The Hercules Complex

By Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director, Chem.Info Yeah, I’m kind of a dork, but at least I know I’m not alone.

By Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director, Chem.Info

Yeah, I’m kind of a dork, but at least I know I’m not alone. If a Brewers game or some other sport of interest can’t be found on the collection of ESPNs or Fox Sports Networks that I gladly pay for each month, I go right to the History Channel. Recently, my show of preference has been Clash Of The Gods. Not only does the Sci-Fi nerd in me enjoy the re-telling of these stories, but I like the way the show details the meanings of the legends and their relevance in the Greek culture of the day. Parallels to the processing industry caught me off-guard after viewing and thinking about two of the most recent episodes.

The first dealt with Hercules and his 12 labors. I won’t bore you with the details, but basically the story takes a hero, turns his world upside down and then makes him go through tremendous struggles in order to re-claim his rightful position amongst the gods on Mount Olympus. A second, and much darker tale details the half-bull, half-man Minotaur and the plight of Theseus, who accepts the responsibility of killing this monstrous beast to spare his people from being sacrificed to it.

Even if you’re not into the mythology element, it’s interesting to see how these legends grew. It seems a lot of it had to do with the Greek’s constant need for a hero to combat what they perceived as their greatest political, social or even intrapersonal challenges and enemies, with the reason for the struggle, the conquest itself and the actions that needed to be taken always being of an extreme nature. In other words, there was no simple solution or single silver bullet for solving problems. Everything always demanded a tremendous and dramatic series of events.

It seems some elements of the Greek culture are still alive and well. While we may not have to slay multi-headed sea serpents or venture to the gates of the underworld like Hercules, our labors do entail new approaches to energy usage and production. Similarly, it seems many think we need to go to the extremes of dipping our arrows in poison or donning the skin of a mythical lion in order to combat these issues.

The alternative energy buzz has created new markets and products that work tirelessly in pursuit of the “right” answer to our energy situation. While these efforts are to be applauded and encouraged, I sometimes wonder if in waiting for this dramatic breakthrough that will revolutionize our use of fossil fuels or realign our energy grid, that we’re forgetting about the simple things that we can currently do before these new energy sources become feasible and affordable.

Our society is one that focuses not on putting up more towers to improve cell phone reception, but in developing new iPhone apps. We can produce all types of toxins and poisons for exterminating life but can’t cure the common cold. We can send probes to Mars but can’t figure out how to keep passenger planes on schedule. We’re looking for an energy hero and forgetting about the ability we have to embrace that role ourselves and do all the little things in preparation of mass implementation of algae or some other new energy solution.

Let’s not wait until we need a hero to defend us from the Minotaur. Let’s do the simple things now, like implementing electric vehicle fleets, using more natural lighting in our plants and monitoring usage patterns to be more efficient. Maybe this way our hero can simply be one of us, not an icon based on tragic events.

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