Clean Energy Inspiration in Outer Space

After repeated viewings of the animated movie “Planet 51,” my 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter decided her name was no longer Petra.

She assumed the persona of the lead character in the movie. Turns out not only is he male but alien and green. Didn’t daunt the girl formerly known as Petra. For two months this summer, she was Lem. And despite questions and interrogations by parents, family and friends, she defended her identity and stayed in character like DeNiro.

“This alien boy Lem lives with Petra’s mom,” she’d say.

To the Paradise

To my question of what happened to Petra, she would respond, “Petra’s gone to the Paradise.” Never wavering.

Intense and I guess somewhat unsettling. But we went along with it. I let her mom do whatever she wanted when she was a kid. Mostly. But Petra’s mom never became somebody else. My little sister did become a kitten for about a year when she was about the same age. Irritated my grandmother to no end. Julie wouldn’t talk, just meow.

Petra/Lem is now another character. Looks the same. Cute as can be.

Kids adapt. Their interpretation of their surroundings is fluid. Anything is possible. In fact, they can accomplish just about anything they put their minds to. Adults have figured out how to operate within the confines of established rules. The parameters of our culture, codes and conditioning have been beaten into our heads.

We need innovation

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. American individualism and the freedom to pursue dreams in the United States has driven many to break barriers and achieve success and scientific discovery.

But as a nation and a world, we need innovation. We’re close to fouling our planet with climate changing carbon. This was OK for the start of the industrial revolution, but we have the potential to figure out a better method of extracting energy. Fuel prices spike repeatedly. The latest boost in vehicle fuel costs in California had to do with the early August 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in the Bay Area.

It hurt. Dairy farms are filing for bankruptcy in increasing numbers in Fresno County California, citing feed prices. Feed prices rise when fuel prices increase. Business in general is in the same boat. Cut energy prices and enhance the bottom line.

President Obama is pursuing an all-of-the-above strategy for energy development. It’s a decent agenda and one that should make sense on both sides of the domestic political spectrum. Energy policy is linked to national security. We need more autonomy, not greater reliance on Saudi oil.

Tackle clean energy issues

Solar and other alternative energy sources remain limited in their potential. We need a way to either come up with a new form of constant and cheap clean energy or overcome those limitations. That means taking new approaches.

Like something Alien Boy Lem would do. Antimatter perhaps?

Taking inspiration from Mars

NASA landing engineer Adam Steltzner and his crew at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory took a unique approach with the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. They used a sky crane concept to lower the research vehicle to the surface of the Red Planet. Upon landing, the crane portion of the lander blitzed off and crash landed, leaving the rover intact.

National Public Radio’s Joe Palca did a story on Steltzner describing how he went from a rock and roller to one of the top engineers at the space agency. What he said inspired me. “The thing that engineering and physics gave me was, there’s a right answer, and I could get to it,” he tells Palca.

He comes at problems from different directions. When they work, he and his team exploit them.

Curiosity likely will uncover amazing things. It won’t solve the energy crisis, but it could provide insight or inspiration to somebody who can. A little spark of an idea, a hint of possibility.

You never know.

Greenland as canary

We need all the help we can get. Changes are afoot. Greenland’s melting glaciers are shedding more water than ever, breaking a seasonal record and more water than 2010, according to a piece by Jeanna Bryner in

Bryner quotes researcher Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at The City College of New York, as saying, “This year’s overall melting will fall way above the old records. That’s a Goliath year – the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979.”

I just tossed the Greenland piece to show that change is happening faster than I thought possible. Growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska always made me wish for warmth. But the ramifications are deadly. Pick any coast, raise the water table and problems could be costly.

Meet the Robinsons

I’d rather have troubles like Andy Griffith did on a weekly basis in Mayberry. But that’s not likely.

Meanwhile, Petra’s taken on a new identity. Lewis from “Meet the Robinsons,” another animated feature. He’s a “brilliant inventor who meets mysterious stranger named Wilbur Robinson,” according to

Hmm… I wonder if Petra has the right idea. By the time she’s an adult, the problems we’ve either failed to address or partially solved will be more pronounced. Her generation will need to deal with them good or bad.

Eco Innovations