Freedoms and Liberty

Let’s have a chat about freedom and liberty. Are they the same thing? No, they aren’t.
A freedom is a right that everybody has, something that everybody wants. For example, we all want to be able to speak our minds, and in America we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights freedom of speech. We can say what we want, free from persecution, unless our speech directly and imminently threatens someone, like in the common example of shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Liberty, on the other hand, is a right everyone has, only it’s about what an individual wants. Each of us has their own wants and desires. For example, I might want to rob your house but you probably don’t want your house to be robbed. Liberty creates conflicts of desire.
Where freedoms and liberty come from and what we can legally do about them is somewhat counterintuitive.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that we all have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights are considered to be given, by God, at birth, to everyone. Most people take this to mean that these are rights that can never be taken away, which is true. These rights cannot be legally taken away. But, because they cannot be taken away they must be regulated by law. This is because one person’s liberty may conflict with another person’s liberty. It is one reason that we have laws. Disputes about people’s liberty happen all the time and limits to our behavior are established by law. The rights to life and the pursuit of happiness also lead to conflicts between citizens, and also must be limited by laws.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are not inalienable. They are granted, by government, in their governing documents, through laws, or by the courts. For example, the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution, after the fact, because people realized there were freedoms all Americans should have that, unlike liberty, were not God-given and had to be granted by government.
Freedoms cannot be limited except by strict judicial examination and interpretation of the Constitution or through other governmental means. Our constitutional rights and freedoms have limitations that are written into the constitution, or are limited by law, or through judicial rule. And, because they are granted by government and not given by God, they can be taken away by government. Granted, it is difficult to take away a constitutional freedom. It can only be done by amending the constitution or by the edict of a dictator. But it can be done.
The constitution has been amended only 27 times with the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, having been ratified in 1791. That there have only been 17 amendments since then shows how hard it is to amend the constitution. The United States has never had a dictator, elected or otherwise. Our rights have yet to be taken away by force.
The ninth amendment in the Bill of Rights states that there are other rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Those rights are determined through legislation and ultimately by the courts. Because of their non-constitutional status, these rights can be much easier to take away.
A common misconception about both freedoms and liberty is that they confer upon the individual carte blanche to do anything they want and be protected by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is not true. Both our freedoms and our liberty can, have, and will be limited and regulated by law and through the courts. It is often overlooked that along with each right we have a corresponding responsibility. It is an important part of being a citizen that we not only know our rights but also our responsibilities. All too often I hear angry citizens complaining that their rights are being trampled on without understanding that limitations on those rights are in force. They had not considered, consciously or otherwise, that they had responsibilities associated with those rights.
This is a significant issue in today’s America. There are individuals and organizations that present very serious threats to the survival of our democracy, based on false and/or skewed interpretations of our founding documents. Many Americans misinterpret the intentions of our founding fathers, through ignorance, by succumbing to propaganda, or on purpose. There is an assumption that they have rights that cannot be limited by anyone, especially government. The threats these forces present to the nation, to our unique philosophy of governance, both from outside and inside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are tangible and powerful. We are right to fear them. We are also right to believe in our power as citizens.
Some tell us that the power and strength of the American way of life lie in our capitalist, free-market economy, which has accumulated the vast wealth required to bend the world’s nations to our will. This is not true. America’s strength resides in her people, now and always. Perhaps our most important right, the right to vote, is still ours. We can use it to guide the path of American life, economically, socially, politically, and with equity of race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, etc. To do so we must be mindful of our differences and develop the skills of listening and humility. We must remember that our freedoms, which include the right to vote, can be taken away, if not through the vote, through the whim of a tyrant.
We can no longer take it for granted in America that we are free from evil in our government, that we are still protected by the checks and balances built into our constitution. We are no longer safe from military action against our citizens or false imprisonment or any of the other horrors of totalitarian rule. Think long and hard before you assume that those who promise prosperity and glory are saviors. Make certain they are not leading us off the cliff and into the abyss of total subservience. This audit of America takes time and active discernment. We have need to start right now. It is by no means easy. It takes eyes and ears and tongues, hearts and souls, and brains. We will not survive if we remain frogs in the slowly heating pot. I can see the steam rising. I don’t pray often, but I pray we can save our democracy.
We have precious little time.

Contradictions. Or Contradictions.

