Stan Thompson

Stan Thompson

 One of Mooresville’s greatest assets is having as its neighbor Davidson and its college. A lot of folks living in NC’s big university cities — Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Durham — have to drive a whole lot further than we do to hear the world’s most famous thinkers.

At Davidson a couple of years ago, I heard MIT’s renowned economist, Daron Acemoglu, co-author with James A. Robinson of “Why Nations Fail.” It’s a surprisingly easy-to-read explanation of why some countries attain and preserve freedom while others cannot.

There are several reasons why but the relevant one here is a mechanism called “extraction”. Most everyone has noticed the sometimes reciprocal relationship between the presence of oil and the absence of liberty: Saddam’s Iraq, Moamar’s Libya, Chavez’s Venezuela, Putin’s Russia.

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that oil is the problem. But in other countries gold, diamonds, or anything of value in limited supply that’s drawn from the earth can be as toxic to liberty as oil. It’s not substances that poison liberty; it’s the paralyzing economics of extracting them.  

Extraction straps a granite life jacket around liberty because it creates a choke-point that can be seized and easily held by a despot, a military establishment, an oligarchy or some local combination of these.

In our time, petroleum’s been the most conspicuous grease on the palms of dictators. Most of us have grown up in a nation where about four generations have been shaped by the immense personal freedom conferred by owning a car. It’s easy to think that the gas price wars of the 1950s; the oil embargo of the 1970s; periodic smog crises; the pivot to natural gas; and the recent fracking abundance are chapters in a never-ending oil opera. But listen carefully and you’ll hear Yogi Berra’s lady singing in the distance.

Not everyone accepts the connection between fossil fuels and a rougher, tougher global climate. But that doesn’t matter. Worldwide, enough do accept the evidence so that the paradigm has begun to shift inexorably away from oil, eventually loosening the grip on centralized power that extraction economies have clamped on for generations.

Probably few US municipalities the size of Mooresville have played as central a role in the post-carbon transition. All last week, former Mooresville mayor and Chamber president Bill Thunberg and I were in Hamburg, Germany, co‑hosting the 14th International Hydrail Conference with our colleagues there.

On the last day of the Hydrail Conference, all the participants were treated to a ride on the world’s first regularly-scheduled, intercity, hydrogen‑powered passenger train. It was a shiny blue Alstom Coradia iLint. The ride was so silent that passenger conversations easily drowned out the train’s sounds.

Fueling the train for its 450‑mile run took about six minutes and the train’s only exhaust was water so pure you can drink it. (I drank some last year at the public opening of the line.)

The German State of Hesse will take delivery of 27 such trains in 2022 and at least 40 are on order in Germany.

With Bill and me in Hamburg were conferees from China (where hydrail tram plants have been in production for two years or more); from the UK, who will take the last diesel rail equipment out of service in or before the mid-2030s; from France, who will also be diesel‑free by the mid‑2030s; and from Luxembourg, Austria, Canada and elsewhere.

Our Korean colleague, Dr. Seky Chang, couldn’t join us this year, but South Korea, too, will end railway diesel trains by the mid‑2030s.

The Coradia iLint was conceived in 2013 at Mooresville-App State’s Eighth International Hydrail Conference in Toronto. U.S. passenger hydrail was conceived around 2002 in Richard’s Coffee Shop on Mooresville’s Main Street, as a CATS “Red Line” innovation.

In “Trains Magazine”’s Dec. 2, 2017, issue, Fred Frailey wrote an article called “The Death of Diesel.” When diesel rail inevitably dies, Mooresville will be holding the smoking gun. And when that begins to happen, countries with populations controlled by strong‑man oil extraction economies will feel their hold slacken a bit.

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