Sunday, April 20, 2008

Energy, ethanol and the depressing truth (opinion?)

I don't actually enjoy being a total killjoy but sometimes the truth is a bit depressing. That is true with something that happened late last week. And if you haven't figured out my vague references, I am talking about the ever escalating gas prices.

It's not just gas, though. The escalating fuel prices have a bit of a ripple effect. Fuel prices effect the price of everything we consume. All that shit from China (a.k.a. everything sold in your local Wal-Mart or Target) doesn't just magically appear here with the wave of a magic wand. The food sold in those stores and others has a similar but shorter journey. Most everything takes a portion of its journey down our nation's highways via a semi-truck. Those men (and some women) are feeling the crunch. Their paychecks directly reflect the skyrocketing fuel prices. A friend of mine described to me last weekend that the company he drives semi for as an over-the-road trucker slowed their speeds 10 miles per hour to save fuel. They realize that this will only raise prices as it will take longer to deliver products but they have their bottom line to watch out for as well.

Then there are the farmers. Believe it or not, the farm economy feels this too because despite the record high prices their grains are fetching on the markets, they are facing even higher input costs in the form of fuel, seed, chemicals and fertilizer. While my parents are selling their crops from 2007 for record high prices and have contracted a large portion of the speculative 2008 crop for those same prices, they are feeling the pinch with fertilizer costs (particularly the cost of nitrogen whcih makes corn grow) that have practically tripled since 2000 if they can even acquire the very nitrogen (anhydrous amonia) they paid for due to supposedly short supplies. Couple that with diesel fuel prices that have quadrupled since 2000 and seed prices which have nearly tripled int hat same time and they are no further ahead now than in 2000.

Of course plenty of people will want to say something about ethanol when the subject of farmers comes up. The truth is that while ethanol does divert corn from the food supply, the overall supply of corn in our country has increased due to increased yields and will continue to increase but eventually will be severely outpaced by the demands (for food and ethanol) if current trends continue.

That means that ethanol as we currently know it is far from the solution. The current high corn prices are seen as one obstacle.

The supply of corn in relation to our gasoline consumption is another hitch.

Amazingly, the best ethanol solution may be prairie grass (or switchgrass as Geroge Bush stated a few years back). Of course our future doesn't have to be bleak as oil prices begin to put a very noticeable crunch on the middle class. If money from, I don't know -- war spending, was diverted to financing research and development of viable fuel sources in the private or public sector and not by petroleum companies who only profit more with higher oil prices, our country could again become a superpower, this time by supplying a technological solution to fuel prices.

Of course, with the alternatives come more ideas to simply reduce our own energy consumption. Plasma and LCD televisions use far less energy than traditional CRT (tube) televisions and computer monitors. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (when recycled properly) pay for themselves and then some in reduced energy consumption. Recycling your glass and plastic makes sense. But I am sure there are plenty of other ideas. What are some ways you are conserving energy? Or do you not believe we need to do anything?


Dorky Dad said...

You should see what those food prices are doing in countries where the population actually spends a large portion of its income on food. They're rioting, pushing people out of office. It's getting NASTY.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

We're not doing much differently, as we've always tried to be what I call "realistic green", without turning into fanatics about it.

The hidden skunk in the woodpile re fuel costs, are the wallstreet speculators. Those guys who buy imaginary shares of a product, betting it will go up, or down, depending on how their buy is structured.

The economy has been built like a house of cards for a long, long time. We have been able to get away with it for a long, long time. But the triple whammy of tax cuts while at war, two wars, and soaring fuel prices, has spelled it's doom.

justacoolcat said...

I expect my gardens will be huge this year. I hope to make a bunch of organic baby food for the upcoming baby.

Sornie said...

JACC, I am actually planning the same thing for our upcoming poop machine. I've got squash and carrots ready to plant so that's a decent start. Factor in the rest of my plant menagerie and I think I'm set.

Beth said...

I'm doing (just about) everything I can. Guilt is a great motivator for me. Turning lights off has been the hardest thing for me to get used to doing - but I'm there!

buffalodickdy said...

Ethanol is the smoke and mirrors of the 21st century. It is causing more problems than it is solving, but believe it or not- some industries make money from these wrong turns!

Sornie said...

I don't know if it's entirely smoke and mirrors but it's definitely a temporary fix. Hopefully the use of it leads to something better, more economical and better than a break-even scenario for energy production vs. expenditures to produce it.