The hue and cry about how America needs to develop alternative fuels never has been so loud. Even President Bush-an oil man from Texas-in his recent State of the Union address called for promoting alternative energy technologies.
Talk is talk, though. Federal budget constraints, the power of special interests and putting the stamp of political ideology on every issue have limited what government has done to wean America away from its oil addiction. Now, when the president warns of the security risk the U.S. faces with its dependence on foreign oil, when the scientific community is united in its belief about global warming and the human factor in contributing to it, momentum seems to be building to make changes.
Here's an example from history, the rubber industry's history, that shows one approach to solving a national crisis.
When Japanese forces seized the Southeast Asian natural rubber plantations at the start of World War II, the U.S. lost its primary rubber supply, which was critical to the war effort. Some specialty synthetic rubbers had been developed, but no general-purpose rubber to replace NR existed.
The federal government launched an all-out effort that resulted in the development of styrene-butadiene rubber. Experts from industry, from chemical and carbon black companies to tire manufacturers, collaborated with scientists and others from government and academia to achieve the feat. By early 1943, plants were operating and the crisis ended.
Soon after the war, the government got out of the rubber business by auctioning off the SR operations, and an industry was born.
The U.S. dependence on foreign oil is reminiscent of the NR crisis of World War II: a potentially debilitating problem, ignored warnings, unpreparedness. In today's political environment, no big government program will be created to find real solutions to the problem. But market forces aren't almighty and could be too slow to react to an impending energy crisis.
Our leaders should recognize this, put aside politics for a change and lead. That's why we elected them. They have rubber industry history as an example on how to do that.