Utopia 16: Student Driver

               An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.  Howard Zinn

Utopia 16:  Student Driver

The shuttle stopped at what appeared to be an abandoned platform. Jack tentatively opened the shuttle door to the oven like heat that once again sucked the air out of his lungs. A small ribbon of fine sand danced across the otherwise silent and empty platform. An abandoned depot stood at the back of the platform. Jack slowly lifted himself out of the shuttle onto the platform. Perhaps he had misunderstood.

He had accompanied his class on the evening train and then parted from them early this morning. They were to go on a tour of the The Great Desert Reclamation Project Green House and Nursery to see the plants that were being developed to reclaim this desert. Incidentally they would also see the algae ponds that provided the diesel for their next adventure. He had waited for the Green House staff to escort the group from the platform and then summoned his own shuttle to take him here. This was where the staff of the driving school would meet him… or so he thought.

The sand that had been snaking its way across the platform danced around his feet. He made his way to the depot. “Ely” the sign overhead announced. Jack looked in through the dirt caked shards of a broken window. The floor was coated in at least 6 inches of sand with deeper sand at the corners. He heard a scurrying sound inside and he decided not to investigate the building further. He looked around for a message or some sort of instructions but finding none he scanned the area behind the depot. There were several more buildings abandoned to the desert and half covered in sand. The street behind the Depot had all but disappeared. Nothing moved or looked inhabited. At least not by humans. Not for a long time.

Disappointed Jack turned back to the shuttle to make his way to the hotel and figure out where things had gone wrong. It was from the corner of his eye he saw a plum of red brown dust rising behind the abandoned buildings. He turned to watch as the plume got more pronounced. Soon a compact vehicle was racing down the main street toward him.

The dust covered vehicle pulled up to the back side of the platform. A wiry man in his mid twenties grabbed the open roof of the vehicle and swung his legs over the unopened door onto the platform in a single graceful motion. He started to make his way toward Jack at a rapid pace, who stood frozen on the platform.

“Jack Randell?” The man called and pearly white teeth stood out from his dirt caked face. He had what Jack thought was red shoulder length hair or possibly blond hair coated with the red dust. He removed his goggles as he walked and revealed a figure of 8 patch of clean white skin with freckles that accented brilliant green eyes.

Jack smiled, “That’s right.”

“I’m Dale.  Dale Gruea.” the man extended his hand, “But just call me Dale.”

“Well just Jack then.” Jack took the man’s hand and received an enthusiastic shake.

“Good to meet ya.” Dale looked up at the sun and said, “Well, day’s a wasting.” Dale held out his hand to indicate that Jack should proceed to the vehicle which Jack was soon to discover was called a Jeep Wrangler.

“Jack, my man, not that side.  The other one.  No time like the present, right?”

Jack turned and gave Dale a nervous smile and then climbed over into the driver’s seat. Dale jumped down from the platform and walked around to stand by Jack as he sat in the seat with his hands in his lap.

“There are some goggles in the glove compartment.”  Dale said pointing to where Jack should look for a “glove compartment”.

Jack put them on and Dale helped him adjust them to his head.

“So…you had some simulator lessons, right?”

“Yes.  I finished all of the lessons on the GMC Sierra and the Ford Escape.”

Dale smiled a little bemused, “Good. Well this is a lot smaller than a GMC or a Ford but a good place to start. Go ahead and push in the clutch and start her up.”

Jack looked down to find the petals he was used to from the simulator. He put his hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock positions and his foot pushed in the clutch. The clutch had a much stiffer feeling than the simulator. He turned the key and the engine roared to life. In his surprise Jack nearly took his foot off the clutch as his instinct was to back away from the noise. Having never heard a combustion engine in his life, it was much louder than he had anticipated. Jack was shocked at how the engine shook and vibrated the entire vehicle and wondered how such a thing did not slowly destroy the vehicle that carried it. The engine calmed into idle and the vibration became barely perceptible, and Jack’s anxiety was replaced by anticipation.

“Great.  Now rest your foot on the gas and slowly ease down on the gas while you let up on the clutch.”

Jack looked at Dale.  “Don’t you want to get in?”

“Oh…just go a little way in first gear and then stop.  I’ll catch up.”  He said. The bemused smile turned into an outright grin.

Jack did as he was told. He eased onto the gas and felt a surge of excitement as the engine began to rev. Then he let off the clutch and the vehicle pitched him forward violently and then rocked back knocking his head against the headrest before it stalled and went still.

Dale chuckled. “Hey, that’s OK man. Everybody does it. That’s why I don’t get in right away. Try it again but ease off the clutch slowly this time.”