There are a limited number of basic and meaningful things that happen in a human being’s life. There is nothing in this world that we can name that is infinite. Excepting perhaps infinity. The only thing that makes life limitless is the fact that it is limited. A relationship can be concurrently both absolute and relative. Herein we will be discussing contradictions, seeming and otherwise, and what they mean to us.

As we mature we find that life is not so complicated as we may imagine it. We are all prone to experience any or all of existence’s aspects, regardless of our particular viewpoint or place in life. These experiences can be felt as individually unique and separate from other people’s perceptions and consciousness. Or they can be known to be individualized, but related, experiences of those finite and essential human flavors. These states of being have infinite permutations. Our first contradiction.

Although not so complicated, life is never totally clear, cut, and dried. In the words of Winston Churchill, people’s and nation’s intentions are often “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Life is full of these irreconcilable contradictions. What may be assumed to be an individual experience can subconsciously be informed by a group narrative and what may be thought of as mutual can in reality be simply an imagined commonality. Both of those points of view originate in obvious flaws, of thought, perceived reality, or ignorance. They can also come from the skewed views of normal unique to one’s family of origin.

A primary subconscious influence that distorts our perceived reality is the concept of privilege. Privilege is nearly always invisible to its owner. Its contradictory nature stems from the fact that it is a reality that distorts their perception of reality. The distortion, oblivious to the owner, all too often leads to the oppression of the unprivileged by the unaware, privileged soul.

People feel their privilege is normal because its subconscious nature is hidden. Its stark dividing of people from what should be shared humanity creates chasms unseen by the oppressor but painfully obvious to the oppressed. Sadly, there is nothing one can do to escape their privilege. And there are numerous kinds of privilege one carries, white, male, cisgender, and others, too many to name here.

Privilege is defined by what we are and not who we are. One cannot talk away or take away what someone is. But through love and education the privileged person can change who they are. There are many different types of ‘who’ that we can be, from artist to attorney, from republican to recluse, from self-conscious to self-aware. And there are many ‘whats’ as well, from British to blind to black to a baby. Anyone can be a ‘who’. An artist or CEO or homeowner can be black, Catholic, rich, poor, Danish. But only a white person can be white. That is a ‘what’. In essence ‘what’ is exclusive, and ‘who’ is inclusive.

Now, one might object, saying that an artist is a ‘what’, and thus exclusive. The taste test here is if others can profess to be artists. If there is the opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘who’. If there is no opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘what’. Only people with blue eyes can have blue eyes. It is an exclusive club. Regardless of who we are or profess to be the only ‘what’ that we all share is being human. Our only universally shared privilege is human privilege. We would do well to understand that human privilege does not guarantee that we will remain at the top of the food chain forever. We are not the end-all and be-all of existence.

As humans we all share many qualities. All humans are born with umbilical cords. Now that I think of it, all humans were born. All humans want to love and be loved. All humans want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. We all think and make decisions and worry and laugh. There are so many things we have in common. They are so basic as to be taken for granted and not considered as things that bind us together, small creatures on a small planet in a small galaxy in a vast multiverse. To awaken to these facts and embrace them is a step in the direction of successful human interaction.

Our differences color our world and allow for the precious contradiction of life itself. Christians tell us all humans are in the body of Christ, many into one. Hindus say that God multiplies himself infinitely, and every individual human is a part of God. We recognize the various colors on a TV screen as being different. But if the screen is entirely red we do not see any differences even though there are thousands of individual pixels. It’s easy to see differences and often difficult to see similarities. One thing for certain, when we are being born we are all the same and as we die we are all the same. What makes us think we are completely separate creatures while we are in between the two? We are all the same yet all different. A most sublime divine paradox. It is this contradiction that is the engine of a life that can contain both mystery and misery, both freedom and boredom. 

Life is not static. It moves. For life to move there must be different places. For there to be different places there must be different spaces and for each individual to exist they must occupy their own particular space. Two of us cannot occupy one physical space at once but any of us can occupy the same mental or spiritual space at any given time. Different and the same. How we can be one and many at the same time is a powerful contradiction, a mystical puzzle we can never solve. It is this paradox of time/space that we strive to answer all our lives, whether we know it or not. 

