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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Alternative energy catches second wind in documentary ‘Fuel’


    Josh Tickell’s “”Fuel”” shows how oil is surprisingly pervasive in our everyday lives. The documentary pares down the science, technology and politics of alternative energy into a persuasive lesson that manages to avoid the heavy-handed lecturing.

    “”Fuel”” begins with Tickell’s personal journey to becoming an advocate for alternative energy. While studying in Europe during college, Tickell discovers the wonders of biodiesel — a fuel made from vegetable oils that is more efficient and cleaner for engines to use than diesel derived from petroleum  — and begins a crusade advocating its use. The movie then delves into the multiple causes that have brought the United States and the world to its current dependency on oil.

    There’s the story of Louisiana’s oil refineries and how their lax oversight and numerous accidents have created an area known as “”Cancer Alley,”” where residents suffer from higher than average rates of cancer. There’s the story of how the world’s economy is driven, often quite literally, by oil. From oil tankers to construction vehicles to commercial truck fleets, global trade relies on cheap gasoline to move and build goods.

    “”Fuel”” also presents the American auto industry’s dark history with oil. In the 1980s, American automobile companies had the chance to invest in alternative energy technologies for their future cars. Toyota most notably took advantage of this opportunity, resulting in today’s Prius.

    Meanwhile, Ford, General Motors and other American companies made some concessions to demands for fuel-efficient cars, but they did an about-face once the federal government began giving tax credits for SUVs and Hummers after Sept. 11.

    In drawing the connections between these stories, “”Fuel”” proves to be a dense movie. But the use of polished, animated infographics and Tickell’s enthusiasm — which is reminiscent of a younger Bill Nye sans the lab coat — proves infectious, making the scientific explanations easier to digest. What’s also welcome is Tickell’s willingness to question his knowledge and faith in biodiesel in the face of contradictory evidence.

    “”Fuel”” ends with an optimistic vision of the future where technology nurtures nature, and nature literally fuels technology. With Tickell’s enthusiasm and the movie’s classroom-friendly presentation, “”Fuel”” makes the idea of an oil-free world seem all the more plausible.

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