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An Electrifying Idea: Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

April 11, 2011

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” – Will Rogers

This nation’s energy policy for the past forty years is not that hard to judge – it’s disjointed, shortsighted and largely ineffective. We know it, we say it, but we continue to ignore it. It’s the “what we know that ain’t so.”

But, with turmoil in the world, and fuel prices on the rise – again, it’s well past time to continue ignoring it. We can’t afford to do so, either in our pocketbooks or in our security. It’s an energy policy of the past, not that of a once-again growing world economy that has become increasingly interconnected. We cannot let yesterday’s approach hamper tomorrow’s reality. As Will Rogers also said, “Never let yesterday use up too much of today.”

So, we need to use solutions like practical environmentalism in our approach. We’ve got to focus on the following:

(1) Performance: We must improve our usage of energy through commonsensical, responsible approaches. For example, here are some of Environmental Defense Fund’s driving tips that make a great deal of sense:
•    Lighten your load. Carrying around an extra 100 pounds in your car reduces your fuel economy by up to two percent.
•    Keep it smooth. Rapid acceleration and braking reduces gas mileage and can burn an extra 125 gallons of gas per year.
•    Mind speed limits. In highway travel, exceeding the speed limit by a mere five mph results in an average fuel economy loss of six percent.

(2) Transparency: We must do a better job in communicating why these issues are important. Sure, the planet’s long-term health is involved. But, that doesn’t motivate everyone, and we’re naive if we believe it to be so. We must address the near-term personal risks and benefits, as well. The tips above do just that, by stressing both the environmental and financial savings. There is nothing wrong with this. It doesn’t make these actions any less legitimate – in fact, it makes them even more valuable and worth taking.

(3) Leadership: The government, businesses and consumers must focus upon this issue and take action on those that are material to them – and, for the record, energy and/or fuel hits just about every business and every consumer. As an example, the following short video is very clear on the issue of transportation’s dependency upon oil, its inherent risk, and the need for change from everyone:

And, (4) Innovation: Clearly, there are commonsense approaches to conservation, such as the tips above. But, we cannot conserve our way into a sustainable future. We must innovate and commercialize new, more efficient, cleaner technologies for both businesses and consumers – technologies that we all can afford, or soon will be able to do so.

I’ve used that old humorist, Will Rogers, who was known for his commonsense approach to some of his times most contentious issues, to help illustrate our current energy dilemma. So, I can’t resist doing it one last time, since he also asked, “If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” As he knew for the issues of his time, it just couldn’t. And, for us, it’s the same. But, using commonsense and practical environmentalism just might.

To see more on electric vehicles, click here.

And, to view more Environmental Defense Fund driving tips, click here.


    Steve Reynolds says:

    Awesome, Mitch. Preach on!

    Sharon Turco says:

    I agree!!! It is past the time that we should release our dependency on oil and innovate alternatives in the USA!!!

    John Torok says:

    A few thoughts on this topic:

    Yes, it is well past time. But part of the problem is that many of the technological ideas addressing transportation were patented some 15 or 20 years ago, by foreign entities. I looked into some ideas a few years ago, and saw those patents in place. So, no US company moved to innovate, and no US government administration would give the incentives to do so. While other countries are drilling and mining resources, (often in our own backyards) we sit and ponder the environmental consequences of doing so, and beg the Middle East to be fair to us. How absurd. The technology now exists to increase the safety of oil and gas drilling, and decrease the environmental effects of coal mining.

    We need to be working on technologies like hydrogen, solar and electric energy, but in the meantime we need to rely on ourselves. That is how this country was built, and how it flourished. It was through our own innovation and effort, not by passively relying and hoping for other countries to take care of us. This is as much a mindset of common sense as is learning to be more efficient in our use of energy, which is an agreeable plan if approached in a practical manner. It would also greatly increase employment opportunities.

    Current electric automobiles obtain their energy from power plants that use either coal or nuclear resources, for the most part. We will need to increase energy production from each type of plant as we continue along this electric ‘track’. We must also work on improving the mileage of electric vehicles. All this can be accomplished with common sense approaches throughout all areas of this next frontier, and once again America can be successful, proud and a respected leader.

