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Opinion: Let's end dependence on oil

Saturday, May 22, 2004

By Eli Fishman

In 1942 during World War II, the first controllable chain reaction was accomplished in a nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago. From this successful experiment, the U.S. government determined it needed to develop an atomic weapon to win the war.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was placed in charge of a new government research facility in Los Alamos, N.M. His objective was to produce an atomic bomb before Germany or Japan built one of their own. His effort was named the Manhattan Project. Given all the necessary resources, he was able to build three atomic bombs by April 1945.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen, a British blacksmith, built the first piston-driven steam engine.

James Watt, a Scottish engineer considered the father of the steam engine, made some critical improvements in 1763. Watt substantially increased the steam engine's efficiency by adding valves to the piston cylinder.

In 1859, a French engineer, Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir, built the first continuously operating spark-ignited internal combustion engine. A few years later, in 1876, Nicolaus Otto, a German inventor, developed the first four-stroke internal combustion engine.

After 300 years, today's automobile engines operate identically to those original piston-driven engines. Many refinements have been made in metallurgy, computer-controlled injection systems and valve performance. But the engines still require burning fossil fuel -- oil, primarily -- to work.

More than one-quarter of the world's proven oil reserves lie in one country: the Arab kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has a population of 24 million. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy from which the United States imports about 2 million barrels of oil each day. At $40 a barrel, that amounts to $30 billion annually the United States alone pumps into its economy.

The king of Saudi Arabia, Abd al Aziz of the ruling Al Saud family, is said to be descended from Muhammad ibn al Wahhab. In 1744, Wahhab founded the fundamentalist Muslim movement that reinforces parochial practices and called for jihad, or holy war, against anyone not following strict Wahhabi teachings.

Today, all Saudi children are schooled in Wahhabism. These teachings include communally performed prayer five times a day and modest dress, especially by women. Wahhabism forbids use of alcohol, tobacco and other stimulants. Music, dancing, laughing and weeping have also been forbidden at times. Wahhabism maintains a community of morals enforcers to assure adherence to these rules.

Although slavery in Saudi Arabia wasn't abolished until 1962 as a result of pressure from the West, attitudes toward Western licentiousness and lack of values are inculcated in Saudis from childhood. It should not be surprising that the leaders of Middle Eastern terrorist organizations are all Saudis. They are funded by the billions of dollars we spend for their oil.

How do you stop terrorism? Stop buying Saudi oil. How do you eliminate the need for oil? Replace the internal combustion engine.

Each year the federal government and local authorities spend hundreds of billions of dollars for defense. We spend about $20 billion a year on NASA. While we are placing a high priority on defense systems and space exploration, the dollars spent on researching new battery technology, nitrogen fuel-cell energy and even fusion experimentation is next to nothing by comparison.

The United States must establish a Manhattan Project-type effort to develop a new, clean, non-oil-burning engine that eliminates the need for Middle Eastern oil. It shouldn't take 300 years to create a new engine. It doesn't make sense for us to depend on engine technology that predates the Revolutionary War.

Eli Fishman of Cape Girardeau is the owner of Cape Shoe Co.


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