By John A. Stemen | Columnist
There’s a 1961 episode of “The Twilight Zone” that aired just two weeks after my birth but that found its way to reruns for decades to follow that’s on my mind today.
For the uninitiated, “The Twilight Zone” aired on American television for five seasons from 1959 to 1964, but through the writing, narration, and direction of Binghamton native Rod Serling, it survives today, often on holiday weekend marathons on The Science Fiction channel. The series veered from science fiction to horror to suspense, and many actors who were noted or would soon become famous appeared; but the true highlight was Serling’s sly commentaries on topics like the red scare of the ’50s, the swift advance of technology, or bigotry.
The episode I recall so well was called “The Midnight Sun,” and it caused a few nightmares whenever I’d see it on the small black and white television set we owned when I was growing up in Pennsylvania. The plot was simple: The Earth suddenly changes its orbit and begins a rapid path towards the sun. The protagonists of this episode live in New York City, and soon they live in a land of the midnight sun, where temperatures soar above 100 degrees at noon, water is in short supply, thermometers burst, and civil disobedience is common. But in the end, the heat wave turns out to be the stuff of a feverish nightmare — the reality is that the lead character lives in a world that is moving away from the sun and gradually becoming colder.
Even if Serling had not succumbed to lung cancer at a relatively young age from his nicotine habit, he would be almost 100 years old today. But the story I am about to bring you is so incredible that it might require someone with Serling’s ability to make the unimaginable seem possible to explain it. So I’m going to imagine how he might introduce this story, in the same manner he used to introduce episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”
Serling: “Imagine if you will a country suffering the hottest summer on record, a place where temperatures in many areas have exceeded 110 degrees, where raging forest fires displace thousands, lakes supplying water are drying up, and where major cities suffer from average nighttime temperatures of 90 degrees night after night. Even more incredibly, imagine a nation where a technology was created, through pure innovation, sustained from millions of taxpayer dollars, which would create a battery capable of powering entire households for decades. But through some inexplicable chicanery, this technology was literally given away to our number one enemy in technology development — China — by our own government! You are about to enter….the Corporate Profits Zone.”
On August 3rd, National Public Radio’s investigative team unveiled the incredible story of how the U.S. chose to give a revolutionary battery technology to China — for reasons not fully known to this day. The story itself is about a ten minute read, and to gain full perspective on how serious this matter is, I would urge you to go to this link:
There are some important things to note here. First, the U.S. Department of Energy recently cancelled China’s license for the vanadium redox flow battery. But this was only when NPR began doing some digging on this story — and after China has advanced so far with this technology that it has nearly completed a huge vanadium battery farm. Some are rightly concerned that there will be little we can do at this point to stop China from producing this technology.
The giveaway to China occurred during the Trump administration. This leads me to conclude that Trump’s Energy Department was doing everything possible to discourage or steer away investment in technology that could make the fossil fuels industry obsolete in short order.
The verdict is still out on whether the handoff of this new technology to China violated policies surrounding the transfer of U.S. trade or technology — but it certainly appears that this handoff to China was meant to obstruct significant progress that might have kept the U.S., and the rest of the world from melting in a “Midnight Sun”-type scenario due to all the pollutants spewed into the air by old-style utility giants. Republicans who decry nearly every Democratic policy proposal as being a job-killer are surprisingly silent about this technology giveaway that caused a thriving U.S. high-tech manufacturing to close up shop, and lay off all its workers.
And when looking at the influence this industry has, statistics from the 2020 election cycle show that Donald Trump received nearly $3.8 million from the oil and gas industry for his re-election bid, and three U.S. Senate candidates, all conservative Republicans, each garnered over a million dollars. Democrats weren’t totally immune either — Joe Biden collected over $1.6 million from this industry.
Since this disclosure, the media has not picked up on the story to a significant degree, so Utica Phoenix Publisher Cassandra Harris-Lockwood felt it vitally important to highlight this significant stumbling block to weaning our country off traditional fossil fuels.
As citizens, as we head into the 2022 election cycle, it is important we spread this disturbing news, by sharing on social media, talking to others, and asking our candidates for office where they stand on new energy technology like the vanadium redox flow battery.
While we’re not quite ready to burn up, as the characters in the old “The Twilight Zone” episode were, there are countless signs that we don’t have much time before we might enter a nightmarish world like that depicted in “The Midnight Sun” episode — so we have to do all we can as citizens to emphasize that we don’t have time for people seeking to intentionally roll the clock back to the days where traditional industries and utilities did almost anything they wanted to.
The U.S. should have done everything possible to ensure that these refrigerator-sized batteries could be manufactured even more efficiently, so that in a relatively short period of time, millions of people would have one. It would make the U.S. the leader in technology that could be exported to other world leaders, and to help transform the third world. Instead, it is about to go into production on a massive scale in China — the country we should be light years ahead of in such technology.
This would have been a product so much in demand it would have transformed our economy — because to produce millions of these products, thousands of workers would be needed.
Our candidates for president and federal office need to weigh in on what can be done to reduce our country’s thirst for traditional sources of power — and how to reduce our reliance on aging utilities that are hastening our demise.