We all seek out differences to legitimize our own individuality but we also know in our deepest hearts that the things in life that truly matter are the things we all share, like family, and, hunger, and desire. I love being just like you. And I love being just me. Remember, there is a balance to life. If you won’t recognize me, I don’t have to recognize you. If you don’t respect me I won’t have to respect you. I grow weary of spending so much energy disliking people. I already love everybody, but if we are to like each other we must work together. We must love each other.

Love is the Alpha and Omega. If we can recognize and respect the love in each other it will go a long way toward making it acceptable to not like each other. And when it is acceptable to not like each other, because of the presence of divine contradiction, it is much easier to actually discover we do like each other. Regardless of what and who you are, when you occupy space in this world you create the boundaries for a place I can occupy. But it is all one space. And it is ours to enjoy.  

For this I am grateful.

On Each Side of the Equal Sign

It is important to consider the idea of equality as a contested concept with different meanings to different people. It’s just as important to learn the difference between equity and equality.

 Equality does not mean the same thing to different people. I have found that this discrepancy can lead to conflict and confusion when discussing the rights, responsibilities, social standing, opportunities, abilities, etc. of various peoples, both individuals, and certain demographics.

For example, to some, equality means everybody starts at the same starting line and uses their knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, etc. to move ahead in a ‘race’ toward ‘success’. This view of equality is somewhat myopic in that it does not consider the fact that race, religion, sexual orientation, and supremacies based on numerous types of privilege do not, in practice, allow for everyone to start at the same starting line. This effectively negates the idea that everyone has an equal chance to ‘win’ the race.

One might attempt to justify that particular definition by referencing the Declaration of Independence quote “all men are created equal”. However the Constitution made it clear that, in the words of George Orwell, “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. According to our governing document blacks were only considered to be 3/5ths of a person and women were not allowed to vote or own property. Thus the reality of equality is and has always been dependent on evolution.

A different definition of equality allows for the fact that people have differing abilities, backgrounds, educations, etc. and it is reasonable to expect ‘the rat race’ does not lead to the same outcomes for everyone. This definition sees equality as equal opportunity, not with all other things being equal but with equity of opportunity based on accounting for the presence of societal roadblocks, many of which originate in privilege and supremacy. This gives us a hint at why equity is not the same as equality. But I digress.

This definition takes into consideration that while we are all equal in the sense that we are all born with umbilical cords we are not all born into situations that give us an equal chance to thrive. Poverty, racism, sexism, and other isms prevent many people from beginning at that hypothetical equal starting line. This definition sees us trying to balance these inequities (another hint) by making an effort to compensate for negative societal realities.

Both of these disparate definitions are based on a degree of wishful thinking. Certainly, when people start a discussion with different definitions of the same concept the situation is ripe for misunderstanding and argument. So when someone challenges your understanding of a concept, be it equality or freedom or security or any other, take a moment to listen to the other person’s arguments and see if you can determine if the disconnect originates in a contested concept with opposing definitions of terms. In formal debate, agreement on fundamental definitions of terms is very important. In informal debate perhaps even more so.

This brings us to the difference between equality and equity and the misunderstandings that can arise from it. These words are different in meaning, as much as some of us like to use them to mean the same thing. Words have power. Concepts that are in reality contested but assumed to have only one definition turn that power into power failure. Those false assumptions lead us into deep and murky waters in which agreement can easily drown. 

Simply put equality is about state of being and equity is about fairness. For example, equality is that the 100-yard dash is the same distance for anyone. Equity is the fact that there is a Paralympics that gives elite athletes with disabilities a fair chance to compete. Equality in golf is everyone teeing off from the same marker. Equity in golf is your handicap.

So when someone speaks about equity and someone else answers with a statement about equality they immediately are talking about two different things. The conversation then begins to deteriorate and an argument ensues where a discussion should live. These misunderstandings, based in language and syntax as they are, point to an almost desperate need for the pursuit of understanding among peoples, as a starting point toward good relationships, political or otherwise.

Understanding doesn’t require much more than calm patience, humble listening, and self-respect. That may be hard work but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Oh, and one more thing, Privilege is about what you are and not who you are. Therefore you can’t talk away or take away one’s privilege but through understanding you can change who the privileged person is. That’s a conversation for another time.

