You couldn’t fit a UNIVAC, which filled a room, in a spacecraft, could you? We wouldn’t have reached the moon in 1969 if it weren’t for transistors.

Another amazing development in my childhood years was color TV. The first time I saw “The Wizard of Oz” in color was like watching an entirely new movie. I wasn’t stuck in black and white Kansas anymore! True, color TV wasn’t a world-changing invention like steam engines or antibiotics, but the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses desire for bigger screens and more-spectacular pictures has helped drive the American economy for decades.

Then there were vaccinations. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was licensed in 1955, my birth year, meaning I never had to fear life in an iron lung. Vaccines for measles (1963), mumps (1967) and rubella (1969) followed. They were all too late for me – I suffered them all – but they have helped save or improve the lives of uncountable children.

If you watch TV you know there are still plenty of inventions. There are My Pillows and a plethora of expensive sheets hitting the market – with My Pillow Gizas and Boll & Branch sets, which run from $200 to $305 and are the “sheets 3 living US Presidents sleep on” being two examples. Apparently we are reinventing our bedding.

How about those UNTUCKit shirts! Simple enough idea, don’t you agree, a shirt without long tails. But as founder Chris Riccobono put it in a TV commercial, “Easy to say, not that easy to do. But with some innovative design changes we did it.” I remember turning jeans into cutoff shorts when I was 13. I guess I was innovative.

Underwear isn’t a new concept. Yet, if commercials are to be believed, underwear is going through a revolution.

Come on, Tommy John surgery was revolutionary; Tommy John (no relation, by the way) underwear isn’t. Then there is the Duluth brand Buck Naked Underwear. And get a load of Mack Weldon briefs, which are made of not only “world-class Supima” cotton, but also “antimicrobial Silver XT2.” I can’t help but wonder if you combine Mack Weldon underwear with copper-infused socks, could you ever get through airport checkpoints? By the way, I’m not even going to touch – literally or figuratively – bladder incontinence underwear that turns urine into gel but is “actually pretty.”

The most amazing contemporary invention of them all, though, has to be caps with lasers in them, alleged to produce fuller hair. What a miraculous world we live in! Surely hair-growing caps have to be the greatest invention since New Coke!

Here’s the problem. While Americans are busy producing such modern wonders to feed a consumer economy, the Chinese are busy developing green energy.

Yes, Chinese cities have air that makes Los Angeles of the pre-EPA days look like Eden. Sure, China is the world’s largest consumer of coal and, behind only the U.S., the second largest of oil. Indeed, China produces more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world.

But China also leads the world in clean energy. According to a 2018 report in The Economist, China has a third of the world’s wind power, six of the top 10 solar-panel manufacturers and four of the top 10 wind-turbine makers. It sells more electric vehicles than the rest of the world combined.

I could add that many experts worry that China is ahead of the U.S. in AI, and 5G as well. But let’s stick with green energy for now.

This planet has seen a number of primary energy sources in its history. Fire – produced by burning wood, charcoal, peat, straw, dried dung and animal oil – was the energy source for scores of thousands of years, used for cooking, heating, light and manufacture. Wind, water and coal took over – the Industrial Revolution started in Britain because factories were able to harness the island’s numerous streams to drive turbines until coal mined in Wales supplanted dams.

Then, with the first well in Pennsylvania in 1859 came the age of oil. It remains with us today.

Now, if the Chinese are to be believed, a new energy era is approaching – clean, renewable energy. Some of its concepts are old, such as wind and water; some are new, such as solar. Meanwhile, who knows what science can come up with in the near future?

The U.S. was the pioneer in oil, helping us to take over from Great Britain – which wasn’t blessed with petroleum reserves – as the world’s leading economic power. Will we allow China to get a leg up on us with renewables? Clean energy is, of course, important environmentally. But it is also important economically. The past has shown that the nation that has the head start when a new energy era arrives is the nation that is the richest.

While China is rapidly increasing its green energy commitment, our president and his followers poke fun at alternative types of power such as wind – “Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.” He also wants to preserve coal and, after deserting our Kurdish allies in Syria, then changed his mind and decided to keep U.S. troops in Syria to protect not Kurds, but oil.

In 1938, Winston Churchill wrote a book called While England Slept, which highlighted the United Kingdom’s lack of military preparedness to face the growing threat of Nazi Germany. Perhaps when it comes to renewable energy and the Chinese economic threat, the U.S. is sleeping.

That makes sense. After all, we rest our laser cap-produced shaggy heads on the most comfortable pillows in the world, nestled in the finest sheets and underwear on the globe!


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