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Becky: Hi everyone, and welcome back to EnglishClass101.com. This is Culture Class, Season 3, Lesson 6 - The Top 5 Most Important Things to Understand about Energy and Manufacturing. I’m Becky.
Eric: And I’m Eric. We’re excited to have you with us! Becky, what are we looking at in this lesson?
Becky: In this lesson, we’re going to look at important things to understand about energy and manufacturing. We even explain how the two industries are linked!
Eric: Well, then! Let’s get to it!
Becky: Number 5 in our Top 5 Most Important Things to Understand about Energy and Manufacturing is that these two industries are linked.
Eric: That may seem a bit obvious since we’re doing a series of lessons on them, but many people don't realize how interconnected these two industries are.
Becky: The basic logic is that modern energy sources and processes depend on manufacturing, and vice versa.
Eric: That’s right. They aren’t exactly similar industries and the companies that dominate one don’t dominate the other. However, they are completely codependent and one can only evolve at the rate of the other.
Becky: That’s right. One of the best examples is aluminum. To manufacture aluminum requires more electricity than almost any other metal manufacturing. To produce that amount of electricity requires a high-powered electrical plant.
Eric: And to build a high-powered electrical plant, you need lots of high-quality equipment that has to be manufactured.
Becky: Exactly.
Eric: Car manufacturing is another great example. One of the main ways we use energy is to move things from one place to another. Like cars and buses. In this case, it isn’t electricity that we use, but gasoline.
Becky: Gasoline is a type of “stored energy” in that there’s a lot of energy released when gasoline is burned. That’s why oil and gas are often spoken of when we talk about energy.
Eric: And the connection is that you need a car, something manufactured, to release that “stored” energy.
Becky: So it’s all connected, and as I’m sure your monthly bills have proven to you, very expensive.
Eric: Which brings us to our next topic!
Becky: That’s right! Number 4 in our Top 5 Most Important Things to Understand about Energy and Manufacturing is that they’re expensive!
Eric: One of the main reasons they’re so expensive is the many layers of industry that have to happen before you ever get energy or a manufactured product.
Becky: Exactly! For example, to get oil, you have to drill into the ground and look for it. That takes time, money, equipment, and energy.
Eric: Then, once you find oil, you have to build a drill. The drill has to be manufactured, as well as all the piping and vehicles for transportation.
Becky: And all of those processes require electricity and other types of energy.
Eric: It’s very complex, with layer after layer of manufacturing and energy processes that are interdependent and all very, very expensive.
Becky: We should also remember that the many layers of manufacturing and energy have developed over a very long time.
Eric: And during that time, companies weren’t always concerned about the effects their activities would have on the environment.
Becky: That’s right. During the 18th, 19th, and most of the 20th centuries, most companies had the attitude that the planet needed to be tamed or dominated. Some even felt that it was their duty to discover and extract all the resources the Earth had.
Eric: This attitude was a major contributor to why there is so much pollution and environmental destruction today. The attitude is mostly gone and, by comparison, corporations today are much more environmentally friendly than their predecessors.
Becky: However, we still have many environmental problems that were caused by those corporations. We also have quite a few factories that still use that old technology. Which brings us to our next point.
Eric: That’s right. Number 3 of our Top 5 is that becoming environmentally friendly isn’t easy.
Becky: Exactly. Because of the multi-layered nature of manufacturing and energy, there are often certain parts of the industry that are environmentally unfriendly. For example, when I lived in Brazil, I saw an old picture of a city with a large mountain behind it.
Eric: Okay...
Becky: Today, there’s no mountain. A company, mining for aluminum, destroyed the entire mountain.
Eric: That doesn't sound very environmentally friendly. And how do you repair that kind of damage?
Becky: Exactly. You can’t. Today we look at that and think it’s shameful but at the time, both the company and the Brazilian government didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. That’s why it happened.
Eric: And for that matter, many of the factories that are in use today were built decades ago when we didn’t understand the environment as well as we do today.
Becky: That’s right. So, over the past six years or so, many of these factories have been attacked for being environmentally unfriendly when they were actually built decades ago.
Eric: So they tried to do it right back then, but now they're being attacked because the standards have changed.
Becky: That’s right. It’s like graduating from college then getting told your degree isn’t worth anything because the course you took changed. But that isn’t even the biggest problem.
Eric: What is?
Becky: Well, to me, the biggest problem is the very interconnectedness of energy and manufacturing. So, to improve one aspect of a factory, you probably have to mine new ore, which requires energy which probably comes from electricity which comes from coal. Any level of improvement causes more environmental damage.
Eric: So, there’s no point? To improve in one aspect we cause harm to another?
Becky: Well, the point is to reduce damage to the environment, which is very, very important. But we just need to remember that the challenge is much larger than just putting some filters on the factories.
Eric: Good to know. This is all pretty complex.
Becky: Yes it is, and that brings us to our next topic.
Eric: That’s right. Number 2 in our Top 5 is that it is very complex.
Becky: Leaving aside the very important matter of environmental responsibility, the processes involved in manufacturing something simple like a water valve are staggering.
Eric: I have a friend who’s a mechanical engineer and he’s always talking about how complex manufacturing is.
Becky: It really is. Every factory is set up in a series of modules and each module does a specific task or series of tasks. You could think of it like groupings of assembly lines. In some cases, those modules actually are groupings of assembly lines.
Eric: But in others, like a steel plant, they're more like areas where linked processes happen together. So, one module of the factory makes the car doors and another makes the car frame and another puts them all together.
Becky: Right. Within each module there are hundreds of steps and tasks that are performed every minute, and that’s just for one single process. There are hundreds of thousands of different manufacturing processes.
Eric: And more being developed every year.
Becky: Exactly! The manufacturing industry is truly amazing, but it’s also massive, complex, and expensive.
Eric: Wow! Well, what’s our number one topic?
Becky: This is it! Number one of our Top 5 is that energy is America’s true dependency.
Eric: In American politics, you often hear the phrase “dependency” to describe a few different things. Most recently, America’s dependency on foreign oil has been hotly debated.
Becky: That’s right. What isn’t addressed well, however, is the real issue; that without cheap energy, the United States can’t survive.
Eric: And foreign oil is a problem because oil is one of our main sources of energy. Currently, it’s cheaper to buy it from other countries than to produce it ourselves.
Becky: Exactly. That’s why alternative energies have gotten so much attention in recent years. Instead of just looking for oil in different places, we’re trying to find an energy source that’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than oil.
Eric: Which is a great goal and one that we support completely, but several years ago I participated in an Energy symposium and one of the delegates made the point that to use solar or wind power, we’d have to switch to DC instead of AC current.
Becky: That’s the type of electricity that our appliances use, right?
Eric: Right.
Becky: AC is for your wall outlets and anything that is plugged into them, and DC is for things that run off of batteries like flashlights, digital cameras, and laptops.
Eric: Exactly. The problem is that solar and wind power use DC currents, so to use solar or wind power in our homes we have to convert our homes to DC currents.
Becky: So every wire, outlet, and appliance in your house would have to change?
Eric: That’s right. And if the entire USA were to change to solar power, every single power line and transformer would have to change in the entire country. That's a few trillion dollars.
Becky: But here’s the best part. All of those problems we talked about are going to be corrected by the manufacturing and energy industries. They may not be the ones who come up with the idea, but they are going to have to build, manufacture, and distribute the solution when it comes.
Eric: Sounds like we do have a big challenge on our hands! Let’s get to it!
Becky: Way to be positive!
Eric: Okay, that’s all for this lesson.
Becky: Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time! Bye!
Eric: See you!