Final Word: The smartest people in the world

This winter the popular media wheezed themselves up into a regular panic attack over global warming (again). I have no personal knowledge as to whether or not global warming is real. Given the infinite complexity of the atmosphere, the limitations of science and human observation and the fact that nobody yet can accurately predict the weather next week leads me to suspect that global warming is far from certain.

But in terms of probability, global warming is not something we’d wisely dismiss outright. The “theory” is intriguing even if the proof is not solid. And if you toss two indisputable facts about fossil fuels into the mix: one, that many of them come from countries that wish us ill, and two, that eventually we will run out of them – then you can reasonably argue that we might have some issues to deal with down the road.

Trouble is the popular media and most politicians and environmentalists scream about the problem but rarely put any effort into developing solutions. Playing Cassandra is more satisfying in our instant gratification society than the hard slogging work of gathering information, reviewing the options, narrowing your choices and then pushing your best efforts out into a competitive marketplace. And I suppose that crying wolf sells a lot more soap for the big media that dominate the national conversation.

But there is another conversation going on, just out of earshot of the big media, and this conversation is full of super-smart people all scrambling to be the first to develop viable alternative energy solutions. It’s happening in corporations, web forums and the engineering community.

This movement isn’t being pushed by the media or environmentalists but by engineers and the top level brass in many of the world’s biggest manufacturing companies – the kind of people who love cutting edge technology and have the vision, guts and business acumen to put their money where their mouth is.

I know this because I cross paths with some of these people from time to time at my job here at the magazine. And I lived in the Midwest long enough to know how these people work – people who grew up with the farm family work ethic, who went off to college for engineering and science degrees and who are now employed by companies big and small all competing for a slice of the coming bonanza in alternative energy.

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The alternative energy movement is already well underway. The starting point is not personal energy use, homes and autos, but in commercial and industrial use. And heavy equipment contractors – being big consumers of fuel – will also adopt more fuel efficient forms of energy long before this technology finally trickles down to the individual consumer level. In all likelihood you’ll be using a hybrid excavator and dump truck long before hybrid cars or battery powered cars take over our highways.

But make no doubt, the revolution is here. The smartest people in the world are hard at work on developing commercially viable alternatives to carbon-based power sources. And lest you think that this new technology is geared to enviro geeks, I urge you to look up the Tesla sports car on the Internet at Developed by two American muscle car aficionados who were tired of the wimpy performance of battery powered vehicles, the Tesla can smoke a Ferrari from a standing start and goes 250 miles on a single charge.

The next time you hear Henny Penny and the big media pitch doom and gloom on the energy/global warming front, just remember the Tesla. It’s the future, and it’s starting to look very cool.