    Gene Brinson says:

    In 1961, after President John F. Kennedy issued the challenge to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, the greatest industrial-scientific-technological complex in history was assembled to meet that goal. They had a nine year deadline and seemingly insurmountable problems to overcome, yet in July 1969 that goal was met! The resourcefulness, dedication to mission and sheer willpower exhibited then is still alive in America needs focus.
    Will Rogers also said..”The best way out of a difficulty is through it”. We need to quit dillydallying and jump in with both feet!

    Ondriona Monty says:

    Well said. This mentality and approach is the true future of social responsibility for major corporations. It’s not about just throwing millions in donations towards nonprofits but truly changing the way business is done by making practical and simplistic changes to jump start a movement.

    Matt Bodeen says:

    Finally, a push in a very smart direction!

    Tom Clark says:

    Hello Mr. Jackson,

    I suppose I could start off with the old saying “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it”. Now if I substitute “energy dependence” for “weather” then there is a good similarity.

    I have put myself in the category of doing something about our energy situation. I have developed a prototype and have the engineering documentation (simulation, etc.) to serve as proof for the operation of the prototype.

    As a result of the prototype I have a much larger module designed which would be suitable for a class 8 truck. The module has tremendous efficiency gains over the current diesel engines. These efficiency gains make it economically feasible to install these modules in a truck and have a payback time of about 9 months depending on average mileage during operations.

    If you could arrange a meeting with the proper personnel at FedEx I can present my material in a couple of hours.

    So if you are serious about saving fuel in a big way, please give me the opportunity to present my product. If you can help me cut through the bureaucracy we can make this happen.

    When Fred Smith went “against the grain” to establish FedEx the “innovator” held to the belief that something new is possible. I am in a similar position. I’m asking you to believe in the innovative spirit and give me a chance to make the implementation of my product a reality.

    Tom Clark

    Frank Barnick says:

    Unfortunately we still have far more commercialism promoting bigger, faster vechicles (using more fuel)than the opposite.

    Donald Gerfin says:

    We seem to be forgetting that energy has to come from somewhere. The electricity to recharge these vehicles comes from fossil fuels, coal and natural gas in most cases. Wind power is bogged down with NIMBY issues, for example the Cape wind project in Massachusetts and solar power is not realistic in most of the country. Our electric grid is maxed out now without millions of vehicles recharging overnight. Also, so far, the real life range of electric vehicles is far less than advertised. Look at the Nissan Leaf as an example. Also, how are electric devivery vehicles giong to operate in cold climates where the batteries may only hold 20 % of their maximum charge then run heat, defrosters and lights in addition to moving the vehicle?

    Paul Readinger says:

    I would agree that finding sustainable and affordable energy sources is important to national security…that is a point that should be clear to all. The problem, as I see it, is the lack of technology to produce such engergy sources.

    I attended a presentation on wind energy recently. The speaker, deeply involved in development of wind fields, attempted to justify a cost of about $20 million per windmill with production of 4 megawatts (enough to provide power to 1000 homes).
    That cost is unsustainable and the speaker admitted as such. No bang for the buck in wind.

    The cheapest and most available sources of energy are already available: nuclear, oil and coal. We need to build more nuclear facilities, drill for oil off our coasts, continue to harvest coal and build more refineries. This can be done in an environmentally responsible manner, while continuing to research other energy sources. Trouble is, the current administration has curtailed these activiites tremendously.

    Realitically, we are a few decades away from reliable, efficient and affordable alternative energy, let’s not lose sight of that fact. Turning our backs on the development of our staple engergy sources is naive and foolhardy. Let’s approach this intelligently and our children may be beneficiaries.

    Sandra Wilson says:

    I agree with the comments made by Misters Readinger, Gerfin, Brinson,and Torok; and am for FedEx giving Mr. Clark an audience to pitch his prototype.
    As a country, we need to bridge our immediate energy gaps with all of the current, available resources; and encourge greater use of hybrid technology, until sustainable, alternative (i.e. all-electric) technologies can be developed and implemented cost-effectively.

    I’d also like to see American corporations get more creative with R&D; and their approach to business to help us to become energy independent in the interests of our national security and economy.

