We are gradually growing out of gasoline-based civilization, and as a resident of downtown Taipei, I cannot wait to see the day we rid of internal-combustion engines. Riding a bicycle to my workplace every morning, surrounded by 50 scooters, is the modern-day version of opium den experience. Constant streams of young boys and girls flow by my side, blowing hot air of intoxicating substance directly into my nostrils. Blinded by the chemical effects, I am riding high on the stairway to heaven—or maybe on the highway to hell.
I believe we are ready to accept clean energy, thanks to recent disasters and our inability to cope with them. BP kept spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico for months (and even consulted Kevin Costner for help). Similar incident occurred in my home country, on a much larger scale, and with radioactive waste (of course they tried everything to plug the hole, including diapers). Power plants and gasoline engines will be replaced by solar panels and batteries. Looks like everything has a cleaner alternative…except for airplanes. Solar panels might be able to thrust a private glider but won’t be able to replace a jet engine.
This is what probably happens if we fail to find a solution to this issue: As the middle class citizens from emerging economies discover the joy of travel (and the status it accompanies), the travel industry will see an unprecedented boom for a while, until there is no oil left at a reasonable price. International travel will move back to its original position—a luxury item for the super-riches—and us, the 99%, will learn to settle down into wherever we began or ended up. Business trips will give ways to Skype conference calls and our summer vacations will consist of barbecues and hikes at nearby beaches and mountains. Localization will be the end result of Globalization.
So what? We don’t need to physically move around thanks to the almighty Internet, do we? But that means few people will be able to really know things beyond the LCD panel. You might be able to see and hear the traffic jam in Taipei city and pretend you understand how atrocious the situation is. No you won’t; you’ll never know how it feels like to trim your fast-growing nasal hair on a daily basis. In other words, the next generation might turn into Will Hunting (see below): a know-it-all yet “cocky, scared, shitless kid.” The difference between the movie and the real world is that what we, the older generation, won’t be wise mentors in the form of Robin Williams, but sorry old men cluelessly bragging a birthright that is long gone: the freedom to be where you want to be.
Do we need to find a breakthrough idea, such as attack Area 51 to release all secrets about UFO? My guess (or hope) is we go back and pick what we have forgotten: airships. Fill the balloon with gas and run the propeller through the solar panels covering the enclosure. Easy, isn’t it? It is clean and sustainable, plus the technology has existed for centuries. Sure, it takes time to bring us from point A to B, but instead of watching the same episode of Friends, customers will be able to pick Star Wars Episode I – IV Marathon or True Blood: the Entire First Season. That’s entertainment. NASA has been developing mass transportation through airships and a startup is building the next-generation airship technology. Commercial flights, although on a small scale, are already in place.
If it is hard to imagine a world filled with airships, watch this fantastic take on an alternative universe. (UFOs and Nazi are added as much-welcomed bonus.)