Desert Solitaire

  1. Abbey often compares Moab to a ‘wasteland’—similar to one of the definitions of wilderness that was discussed on the first day of class (pgs 4, 231, 271). However, he also mentions T.S. Eliot’s version of a wasteland, which is vastly different from the ‘wilderness’ definition. When making the comparison to Eliot’s version, Abbey doesn’t distinguish between the town or the Canyonlands that surround it, making the reader question how he actually feels (and how we should feel) about the term ‘wasteland’.
    1. It’s interesting that Abbey equates Moab to T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland. People often imagine Eliot is/will be describing a barren chunk of land that is abandoned that has ultimately gone to waste, but in reality Eliot is actually describing the cities of America and how they are drab, dull, and disgusting. The people are mindless and go through the motions without feeling—they are hardly people at all. It’s a wasteland of dirty industry, filthy streets, and equally revolting people. Civilization has evolved into something that is more inhuman and much of this is due to modernism and the advancement of Progress.
    2. Abbey might be referring to the town of Moab when he makes the comparison to Eliot’s Wasteland but he also refers to the desert where he resides as a ‘red wasteland’, ‘a rolling wasteland of stone and dune and sandstone monuments, the wasteland surrounded by dark canyons and the course of rivers and mountain ranges…’ It’s sort of the antithesis to Eliot’s version of a wasteland.
    3. However, Abbey also muses on the state of society and civilization and makes clear his disdain for the ‘diseased and hideous cities’, ‘slimy advertising of businessmen’, and the ‘stupid, useless, and degrading jobs’ (pg 193). Abbey’s description of today’s society on page 194 is nearly identical to what Eliot was describing, making it unclear to what Abbey thinks the real wasteland is. Maybe he thinks they are both a type of wasteland in their own rite.

Current Event: A Step Toward Renewable Diesel

U.S. Department of Energy recently funded a research team of MIT engineers to work on genetically reprogramming a strain of yeast so that it converts sugars to fats much more efficiently. This is an advance that could make possible the renewable production of high-energy fuels such as diesel.

Renewable fuels such as ethanol made from corn are useful as gasoline additives for running cars, but for large vehicles like airplanes, trucks, and ships, more powerful fuels such as diesel are needed. Diesel is the preferred fuel because of its high energy density and the high efficiency of the engines that run on it, but unfortunately it is made entirely from fossil fuels.

Efforts to develop engines that run on biodiesel made from used cooking oils have had some success, but cooking oil is a relatively scarce and expensive fuel source. Starches such as sugar cane and corn are cheaper and more plentiful, but these carbohydrates must first be converted into lipids, which can then be turned into high-density fuels such as diesel.

To achieve this the team began working with a specific strain of yeast, which naturally produces large quantities of lipids. They focused on fully utilizing the electrons generated from the breakdown of glucose. To achieve this, they transformed the yeast with synthetic pathways that convert surplus NADH, a product of glucose breakdown, to NADPH, which can be used to synthesize lipids. Using this improved pathway, the yeast cells require only two-thirds of the amount of glucose needed by unmodified yeast cells to produce the same amount of oil.

Learn more at the MIT News Website




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