    For example, FedEx could have ‘charging lots’ that would be exclusive for their vehicles on one side(e.g. a proprietary outlet/plug on the company side of the lot); but which were adjacent to an accessible public lot. That side of the charging posts would have outlets that are compatible with public vehicles. They could be rated and metered on the public side to become a revenue stream for the company. (Parking could be free for the period of time that the car was charging.)

    Another way that corporate America could ‘chip-in’ to help make us energy independent is to revise their policies and procedures to make it easier for their white-collar employees to telecommute at least once or twice a week. This would also help offset our rising costs of living, reduce emissions, and enhance work-life balance.

    John Collins says:

    The truth is that there is too much money to be made in oil to use the better solutions that are already out there.

    Its all a drop in the bucket.

    Detroit could have been producing CNG engines years ago for cars, and the 9 trillion plus cubic feet of natural gas of the Texas Gulf coast would have been enough to break the back of OPEC. CNG has an octane of over 120. Think of how much smaller and yet more powerful engines could have already been on the road.

    If you want to get my attention on energy please don’t tell me to drive slower or take the junk in my trunk out to save weight. None of which the American public is willing to do. Is it not strange that before the national speed limits went back to 70 MPH from 55 MPH that we had affordable gasoline (relative to incomes).

    It seems that not long after the speed limits began to rise again that so did the price of gasoline- duh? You drive faster you burn more.

    Why did that change? Why in some states like Texas is there legislation before the Texas house and senate to raise the speed limit to 80 and 85 MPH in some areas?

    National Energy policy? What? hahaha!

    Its all part of the game to keep us burning more and conserving less.

    I suspect, but cannot prove, that the real reason the US has never defended itself against OPEC is because it’s an inside job. OPEC has the most powerful lobby in Washington and almost no one sees it. In fact one arm of that lobby, the National Petroleum Council, is actually a part of the Dept. of Energy — but funded almost entirely by the oil industry. The trouble is fundamental. Whenever OPEC raises its price—the world price of oil—all oil companies profit.

    Why do you think big oil is dropping their retailers except for Valero. Oil companies are buying oil because that is where the money is, like Willie Sutton said about banks and why he robbed them.

    In fact Big Oil does better than the Saudis because they need not cut back production to raise the price. OPEC does their dirty work. Exxon made roughly $30 billion off the last OPEC price spike. That’s enough to buy quite few politicians. Naturally, though they will never say it, big oil companies are OPEC’s biggest fans.

    Between 1980 and 1985 the world cut back, because OPEC drove the price of oil up. But that high price caused the world to conserve, and the Saudis had to cut production ever more deeply. By 1985 they had cut their output down to 25% of what it had been. Even then, price fell by about 1/3. Finally, the Saudis cried uncle and cut the price by one more third. For 18 years the price stayed low, but now OPEC is back and more unified than ever.

    Long range planning is nice but in the meantime just open the strategic reserves so I can get a break and have some money in my pocket for a “change” that I can use.

    Go where the money is…and go there often.. Willie Sutton was right.

    Theda Cooper says:

    Hi Mitch, Thanks for responding to my last post. I’m happy to hear that FedEx has tire pressure warning systems on their trucks. I will be at WasteExpo next week in booth 1254. I hope you will have time to stop by and see how we take those readings and the tire depth readings and put them in our application to deliver business intelligence that will lower fuel usage and green the bottom line at the same time.

    Cheryl Hodges says:

    I recognize the impact our vehicles have on our carbon footprint, but has anyone investigated reducing our use of plastic smalls bags by converting to reusable canvas bags. They could be imprinted with our Purple Promise relflecting our commitment not only to our customers, butto the environment as well.

    Kathy Staats says:

    Hello Mr. Jackson!
    Kudos to you and your Team at Fed Ex for “Going SOLAR” in Oakland. I represent a solar company in Albany, NY. I certainly hope that the new distribution facility in East Greenbush, NY may be the next Fed Ex location to go SOLAR! You obviously are proud of your environmental initiatives. I too,would be proud to be able to sit down and discuss the many ways our company could help your company achieve that goal.

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