Sunday, March 25, 2007


Funny story.... you know how it is. You hear one thing and then another and the next thing you know they all connect.... into one big cluster f**k. (an aside; I learned that term from an esteemed Caltech person who will be nameless.... Caltech folk have very interesting colloquialisms for describing horrific mistakes.)

I lived in Dayton, Ohio, the home of General Motors truck division and the birth place of two very interesting chemicals that will dog humanity until the day we disappear. In the city of Dayton there is a smaller community called Kettering named after the man who developed the starter motor for all motor vehicles today. The starter motor was key to selling all those cars we have on the road today. Before his nifty devise, you had to have some strong person crank over the engine to start it. Lots of people hurt themselves badly. Mostly rich people, with expendable help, had cars.

Kettering, and a number of other people, felt that oil was not going to be the way of the future of automobiles. He and many others felt that ethanol was going to be it and that the US could produce enough for our automobiles and be independent of foreign oil. Does this sound familiar?

Charles Kettering hired Thomas Midgley, a chemist, to devise a way to stop the 'knock' in our cars engines. Midgley created tetra-ethyl-lead (TEL), an additive to gasoline, which aerosoled lead from millions of tailpipes into the air, water, and soils. This period, geologically speaking, is like a fraction of a second in time,... yet... our children's children's children will be 'less' for it. Lead deforms and disfigures and causes mental retardation and destruction of brain functions. Lead doesn't just do its work on humans. Along the main road from the airport to Johannesburg, South Africa, I found ornamental trees filled with butterflies that could not complete their pupation cycle and emerged deformed. Hundreds and hundreds of dead butterflies at the base of the trees year after year should alert people to stop using this poison, you would think..... But then... many people died in the labs of Dupont/GM/Standard Oil creating tetra-ethyl-lead and many sickened including, Thomas Midgley.

Midgley also developed a 'safe' refrigerant which today, like TEL, is banned by many countries. It allowed for people to have refrigeration in their homes and air conditioning.

What is interesting is that these two chemicals allowed everyone and anyone to own cars and to enjoy air conditioning and have refrigeration. There is no doubt that the devices gave us some short moment in our human history of comfort and fun .... But because of their popularity - you can do a one-to-one association with numbers of humans to numbers of devices - the damage done to our only home, earth, is incalculable.

But what really happened? For generations it has been understood that lead was the poison that destroyed Ancient Rome - not Christianity (sorry, I had to study these roots myself in Catholic school). So, why did we think it was 'okay' to use the stuff? How about the connection between Standard Oil, Dupont (which took over GM) and dropping ethanol for the US fleet ....ethanol did not knock - gasoline did.... Then the next question that bugs people who wanted the electric car for economic and ecological reasons.... Why did GM drop the EV1 and pay off a member of the Californian Air Resource Board and buy up the patents for the really good car battery that could be used for electric cars????..... Let me see.... Oil companies on the boards of GM that made the EV1..... hmmmmmmmmm??????

But I still don't get it why these dudes think that they will be unaffected by their own actions? Do they have some sort of ticket to another world? One without global warming? What???? The super rich during the European Plagues were NOT immune from getting sick. They did try to avoid it by building their castles far away from the great unwashed (oh, right, they, too didn't like to bathe...). Only those who had a particular genetic predisposition to avoid dying of the infection from the black plague were safe ... which to this day, protects their descendants from AIDS (don't go around hoping you are a descendant).... Perhaps, it is thought by the super rich that patting and rubbing and wallowing in lots of greenbacks will protect against the verisimilitudes of bad actions.

When I lived in Dayton there was a big celebration for the birth of Midgley. I was commissioned to paint a mural of a CFC molecule. I was allowed a lot of creative freedom - hence the swirls and such. I asked about the celebration, and what was said was ... CFCs saved a lot of lives because ammonia was the refrigerant of the large ice factories. People used the chunks of ice in their homes to cool and partially preserve their food. The concentration of ammonia in the factories was toxic when it leaked and it was explosive. There was good with the bad...I was on the cover of the Dayton Daily News with this mural......

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