Tags

, , ,

Ethanol. Biodiesel. Green, green, green. But do they mean Ralph Nader green or crisp Franklin green? Sustainable is one of my favorite themes, but I don’t know about this shit.

The Hype
GM is “yellow” and not in the Old West sense. A GM ad says: “What if [every vehicle] could run on E85 ethanol, an alternative fuel made from a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline derived from corn? America could move towards (should be “toward”) energy independence with a homegrown, renewable fuel source that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while it boosts your engine’s performance.” With 1.5 million GM FlexFuel Vehicles able to switch between gas and E85, they direct you to their website: LiveGreenGoYellow.

Car ads (and even Prezzy G Dub B) are suddenly touting green-friendly attitudes toward alternative energy (alternergy?) sources. This is presented in an equation wherein corn magically becomes gasoline to power your car; car company CEO, corn farmer and consumer link arms and feel really great about their progressive selves; Big Biz and Big Environ embrace lustily; sun shines, birdies tweet and flowers bloom. It sounds so precious and smells so suspicious.

What is (bio)ethanol? What is biodiesel? (Quotes from Wikipedia)
(Bio)Ethanol: For gasoline engines. “Ethanol can be mass-produced by fermentation of sugar or by hydration of ethylene from petroleum and other sources.” Think sugar beets, you Idahoans. “Ethanol with at most 1% water, can be blended with gasoline in varying quantities.”

Biodiesel: For diesel engines. A “diesel-equivalent, processed fuel derived from biological sources (such as vegetable oils), which can be used in unmodified diesel-engined vehicles.”

What’s fishy?
*U.S. agriculture is heavily subsidized by U.S. government thus politically inextricable. Fuel-making crop prices up = Big Farmy happy. Could this influence U.S. gov support of different alternergies?
*CropGas conversion/production is expensive and energy-intensive. Experts debate whether the finished product balances the energy used to create it.

What to do?
Expand the debate. Ethanol fuel and biodiesel are options, but they are not the best options.

*Personally – Conserve Energy. Car pool, drive less, use public transit, walk, bike. At home, turn lights off and heat down when you’re not using them; unplug shit (appliances/tv/stereo/computer) that constantly draws energy to power a light that tells you it’s not on.
These individual proactive steps are frighteningly easy and more powerful than any “progressive” government legislation.
Problems: Fat, lazy, overconvenienced, apathetic.

*Locally – Promote, support and use effective public transportation. Were gasoline prices to reflect a national goal of fossil fuel independence, they would ideally make wasteful driving a rarer luxury.
Problems: Expensive initial investment; Car culture manifest destiny mentality; Where do the excess gas profits go? Do they equate with reduced demand?

*Globally – Alternative energy: Do not kid yourself. There are no magical, no-impact green, yellow, blue or pink solutions. There are, however, certain alternergies that seem more logical than others.
SUN/WIND: Unlimited and powerful resources unfettered by ownership rights. Problems: Production materials like lead-acid batteries don’t seem so harmless. High initial investment for system conversions. Currently underdeveloped and expensive.
WATER/GEOTHERMAL: Similar to SUN/WIND but with more property rights confusion/monopoly opportunity.
NUCLEAR: Powerful with powerful stigma.
WASTE VEGETABLE OIL: I am interested in the reuse of restaurant/cafeteria/snack factory waste oil (imagine if everyone used public transit fueled by old fry grease!), but see above paragraphs for personal qualms about relying on agriculture for energy.

International implications of CornGas
Briefly, the North American (and Central American) “Free Trade” Agreements (NAFTA/CAFTA) reinforce Latin American economic impotence thus promoting immigration to the real economic beneficiary (the U.S.). Big Agri, conglomerating its way out of competition, relies both on government subsidy and cheap, (often illegal) immigrant labor.

Por ejemplo: Juan is from Mexico. His country, resource-rich and plausibly capable of economic self-sufficiency, remains on the shit stick end of trade agreements (immediate export money and U.S. political pressure (fuck with us and we will go straight Guatemala on you) discourage agricultural development and diversification). Juan struggles to keep food in his house and risks his life and limited liberty to follow the market supply of jobs to the U.S. There he gets a shitty job moving rocks out of the way of corn-harvesting machines. The salary hardly seems worth the physical exertion, but it is definitely more than he was making in Mexico. Then G Dub B starts talking up CornGas, and corn prices rise (enough to make it a profitable industry? I don’t know.) . Mexico, a huge Ameri-corn importer passes those prices along to corn tortilla consumers (nearly all Mexicans), “tortilla crisis” ensues, and Juan’s paycheck goes back to Mexico and buys less corn tortillas at higher prices.

Wait, What?
CropGas is complex. It may be better than fossil fuel-y gasoline, but be wary of the terms “green” “yellow” “renewable” “sustainable.” They are emotive and often misused. This blog is meant not as a decisive overview, but as a stimulant for critical thought, research and discussion. Everything is advertising; there are multi facets to every single issue; be aware of hidden agendas. Also brush your teeth and eat your vitamins.

Advertisements