I have received some interesting mail of late regarding a recent commentary on energy independence, which apparently, is as likely to occur as big oil companies growing a conscience.

I was also taken to task for complaining about conference food and assuming graduate students are overworked, underpaid and capable of significant scientific discovery. In another paragraph the author of one letter wondered how researchers in the Oklahoma Panhandle would make anything out of switchgrass plantings in a year of dire drought. Maybe they won’t, but if they do….

In a separate missive, I was informed that Republicans have accomplished nothing on immigration in eight years and that both China and the United States need energy. Can’t argue either point. This last letter was written on stationery from the Grand New World Hotel in Xian, China. We do get around.

Back to energy independence. The letter writer asserts that the United States will never be energy independent and will always need oil from somewhere else to run our cars, heat our homes and keep the wheels of commerce greased and spinning. He said reduced dependence on foreign oil is a more reachable goal.

I can’t dismiss that claim out of hand, either. But I will quibble with it a bit. Conventional wisdom will argue that the United States is so enamored of energy use, especially in our automobiles, that we will be forever beholden to foreign energy suppliers. Maybe, but I’m not ready to abdicate our independence, and that is what’s at stake, to some oil rich country that cares little about our national philosophy.

I also am not ready to concede that we can’t do better, that we can’t discover something else. Conventional wisdom at one time said we couldn’t fly to the moon — that we couldn’t fly at all. Orville and Wilbur apparently held little regard for conventional wisdom. And if two bicycle repairmen can elevate our imaginations and our very selves into the far reaches of space, who’s to say we can’t figure out a better way to propel those winged vehicles into a cleaner, more renewable energy future?

I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna from time to time, mostly by my wife who would know better than anyone, but I prefer to think of myself as an optimist. I tend to think our future energy tank will be half full, and with something cleaner and more sustainable than crude oil.

And I certainly can’t agree that no significant scientific discovery has come from the mind of a graduate student. It’s likely he or she didn’t get credit for it, but I imagine a great deal of knowledge has come from the inquisitive natures of young minds whose only shortcoming is lack of the letters Ph.D. behind their names.

I don’t assume that these breakthroughs will come quickly, probably not in my lifetime, but I am confident they will come and perhaps sooner than later.

Another respondent via email said one of our biggest problems is that we are a wasteful society. He is right. We are. And therein lies another opportunity to change. We can build more fuel efficient automobiles, develop better mass transit systems and make homes and businesses more energy efficient. So far, we have not had the incentive to do so. Maybe the threat of $5 per gallon gasoline will provide the impetus to jump-start an energy revolution.

And as for conference food, I unequivocally stand by my opinion.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com