Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Begin rant...

Why does everything have to be black or white, one or zero, good or evil?

In the infinite wisdom of Forrest Gump contemplating the true meaning of life, "I, I think maybe it's both".

This has manifested itself to me in many current subjects (war in Iraq, any political debate, American Idol). As an example, let's reflect on bio-fuels...

Up until recently, ethanol was good. But not just good, it was our savior. It would save the earth, our pocketbooks and eliminate our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. Now, when we need it most, there has been a small, but vocal up swell of dissidence. Ethanol is not good, it is ungood, it is EVIL! It kills babies, makes your food double in cost, creates unmentionable environmental degradation and actually takes more energy than it produces!!! O.K. Hmmmm. Let's step back a bit and really think a minute. Perhaps there are many shades of gray in the world. Maybe things aren't one or zero. Maybe there are fractions.

I pinpoint this to a 'chicken or egg' scenario, one that I fully do not have a complete explanation for, and certainly do not have a solution.

I can either blame the media...the 24 hour news cycle, the over-sensationalizing nature of delivery, Headline News (who needs the whole story, anyway?), Hollywood, TMZ, Fox News, CNN, everything is a nauseum, ad infinitum...doubleplusgood...doubleplusungood...

Or I could blame us, the American public...perhaps the media is only filling a need, providing a service, trying their damnedest to stimulate the few remaining over-stimulated brain cells we have left...while we muddle through our lives that are continuing to decline in meaning, the great Idiocracy, expecting our problems to be solved by anyone other than ourselves, complaining when they are not immediately remedied at zero personal cost...

So which is it?

"I, I think maybe it's both".

...end rant.


Nimic said...

If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that nothing is black and white.

There's a good and bad side to everything. Another thing I've learned is that the world is all about money. After all, we are a capitalist society.

I for one never believed in Ethanol. I never wanted it, I always felt it was a bad idea. I was told my fears were unfounded. But you see if a farmer can get twice as much money growing this over that, he's gonna grow the former. It's just basic economics.

Eventually, the food supply is going to take a hit. Unless the govt. steps in and subsidizes it, and then our taxes take a hit.

So it's good for the farmers, but eventually, somewhat bad for the people who depend on our food surplus. Bad for the taxes, but good for the gas pumps. Good for the environment arguably, but bad for the wallet.

I'm going to stop before I make a rant longer than yours ;).

Chief said...

Ah, but ethanol is more than corn-ethanol. And bio-fuels are even more than ethanol. The problem with the pundits is the lack of shades of gray.

I will be the first to admit that corn-based ethanol is only a stepping stone. Even if we turned every last kernel into fuel, we would not make a dent in our voracious appetite. But we must take that first step, and not be allowed to falter just before we take another.

Unfortunately the media cannot, or choose not to, see the subtleties and bio-fuels are turned from good to ungood in the eye of the public. I find this counter-productive.

Nimic said...

Notice I never used the word corn :). Ethanol is a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. It's made from grains, or from chemically hydrating ethylene. So either way, your impacting food prices. Either through taking away the feedstock for food, plastic packing, or plastic bags.

Biofuels on the other hand are a fairly interesting proposition. Because you can take something that would be thrown out otherwise, and turn it into fuel. As is the case with bio-diesel for instance.

In case you couldn't tell, I really hate ethanol. Slightly off topic, but ever since they forced us to use E10 here in Florida, I get 2-3 less mpg and pay more for the privilege.

When the floods in the midwest happened, our gas prices here went up because ethanol went up in price. And according to the map you posted, I'm in one of the cheapest gas areas in the US due to my vicinity to the pan handle.

Back on topic. Do we need Ethanol? Probably. We're definitely in a fuel crisis, and replacing every car with a hybrid would be a foolish answer. We need a solution today that our current transportation can handle, and Ethanol is that solution right now.

The media definitely has a way of polarizing issues. That's why we're here...

Chief said...

Ethanol can technically be made from many feedstocks that do not compete with food. Second and third generation ethanol utilize waste matter, grasses and algae. Currently they are not ready for primetime, but I feel that these technologies will not only be better for the environment and society, but also have the ability to be scaled up to large volumes.

