Fossil fuels power robots, yes; but energy is always evolving

For anyone who has had the misfortune of having to sit through Mr. Epstein’s lecture last Thursday, you probably heard him voice a lot of support for things like fossil fuels, hydrocarbons energy usage, and so on. While I feel there is merit to having a logical and constructive discussion on why a few of the points Mr. Epstein addressed were right—and why most of them were extremely wrong—I want to instead call attention to a particular subject Mr. Epstein brought up regarding what makes a lot of our fundamental aspects of society: robots.

Specifically, one of Mr. Epstein’s statements that I found most striking was how an average American will have about “600 robots” working on their behalf, involved in everything from the clothes they’re wearing to how the food they’re eating is produced, grown, et cetera. While I’m not sure just where he got such an estimate on the exact size and impact of our robotic servants, I think this point is moot. What really matters here is the fact that not only our creature comforts, but the very way in which we live our lives as modern residents of Vassar College is not possible without the power and assistance of things like robots, or more generally the feats of machinery that help the gears of our society turn.

Unfortunately, Mr. Epstein tried to use this as some sort of broad aside to the necessity of using fossil fuels to power our world, but this is irrelevant to what makes our world work. Machines make our world work, not fossil fuels. You have electricity because of a power plant turning a turbine, not necessarily from coal or oil. I think it’s worth noting our accomplishments in logistics and machinery alike are made possible not from coal or oil, but from human achievement. While we may be using more energy than ever to power computers that may have tasks as menial as Facebook or as important as ensuring that food gets to your plate, what matters here is that we are thankful for our achievements in building such machines, robots, or whatever you may call them. Don’t let people tell you it’s oil and coal that gets food on your plate, it’s a robot, built by an innovative human.

At the end of the day, I actually feel this discussion of energy usage as a whole is completely irrelevant to how we operate and advance as a society. While many will argue ‘til the end of time about why divestment needs to happen—or doesn’t need to happen—it doesn’t change the fact our society is built not off of energy independently, but of the powerful systems of logistics and feats of mechanical and computer engineering we have created in the last few decades. That robot may run oil today, but 200 years ago the robot ran on wood, and thousands of years ago robots ran off of humans in the form of tools in our hands. We are constantly changing fuels and we will continue to do so for centuries to come. The role energy plays in this equation is, to put in simple terms, just that: energy. If the final missing part of the puzzle to cold fusion were figured out tomorrow, Mr. Epstein would remain a die-hard and illogical supporter of his belief in fossil fuels, hydrocarbons, energy, or whatever you will want to call it. What you will see is that our system of logistics  adjusts to the best means available at the time, just like any logical system would do. Humans are miraculous and ingenious inventors, and I want to remind people that the world we have today is the way it is because of our own achievements in engineering through our powerful machines, not merely fossil fuels, hydrocarbons, etc. The more we continue to innovate, the more we will see these robots continue to impact our lives for the better, whether they run on oil, the sun, or something else we have yet to discover.


—Joshua Sherman ‘16 is an English major. He is the Assistant Editor of Opinions for the Miscellany News.

One Comment

  1. Mr. Sherman, I believe that you only mistakenly disagree with Mr. Epstein’s beliefs. For he himself says that his love for fossil fuels is only a proxy for his love for cheap available energy. Further he supports the use and advancement of hydroelectric and nuclear energy. Certainly a cheap and safe solution to cold fusion would be welcomed by Mr. Epstein provided it offers advantages over fossil fuels (by his own words one legitimate improvement being cleaner air and water).

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