My son is trying to make sense of politics given the upcoming election. I give him props. He can’t even vote and he’s doing more than most to understand the issues. My son is generally more conservative than I am. Most everyone that doesn’t live in Massachusetts or California is more conservative than I am.
I like that he doesn’t mistake my opinion for fact. He asks good questions and he actually listens to my answers. He has his own opinions as well, and I respect that. That is how democracy is supposed to work. That is how discussion is supposed to work.
He is confounded, however, by one issue in particular–the reluctance of Republicans to invest in alternative energy. Even if you don’t believe in global warming as a threat, he reasons, isn’t energy independence from nations hostile to the U.S. a smart strategy? If we can meet our own needs, we gain negotiating power, right? My husband and I explain that many people feel these problems are best solved by private enterprise, and not the government. If there is enough need and money to be made, theoretically, the market will respond.
So we end up having a discussion about the risky nature of R&D. How you can invest large amounts of time and money into an idea and have it not work. How the more complex the issue the longer the process, and the more expensive to implement as a business, the less likely private enterprise will do it. There has to be a driving consumer need, and as long as gas is affordable, people aren’t willing to pay more for alternative technologies. People may say they want energy independence, but they want cheap gas more.
He thinks this over.
So companies want a sure bet–one with a big market.
And alternative energy isn’t a sure bet.
Not by a long shot. That’s why we can get Viagra but not a geothermal heating system.
He takes this in, and says, “Let me get this right. We can’t solve an energy crisis, but I can get a four hour boner.”
After I recover from hearing my son use the term “boner” at the dinner table, I tell him. Yes. Exactly. There is a moment of awkward silence while he contemplates his next question.
“How do they fill those outdoor bathtubs anyway?”
He can ponder that question on his own.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph by Jason Tabarius © 2011 Creative Commons