Also, they should be able to be made in more geographically dispersed facilities, which would alleviate local shortages and the associated price spikes.

As for decreased mileage, I'll take a few percent decrease over no fuel at all. It may be hyperbole at the moment, but someday there may not be gasoline available at any price.

We'll might just have to agree to disagree, but the positives outweigh the negatives on my tally. I can appreciate how others could have another perspective, however.

Jeff said...

One thing has changed in the ethanol so-called debate: George W. Bush has come out in support of it, which makes it, de facto, evil in the eyes of the professional environmentalists who once sang its praises.

Chief said...

Thanks for the comment, Jeff. The President has certainly become a polarizing figure over his two terms.

Jeff said...

Right, but it's more than that. It speaks to the media's need to stick to a dominant narrative. Bush is evil, therefore what he supports is evil. If he supports something previously deemed good, it either becomes evil or is ignored. Bush designating the largest marine reserve in the world runs counter to the "worst environmental president ever" narrative, so it's a one-day story. Bush takes Clinton's name off Kyoto or supports drilling in ANWR, references to these appear in every story that includes the words "Bush" and "environment". His complicity with "big oil" is a given; his efforts to stop subsidies to agribusiness (the biggest cause of toxins in our watersheds - not to mention most distorting influence in world food prices)are dense "farm bill" stories. That's the Orwellian dimension I find most disturbing.

Chief said...

I couldn't agree more. Legislation is very hard for the layperson to sift through...myself included. If we allow ourselves to take 10 second sound bites as truth, those that control the sound bite have unimaginable power. Many issues are so inherently complex that they cannot be honestly distilled into a soundbite, (or article for that matter).

The issue then becomes: does anyone care?

Jeff said...

I'm currently reading Bjorn Lomborg's book, "Cool It: A Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming". Amazingly lucid, well-written book that questions not whether global warming is happening or whether it's man-made but whether the most commonly proposed solutions don't spend too much money to help too few people over too long a period of time. He offers constructive alternative recommendations. And yet, who ever heard of this guy? If you're not parroting the received wisdom on this topic, you don't exist.

Chief said...

Thanks, Jeff, for the recommendation. I too struggle with the "global warming crisis". Unfortunately, I am not a global climate scientist so I have to take the word of these "experts". Also unfortunately, there are many reasons why everyone involved, (many of whom are non-experts like me) would like to advance their view point as absolute truth.

For me (in an extremely simplified and layman's understanding) it boils down to two options, each with two outcomes.

1. It is not man-made.
2. It is man-made.

1. We can do something about it
2. We can't do anything about it

If it is a naturally occurring cycle, then there is probably not much we can do about it.

If it is a man-made phenomenon, there still might not be much we can do about it. In its current form, it is a true 'tragedy of the commons' situation. Let say the US completely switches to "green" power (in and of itself a rather ridiculous premise). Unless the entire world decides to do the same, the price of fossil fuels will plummet, removing any disincentive for anyone not a part of such agreement to continue their use. The fossil fuels will continue to be used up and the CO2 will continue to be released. Eventually, ALL available fossil fuels will be burned and released at some point in the future. And if I remember correctly, something like a 1/3 of all greenhouse gases are released by burning of forests, so completely eliminating fossil fuel use might not solve the problem either.

This is not to say it is not a is idea to limit our carbon (and don't forget methane) emissions. There are many areas where we can find more efficient ways to do business. Perhaps we can somehow capture and store CO2 cheaply. Perhaps turn it directly back into a fuel with algae or some new cutting edge technology. I hope for the best.

I've really rambled and this is a huge, complex problem that I really have not studied at all. I have seen 'An Inconvenient Truth', which is a powerful movie, but I get an uneasy feeling trusting Al Gore. I have kicked around the idea of making a "climate change" post, but I would need to do a lot more research before I tried to speak more authoritatively on it.

Anyways, thanks for the recommendation, I'll add it to my reading list.