This stuff just amazes me. Too bad it almost always turns out to be impractical or impossible to develop.
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|The Magic Tree
Arnold Arboretum, May 2008
Perhaps not. If the transition to new forms and sources of energy is handled poorly (or not at all), then the issue may not matter; people will be too busy scrabbling for food and the essentials to worry about personal transportation. Alternatively, a better-managed process might end up concentrating on mass transportation systems, most likely some form of light rail.
Local transportation would be by foot, by horse, or perhaps by bicycle. The author Fredric Brown painted a rather Utopian vision of such an American future in his classic short story "The Waveries". But such a peaceful evolution towards an idealized sort of 1890s level of technology is difficult to envision, at best. The United States government has not been noted for that degree of long-term planning and social engineering.
It is also possible that such a level of technology might not be sufficient to support current world-wide population levels; violence on an unprecedented scale would be the likely result. Whether or not the human species would survive is open to question.
But if one or more alternative sources of energy are developed and implemented throughout the US, the car is still in trouble. Developments in electric car technology do offer some hope; by decoupling the car from petroleum. Any energy source which can produce electricity on a large scale would be sufficient to charge an electric car.*
But driving habits would have to change, requiring a considerable change in attitude and behavior on the part of Americans. Long-range driving would be impractical or impossible. Cars would need to be charged overnight, every night before use.
The crux of the problem is this: gasoline, in addition to its relatively low cost and convenience to transport, is also an extremely dense form of energy. To refill the average gas tank takes a few minutes at most, and that full tank yields hundreds of miles of driving.
Even if battery technology improves to the extent that a fully-charged battery allows the same driving range, batteries simply cannot be recharged as quickly as a gas tank can be filled. Barring startling developments in battery technology, electric cars will require an hour or more to recharge. If you thought gas station lines were bad in the 1970s, imagine what they'd be like if it took an hour (or several hours) to refill at the pump!
The recharge speed limit also limits the long-distance range of electric cars. As such, it implies a fundamental rethinking of the American automotive experience (which might not be a bad thing, of course). But there is a way around it. While batteries cannot be recharged as quickly as a tank can be filled, the batteries themselves can be made quickly and easily replaceable.
The "gas station" of the electric-car future would maintain a stock of fully-charged batteries. These would have to be standardized on a national basis, although it is unlikely that only one type would be offered; larger batteries would probably be needed for trucks and heavier vehicles. On the other hand, it would be neither practical nor desirable for each manufacturer to use a proprietary battery - it simply wouldn't be possible for most stations to maintain a sufficient stock of each brand of battery to handle most eventualities.
The batteries would be designed to be removed and replaced quickly and easily, probably by machine. Security would be necessary, of course. Just as more cars are likely to have locks for their gas caps in the waning days of petroleum, batteries would be secured by lock and key.
Is such a future possible? It's fully possible using already-existing technology; it requires no technological breakthroughs. Is the US government and the American automotive industry capable of achieving it? That seems far less likely.
But would Americans adjust to it? Faced with Hobson's choice, of course they would - if the alternative is giving up on America's long love affair with the automobile.
She is known in popular history as St. Alia or St. Alia-of-the-Knife. (For a detailed history, see St. Alia, Huntress of a Billion Worlds by Pander Oulson.)Did you catch it? I'll place the answer behind an LJ cut:
On the way to the bridge we took a small detour to see this waterfall. Apparently that's some sort of restaurant in the shot; pity the water looks so dirty, as otherwise it looks like a lovely place.
It took a bit of climbing to get to the top of the aquaduct (the bridge is actually an aquaduct), but it was worth it. The part over the river must have been close to 100 feet high. Teri's agoraphobia kicked in; it didn't help that the walkway isn't flat, but rather has a peak shape that makes you feel as if you're being pushed to one side or the other. The view was incredible. Incidentally, those are the tops of very tall trees alongside the aquaduct. On the way back a couple of canada geese flew by, honking; they were high above the river, but actually just below the height of my head as they skimmed over the top of the aquaduct.
The iron railings on the sides were also quite interesting, because they were simply packed with yellowjackets. The railings are hollow and in some cases rusted out, and the bees were swarming everywhere. I tried to get some close-up shots of the bees, but maybe I was too nervous - when I downloaded the photos, the bees were just out of shot.
Creepy - you could hear the buzzing as you walked down the aquaduct.
Here's a shot from the middle of the aquaduct. That restaurant next to the falls is in the lower part, of course. Needham has some spectacular radio towers.
Another shot from the top of the aquaduct. These are the start of the steps down to the street. It's a long way down, particularly if you're carrying a 39-pound boy who's too tired to walk.
Top to bottom. It may not look that high in this shot, but that's because this is the shortest part; the river is actually well below the street level. That's my father down below, although that's not his truck.
Cross over the street and you soon reach the head of another staircase that leads down to the inner base the bridge, and the echo platform. I don't know what she sees in it, but since Teri likes this shot I'm including it here.
The staircase down to the echo platform. My father and brother are at the bottom, and Sebastian's head can be seen as refreshed (but not entirely willingly) he climbs down on his own.
An experiment: a composite photo of the entire span from underneath. I stood in one spot and started out with my head bent way back to get the side of the arch behind my back, then tried to space shots out evenly. Not perfect, but kind of fun to create, I guess.