THE BLOG
08/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Algae, An Interim Answer to the Energy Crisis: What You Almost Learned in Grammar School

Algae are those little one-celled green plants that you saw the first time you looked under a microscope in grade school. They were used to introduce you to the idea that plants use this green stuff (chlorophyll) to take sunlight and carbon dioxide and make their own food.

What the teachers did not tell you, because they did not think you needed to know, was that some of that food made by algae is in the form of oils that can be converted to diesel or even gasoline. You did not need to know that because the nice cuddly oil companies with nice big signs that light up at night could pull oil right out of the ground.

Then some evil men said that they owned that ground and that your mommy and daddy had to pay more for it, a lot more. So, one of our presidents told us that it would be a good idea to use less of it by making the car engines more efficient. He told us that if we did that, we would not have to take any more oil from those evil men, ever. And, he was right. And, he also told us we should make energy in a different way.

But, he wasn't as much fun as a very very nice old man.

So this very very nice old man became President and said, "phooey." Your mommy and daddy are big and strong and don't have to change what they do because some evil men owned the land with most of the oil. And, just to prove it, the very very nice old man told us not even to bother with using less of it. And, so, instead of using no more oil from the evil men, we now are using more of it than ever.

And, to be cuddly with the nice cuddly oil companies with the nice big signs that light up, the very very nice old man stopped trying to find different ways to make energy.

But, the very very nice old man did not tell your mommy and daddy that you would have to lose your lives and limbs to keep your friends' cars running. And that the price would go up even more. And that many of the beaches you go to and many animals you see in the zoo and in picture books will disappear, forever.

I don't think that was very nice of the very very nice old man, do you?

And then some of our own evil men (yes, my dears, we have evil men too) said: if the very very nice old man could just say "phooey", then we can too. And, we work for the nice cuddly oil companies with nice big signs, so we can make our personal lives better too. So, we don't care what they say in school, or even what the big boys and girls who have been in school for 20 years (yikes, and they don't even get recess once a day!) studying this have warned us about. So, our own evil men sent mommy and daddy to war, and more than 4000 never came home again to read you a story.

Our own evil men are not very nice either, are they?

So, children, look under that microscope and see these little green plants? The algae. I am going to tell you something your mommy and daddy never learned--these algae can make oil and gas for mommy and daddy's cars. The carbon dioxide created by burning the oil is used by the algae to make more oil and gas, so it is carbon neutral.

Let's go over here to a map of the United States of America. There are some people who live in a state called Maryland. You remember from Unit 3, that was one of the first 13 states!

Want to know something else about Maryland? If you took land (in scattered parcels, where there's lots of sun, and not much else) just a little bit bigger than Maryland, and grew algae to make oil and gas -- voila!, we could make all the oil and gasoline we need to run mommy and daddy's cars. That's what some very very smart boys and girls at the Department of Energy have told us (and, you know, the very very nice old man wanted to get rid of the Department of Energy...maybe the very very nice old man was not very nice after all?)

And, we could make it every year. And, if we also improved efficiency, we would need less of it too. And, you would not have to lose your lives for it. And, it would not make the snow melt, the beaches disappear, or the weather change. And, your mommy and daddy could get good jobs with good wages, so they can take you on vacations to the mountains and learn to ski (because there will be snow) and to the beaches to swim and play in the sand (because there will be beaches).

While you are looking at the map, tell me what this is, right next to Maryland....yes, it is Washington DC.
You know what happens in Washington DC, don't you? No hands? Well, you are such smart boys and girls, you are right. Nothing happens.

That's because the nice cuddly oil companies with the big signs that light up are very very cuddly and very very nice to the people in those buildings.

I don't think that is very nice of the nice cuddly oil companies, do you? Unfortunately, John McCain loves it. And, he's been so cuddly with them that he has changed completely what he says is true. Now, don't go copying John McCain -- if you do, you will have detention, we do not allow fibbing in this school.

Fortunately, Barack Obama agrees with us. He will not let the nice cuddly oil companies be so nice and cuddly to the people in those buildings.

And, if he thinks about it, perhaps he will take some money from those nice cuddly oil companies and buy some big legos, and build the capacity so that private companies can lease it to make the algae grow and produce oil for mommy and daddy's cars.

And, that could happen as fast or faster than the nice cuddly oil companies with the big dollars can get more oil out of the ground. And, unlike the oil pulled out of the ground -- a one shot deal -- we can make more and more oil from algae every year.

You know how you could tell if this could happen? Sell the nice cuddly oil companies leases to drill, invest heavily in the algae capacity as above, and then see what nice cuddly oil companies with the big dollars actually do. They say they will "drill, drill, drill." I bet they don't even drill.

Time for recess. Bet I get to Arizona before you get to the Outer Continental Shelf!

Oh yeah?

Yeah!