The Border is no boundary

It is international law that compels the US to accept any and all persons claiming asylum and give them a fair hearing. It is US law that says asylum seekers must present themselves at an official port of entry. I agree that anyone breaking away from the group and crossing elsewhere can and should be treated as a lawbreaker and subject to our immigration laws, with the caveat that ICE not treat them like animals. But those presenting themselves legally to ask for asylum must be granted entry and be heard in a court of law to determine their status.

Rather than spending millions sending thousands of troops to the border who legally cannot engage with the asylum seekers anyway, we should spend the money sending more agents to process all the legitimate claims and find adequate housing and feed them. Our president says he will not “release” any of them, claiming they will not return for their hearings and disappear. That may be so for a few but it sounds like concentration camps to me. 

How we spend resources on this issue says a great deal about the morality of the current federal gov’t. Yes, of course there may be “mother rapers and father stabbers” hidden among these people. If so it should only take a basic investigation to reveal that fact in a hearing. We don’t just let people waltz into the country, even when they have legally asked for asylum. We vet them. But processing takes money and as I said, the gov’t is choosing to spend that money on mustering federal troops. Rather, they should be treating those seeking asylum in a respectful humanitarian way. They should be providing adequate human necessities and muster enough personnel to quickly and effectively process their claims.

The strategy the government is employing in this instance is called a strategic initiative. A strategic initiative is a single multipurpose action that meets several goals. This strategic initiative: 1. Created a crisis where there is none to arouse the base just before the midterm elections. 2. More of the aroused base would vote and increase the number of republican votes. 3. Continues to create an atmosphere of fear that seems real and threatening to American citizens, when their is none. 4. And most critical, this action was a test of just how many laws the gov’t can break and still have the public accept and normalize that behavior.

The 2018 midterm elections represented a pivotal and grave moment in our history. The leadup was tence and scary. Now, the results told us our democracy has not yet been intentionally dismantled and replaced by a tyrannical, authoritarian regime. But not by much. It proved what I have long realized; that there are a large number of Americans who have succumbed to being groomed into buying in to this nationalist, jingoist, isolationist universe of manufactured scarcity. They are out there, so angry, indignant and arrogant. We cannot be complacent and assume a House majority will fix everything. It won’t.

The oligarchy has directed this anger at the “other”. It is an anger funneled into a soothing blame, pointed at the scapegoat flavor of the day, the gays, the Muslims, the Mexicans, Al Qaeda, ISIS, East Africans, Feminists, Socialists, I could go on. It’s a distracting and deflecting blame of anyone who isn’t white, male (and their subservient wives), wealthy or connected, hetero, cisgender, believers in allegedly fair and balanced but actual ”fake news”, dominionist Christians, and conservative sycophants. Oh, and the throngs of American serfs who worship them for deigning to toss a few crumbs their way, along with the false promise of safety, sovereignty, good jobs, and “things”.

The last time we experienced such a profound internal existential crisis was one one and one half centuries ago. We were guided out of it by a willful and strong President. In this crisis we have a willful and weak President. The contrast is striking. That this internal threat mirrors a previous external existential threat is not unusual from a historical perspective. Despots often turn to ideas of dominance from past authoritarians, rarely having the insight to invent their own.

This president continues to conduct tests to see how far he can go, how much he can get away with in breaking both American and international law through executive fiat. He is testing the limits of his power to normalize evil through his extraordinary authority to defy the constitution and get the groomed public to accede to it. All this for rallying his base and making them feel good about themselves; to establish himself as a man of the people when he is merely a man for himself. He cares not for America. He only cares for his own power and glory.

The last time we experienced such a profound internal, existential crisis was one and one half centuries ago. We were guided out of it by a willful and strong President. In this crisis we have a willful and weak President. The contrast is striking. That this internal threat resembles a previous external existential threat is not unusual from a historical perspective. Despots often turn to ideas of dominance from past authoritarians, rarely having the insight to invent their own.

I often hear my liberal peers express a wild desire to invoke the 25th amendment, demanding the president be impeached for his obvious high crimes and misdemeanors. Although their is a solid legal basis for this I do not think it is necessarily a good idea. I would prefer to humiliate him through righteously repudiating everything he has done to harm our nation. I want to see his white nationalist, racist, neo-apartheid base shown the door, out of the halls of power, their imagined dominance destroyed, never to rise again.

