“You are going to spend your entire career in a wind tunnel.”
This was Lisa Magonelli’s words of advice for those in attendance of her talk for Monday’s Big Picture Lecture Series. Magonelli was referring to the accelerating pace of change in the world, and how we are will have to innovate at a pace about three times the speed of the industrial revolution just to keep up. She noted that things are going to change so rapidly that “it will be powerfully disorienting.”
Margonelli directs the energy policy initiative at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. She spent four years following the oil supply chain to write Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, published in 2008. Recognized as one of the 25 Notable Books of 2007 by the American Library Association, Oil On the Brain also won a 2008 Northern California Book Award for general nonfiction.
Her talk Monday was a cautionary tale. She spoke about America’s dependence on oil, and how that shapes our communities and lives—as well as the challenges we will face as we move away from oil dependence.
Margonelli on gas pump design: “Gas pumps are now designed to look and feel like ATM machines because studies have shown that we feel warmly towards them. As consumers, we want to feel better about buying gasoline.”
On our dependence on oil: “We are creating this very lasting and complicated relationship with the Middle East.”
On America’s commitment to developing sustainable energy sources: “Are we going to invest in new infrastructure to carry new fuels? Are we willing to pony up for the benefit of our great grandchildren?”
We learned from Margonelli about Neodymium, a permanently magnetized metal and necessary element in electric motors. “We are designing on the assumption that the metals in these cars are widely available,” she said. “We need to start designing with the idea of re-using these metals forever.”
The audience was most interested in hearing about when she attended Saddam Hussein’s birthday party in 2001. Those of us hoping to hear tales of her dancing with the despot were disappointed to be told that he failed to attend his own celebration. Her trip to Iraq at that time, however, was profoundly influential in shaping her thoughts about oil. “For the first time I saw oil as a cultural force as well as an economic and political one,” she said. (Her reflections on this her visit to Iraq can be read at The Atlantic.)
Next up in the Big Picture Lecture Series: Sandra Ball-Rokeach, professor of communication and sociology in the Annenberg School for Communication at USC, will speak on “The Seeds of Civic Engagement in Contemporary Urban Communities” November 1. And don’t forget, a podcast of the lecture can be found at Art Center’s iTunes U site.