We do not need to punish. Raw punishment is a kind of hate. I want to see America change and grow into a better society, a leader in becoming a better world and a people worthy of saving. I want to see the human race, we specks of dust in the vast universe, thrive by evolving and not euthanizing. I want us to always walk toward the light, as do we all, each of us slowly dying.. 

And in this dying, in this seeking of the light and conscious rejection of our dark selves, we who do not close but open our hearts will become more our true selves, living rich lives in accord with each other. It is the only path that assures coninued life on this planet.

I believe this light and this love will conquer.

Carbon: Boon and Bane

This is a (very) long essay written in 2009 about carbon, what it is, why it makes for such a usable and abundant energy source, and what that means for the health of the planet. It was originally intended as a chapter in a long-abandoned book. Frankly, it is a bit scattered but I don’t have the time or patience to make it flow better. Bad, bad, Will.

Some editing was done to repair the ravages of my poor writing skills, and to fix numerous mistakes in spelling, syntax, and grammar, not that it did any good.  I have lots of this sort of essay in my quiver. Since I rarely have useful new ideas I suspect I will be going to the well of my previous prolificity more often, as I attempt to make this blog more relevant. Here we go.

 

Carbon is element number 6 on the periodic table of elements. It has an atomic weight of 12. This means that it consists of a nucleus consisting of 6 protons and 6 neutrons.  So that it is chemically and electrically stable it is surrounded by 6 electrons, which balance the electric charge of the 6 protons. These electrons are configured in two levels, the first with 2 electrons and the second with 4 electrons. Most of us are aware, from high school chemistry, that the first electron level has room for 2 electrons and the second electron level has room for 8 electrons. Therefore, because carbon has four electrons in the second level it is considered tetravalent, which means it has four spaces on the second electron level that can be filled by electrons from other elements when combining to form the molecules of a compound.

Carbon is the smallest atom which is tetravalent. This is significant when we consider that any tetravalent atom, such as carbon, with it’s four available spaces on the second electron level, is likely to form any number of diverse, yet very stable compounds. Reality shows us that this is true, as the millions of carbon compounds that exist on earth form a large number of the compounds known to science. These compounds are diverse because the available spaces for electrons allow for a great number of possible atomic combinations. They are stable electrically because on the second electron level there are an equal number of electrons from carbon as there are from the other atoms. This factor creates a very stable electron field in the outermost electron layers of any carbon compound, where most of the fluctuations and recombining take place.

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is a vital component of the carbon-nitrogen cycle, which is the means stars use to convert hydrogen into helium. This cycle is the most basic and largest source of energy in the universe. So we can see that carbon and energy production are involved together at the most basic level. Carbon has perhaps the widest diversity of physical properties of any element. In its pure state, it exists both as graphite, one of the softest and most opaque substances and diamond, one of the hardest and most transparent of substances.

Carbon is one of the most essential elements required for life as we know it. All entities we know of as living contain carbon. It is the second most abundant element in the human body next to oxygen. It has the highest melting point of any element and its compounds are so stable that it requires very high temperatures for them to react with oxygen.

Carbon does a dance with hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen in a cycle of life on earth. All life forms on earth are made up of these same elements that dominate the earth and its atmosphere. Both plant and animal life are involved in complex chemical cycles that are essential to life on earth, but the most telling part of these cycles is that organic life on earth, in both life and death, contains tremendous amounts of carbon. 

I have mentioned these properties of carbon, and it’s vital intertwining with life on earth, to reveal the reasons why carbon compounds are perfectly suited to be used as fuels. They point to why the use of carbon fuels is so prevalent on our planet. All chemical reactions involve the application of energy, which is often manifest in the form of heat. Most chemical reactions are exothermic, which means they give off more energy, in the form of heat, than they use up. We have seen, through thermonuclear reactions, which, breaking up the word, is thermo, or heat, and nuclear, concerning the nucleus, that there is a tremendous amount of energy involved in the combining relationships between atoms, elements, molecules, and compounds. This huge amount of energy liberates equally huge amounts of heat.

Because carbon is tetravalent its compounds tend to be very stable. This means that the bonds created by the chemical reactions that create these compounds are held together by tremendous energy. Although it takes great energy to get carbon compounds to burn or react with oxygen, the act of burning breaks down those powerful bonds, releasing the incredible amount of energy that holds them together, in exothermic reactions. Exothermic reactions are accompanied by the release of heat. These properties reveal carbon compounds to be ideally suited to use as fuels.

Hydrocarbons, as the name suggests, are compounds containing hydrogen and carbon. The simplest hydrocarbon is methane, consisting of four hydrogen atoms to one carbon. In this compound the four hydrogen electrons bond with the four available electrons on the carbon atom. The chemical symbol for methane is therefore CH4. 

Oxidation is the combining of any element, molecule or compound, with oxygen. There is slow oxidation, such as the formation of rust on iron, and rapid oxidation, which we call burning. Oxidation is slow when a substance is exposed to oxygen over time. It does not require the application of external energy and the resulting oxidation is slow. Rapid oxidation requires the application of external energy. We know that carbon requires a large amount of energy to rapidly oxidize, i.e. burn. We also know that the burning of carbon releases large amounts of heat. As long as there is oxygen present the heat generated by the burning will burn more of the carbon until there is no longer any carbon or oxygen present. This cycle of burning not only consumes the available carbon but it liberates great amounts of heat.

We can more simply understand this process by thinking of a campfire. We gather an amount of wood, which is made of carbon, and we apply fire to it until it also begins to burn. Once it is burning it keeps burning until we stop putting wood on the fire and all the carbon in the remaining wood is oxidized. The heat liberated by burning the wood warms our nose and toes and will even cook the marshmallows we hold over it.

But back to methane. Because methane is the simplest hydrocarbon, burning methane is the simplest and cleanest method of obtaining energy from carbon. The burning of one methane molecule results in one molecule of carbon dioxide, two water molecules, and released energy. In this rapid oxidation process, under the application of heat,  the two oxygen molecules, consisting of four oxygen atoms, pull the hydrogen atoms away from the carbon atom, combining to form two water molecules, released as steam, one carbon dioxide molecule, and additional heat.

The equation for this reaction is CH4 + 2 O2 = CO2 + 2 H2O + 802 megajoules of energy per mole of methane. A mole is a compound’s atomic weight expressed in grams. A mole of methane is 16 grams, 12 for the carbon and one for each of the four hydrogens. From this equation, we can determine the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and energy released by burning any amount of methane. 

Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the burning of all hydrocarbons, even methane, the simplest of hydrocarbon molecules. The burning of methane, which makes up well over 90% of what we call natural gas, creates the highest percentage of heat energy in relation to carbon dioxide formation of any hydrocarbon. More CO2 is created when larger hydrocarbon molecules are burned, in relation to the amount of heat energy liberated. This is why natural gas, which easily transported and burns purely, is the most used heat source in the average home environment. Unfortunately, there is not enough methane available for all our energy needs.

We have been aware that burning carbon-based sources liberated heat for a very long time. Thousands of years ago, primitive man used dry wood and coal stone to make fires that warmed them on cold nights and cooked their food. This energy helped them survive and hydrocarbon energy sources were widely sought out for use as fuels by the most primitive of humans. We continue to depend on carbon-based substances for fuel to this day almost exclusively, even with the development of modern, noncarbon-based energy sources.

Because there is so much carbon in the bodies of living creatures, much of it in the form of proteins, sugars and fats, many of the worlds available hydrocarbons come from organic sources. These organic compounds are made up primarily of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. As the bodies of living organisms break down and decompose after death the resulting compounds contain many hydrocarbons. After many years plant decomposition generally leads to the formation of coal deposits,  and animal decomposition can lead to the creation of oil.   

Methane comes from any number of carbon sources, both organic and inorganic, and is found in numerous places on earth, from our oceans and lakes to the permafrost of the Arctic and most places in between. Methane, in its form of natural gas, plus the coal and oil created from thousands of years of the decomposition of living organisms, are the 3 hydrocarbons most used as fuels in modern society. 

All of these hydrocarbons, when burned, release large amounts of energy, plus CO2 and water vapor into the ecosystem. It is this release of carbon dioxide which accompanies the release of energy that concerns those who care about the overall ecological health of the planet and it’s future survival.

Why are we concerned about the chemical properties of burning hydrocarbons and why did we spend all of this chapter so far on a high school chemistry lesson? It is because the burning of hydrocarbons was largely responsible for the creation of the machines that ushered in the Industrial Age in the mid to late 18th Century CE.

The use of hydrocarbon burning machines and machines that depend on them has grown exponentially since that time until the burning of hydrocarbons has become the basis for the entire industrial output of the world. This has come about largely because the alternatives to the use of carbon fuels to create energy have either been shown to be as or more dangerous to the environment as carbon or have proven to be more costly at their current level of development. The unique combination of the large amount of power produced per volume of fuel and the cost-effectiveness of their use has made the burning of hydrocarbons the primary method of obtaining energy on the planet.

It has only been recently that alternatives such as wind and solar energy to drive turbines, tapping geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings and the use of other chemical reactions to generate power have become viable as alternatives to the use of hydrocarbons as fuel. However, as the level of investment of energy producers in methods and machines using hydrocarbons is so great, they are very reluctant to take the necessary steps to convert their facilities to technologies that have yet to be proven to deliver the same amount of energy for the same or less cost. New and emerging alternative energy businesses have difficulty finding the resources to build production plants, either from political obfuscation “fueled” by corporate lobbying or the lack of venture capital for “unproven” profit sources.

So the use of carbon-based fuels continues, even in the face of science that tells us that the carbon dioxide byproduct of the combustion of these fuels is definitively damaging the Earth and its atmosphere, possibly irreversibly. Most of the so-called science that refutes this position has been directly commissioned by the very energy producers that have such a vested interest in the continued use of hydrocarbons as fuel. They spend a great deal of money trying to convince us that we are causing no serious damage to our world by our continued use of carbon fuels. They even try to tell us there are miracle carbon fuels out there, such as clean coal, when in fact there are none.

When the industrial revolution began, steam was the motive force used to drive the engines, dynamos, and turbines that created the energy necessary to power the large metal objects that did industrial work, and to move them from place to place. The energy needed to create steam through the boiling of water was supplied by carbon-based fuels, first wood then later the more efficient coal. Later, as the internal combustion engine was developed and perfected, smaller machines that burned liquid hydrocarbons such as kerosene and the gasoline that was refined from the newly significant fuel of oil made many tasks much easier. These small machines liberated both industry and the public from work that previously took large numbers of men and animals to accomplish. They were seen as great technological advancements that would relieve mankind from the type of laborious, backbreaking work that had been the norm. They were miracles that changed life as we know it forever.

These small machines liberated both industry and the public from work that previously took large numbers of men and animals to accomplish. They were seen as great technological advancements that would relieve mankind from the type of laborious, backbreaking work that had been the norm. They were miracles that changed life as we know it forever.

Concurrently, as electrical devices grew in number and sophistication, overall electrical needs skyrocketed. Turning dynamos was how electricity was generated and the energy needed to turn those dynamos was required in greater and greater quantities. Dynamos require some type of kinetic energy to work. The rushing currents of our nation’s rivers seemed a likely source of this kinetic energy. Large dams were built to harness the power of the rushing waters, turning dynamos to generate electricity. Electricity became more plentiful causing an even greater demand for power as rural electrification became a reality and even more electrical devices were made and put into use. Hydroelectric power seemed to be the answer to America’s ever-expanding energy needs. However, it soon became apparent that the damage done to the ecosystems of our rivers by the construction of so many dams was counterproductive. It wasn’t long before it was widely accepted that further development of hydroelectric power was not possible without extensive damage to large areas of arable and otherwise useful land.

The splitting of the atom was the next source of power thought to be the answer to our energy needs. The otherworldly power of the atom could, if the reactions were controlled, provide all the power we would ever need. As scientists harnessed the means to create atomic power scores of atomic reactor power stations were built. Once again the flush of excitement over this new energy source turned to doubt and fear as our understanding of the deleterious effects of radiation on human health matured. Atomic energy had a radioactive byproduct and this waste had to be kept somewhere. Originally it was thought that these wastes could be safely sequestered away from populated areas, but research began to show that these wastes, with their extremely long life of radioactivity, posed a great threat to life wherever they were hidden. America stopped building nuclear reactors for power.

In the face of the potential damage caused by further development of hydroelectric and atomic power and in answer to ever-increasing demand America turned to coal, a fuel that was both plentiful and seemingly much more innocuous than those other energy sources. Over the last 50 years, coal has increased as a source of energy around the world. Approximately 70% of China’s energy comes from the burning of coal. Even as the world supply of easily accessible oil is diminishing there remain vast supplies of coal and natural gas. 

This coal and gas was previously to costly to obtain. But new, if more damaging, methods of extraction have made them profitable for the energy companies to invest in. America, especially, has great amounts of these newly available energy sources. They have made the USA a total energy exporter rather than importer, changing our energy policy and solidifying the continued use of carbon-based energy sources.  

As we have moved into the 21st century, coal and other hydrocarbons account for a predominance of the world’s energy consumption. Many still see hydrocarbons as the most cost-efficient source of energy production moving well into the future.

We have accepted the burning of newly abundant hydrocarbons as the primary means of providing power to the entire planet, both on a macro scale in our power plants and on a micro scale in our cars, trains, planes, boats, lawnmowers, snowmobiles and other small engine products. As we increase our use of hydrocarbons we increase the emissions the burning of these fuels release into the atmosphere.

Our atmosphere is largely responsible for the ability of our earth to sustain life as we know it. The delicate balance of all the factors that go into this sustenance is difficult for us mere mortals to understand. The earth is so big and the atmosphere so vast that it is hard to get our heads around just how delicately the juxtaposition of forces that can dramatically affect life are aligned. The atmosphere supports life in many ways. 

First, it contains almost exactly the right proportion of gases to keep us alive. Our atmosphere contains approximately 21% oxygen. Humans require an atmosphere of at least 18% oxygen to survive. Complex interactions between plants and animals, plus atmospheric interactions of gases maintain this level of oxygen. As more oxygen is bound up in carbon dioxide from the burning of hydrocarbons and the destruction of massive areas of plant life in the Amazon jungle, our greatest source of oxygen, increases, the percentage of available oxygen in our air could decrease enough to make life uncomfortable, if not untenable, in a relatively short time.

Second, the layering of various levels of our atmosphere and their composition keep toxic atmospheric gases away from the surface. More importantly, they filter out and shield us from the more damaging frequencies of the sun’s energy emissions and guards us against the life-threatening effects of “cosmic rays”, emissions from deep space. Both of these forms of energy can radically alter human DNA, cause many cancers, and could burn us alive were we to be subjected to them over long periods of time.

Third and perhaps most important, the atmosphere keeps the surface temperature on the earth at a level that can support human life. Humans have a relatively small window of temperature in which they can thrive. Our atmosphere accomplishes maintaining this slim margin of acceptable surface heat through a complex and extremely delicate process whereby certain gases at certain levels in the atmosphere hold a certain amount of heat on the surface and allow a certain amount to escape. Through this process, the earth does not get too hot during warm periods nor too cold during cool periods. As the earth is tilted on an axis it moves closer and farther away from the sun as it revolves around it, causing the change in seasons. Without the atmosphere to temper the effects of heat and cold, life on earth would not exist. Dramatic changes to the composition of our atmosphere can affect the balance required to maintain the temperature within acceptable limits. The process is so delicate that though we see the atmosphere as vast, even small changes can have large effects.

As the earth is tilted on an axis it moves closer and farther away from the sun as it revolves around it, causing the change in seasons. Without the atmosphere to temper the effects of heat and cold, life on earth would not exist. Dramatic changes to the composition of our atmosphere can affect the balance required to maintain the temperature within acceptable limits. The process is so delicate that though we see the atmosphere as vast, even small changes can have large effects.

Even the most basic burning of hydrocarbons releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have been burning hydrocarbons for fuel ever since the first wood fires. All living things contain carbon. Plant life has formed coal and animal life has formed oil. These are the two main forms of hydrocarbons used in energy creation today. In essence, man has been cannibalizing the lives of plants and animals, over millions of years, in just the last hundred years or so of the industrial age. Anyone with a soul can see we can’t go on like this. We must seek out other natural sources of energy such as the activity of the sun and the motion of the energy it creates, such as wind, ocean waves and biological processes, to further fuel our great need for energy. If not we will go the way of those who came before us to provide the coal and fuel we now use and life as we know it will cease to exist.

Anyone with a soul can see we can’t go on like this. We must seek out other natural sources of energy such as the activity of the sun and the motion of the energy it creates, such as wind, ocean waves and biological processes, to further fuel our great need for energy. If not we will go the way of those who came before us to provide the coal and fuel we now use and life as we know it will cease to exist.