It took Jack half an hour to get the car moving consistently enough for Dale to decide to jump in the passenger seat. Then they were off at the break neck speed of 15 miles per hour, but to Jack it was a victory. He was driving! Something few people ever did.

Dale guided Jack through the gears which Jack was relieved to discover were successively easier than first gear. Then Dale led Jack through the abandoned streets of Ely to the edge of town where there was one large brick building still inhabited. Jack stopped the jeep in front of the building with a jerk as he stalled it again.

There were all manner of vehicles that Jack had never seen before, even in pictures, parked about the garage. Like a child, Jack stared around wide eyed trying to drink in all the sights. Dale jumped over the closed door and out of the Jeep with the same smooth action he had used at the platform. Jack took the more restrained exit of opening the door.

“Pop.  I have the educator, dude.”  Dale yelled to the echoing garage.

“This is quite an ambitious task you have set for yourself, learning to drive and taking a group of kids into the desert. My hat’s off to ya, Mr. Randell.” Said a voice filled with gravel from the shadows of the building. An older man with a bald head but a prodigious handlebar mustache soon appeared in the pool of light from the open bay door of the garage. He had the same stunning green eyes as Dale, Jack noticed, as the man ambled into the garage from a small office. He was dressed in a tunic top and grease covered overalls and carried a coffee cup.

“Dale Gruea.” The older man extended a grease blackened hand to Jack. Jack shook it and noticed the rough texture of this man’s hand. He looked at the man somewhat perplexed. “Dale Gruea, Sr. You’ve met Dale Jr. here already, I see.”

“Oh, yes.”  Jack nodded his understanding.  “Sorry. Jack.  Jack Randell.  But you can call be Jack.”

“So you’ve been working on the simulator?”

Jack looked at him with a cowed expression. “I’ve been working with a simulator for months now.”

“Well that will help, but nothing’s like the real thing. The sites you see. The wind in your hair. Nothing like it. Nothing like shuttle travel.”

“Oh, I already broke him in on the Jeep, Dad.”  Dale Jr. said with a smile.

“Huh? That piece of shit? Damn clutch needs replacing. That beast’s a bitch to get out of first gear. Big Bertha’s a lot easier to drive.”

Dale said nothing but gave Jack a mischievous grin.  “Yeah, she has her quirks but she has her moments too.”

They passed through the building and out onto an open area of dunes behind the garage. A multitude of tire marks criss-crossed the dunes. Directly in front of Jack a behemoth vehicle waited with an intimidating presence. It looked like a souped up and very open version of a shuttle. It had 6 bench seats and could carry at least fifteen people. The tires came almost up to Jack’s waist. Jack had never been in a vehicle with tires at all before today and he felt compelled to touch these. He wandered forward and gently lay his hand on the tire. It had treads as deep as the width of his hand. To Jack’s surprise the tire was rock hard and smooth feeling. He had imagined that they would be somewhat soft and yielding. There was a sand paper quality feeling of grit on the tires. The body of the vehicle was heavy steel tubing with thinner steel sheets along the bottom of the chassis. The entire top of the vehicle was a cage of thick metal tubing to protect the passengers. There was a thin cloth roof for shade above the roof frame. The seats were all equipped with sturdy harnesses the likes of which Jack had never seen. The shuttles were considered so safe that none of them had seat belts.

When he turned around to see what the next step would be, Dale Sr was smiling at him. He had seen this sort of awe before. “She’s a beaut ain’t she?”

Jack nodded. Dale came up to the left side of the vehicle near Jack and placed his toe under the chassis. His foot brought out a step. Then he opened the door for Jack and indicated that Jack should climb in. Jack did so and immediately felt small in the large seat. Dale pushed the stair back and ran around the front of the vehicle to climb in the passenger side, what Dale called the navigator side.

Dale instructed Jack on how to start the engine which roared into life with even more fury than the Jeep had. Then Dale showed him the gears and the clutch. Jack stalled the vehicle several times prior to getting it to roll forward. Finally he got the right mix of gas and clutch and with a lurch in his stomach he and Dale were off.

Dale let him get used to moving and then instructed him to move into second gear. This is where the simulator paid off. Jack had some idea what it was like to work the pedals and was able to find the right mix easier than he had on the Jeep. Soon they were in 4th gear and careening along a flat area between two dunes.

Dale had been right. There was nothing like the feeling of freedom as he controlled over a ton of metal speeding along the desert floor. Red and tan rock formations sped in and out of his view. The wind combed fingers through his hair and small bits of sand stung his face. And the whole time Jack was grinning like an idiot.

Dale disappointed Jack when he told him to slow down. But Dale was smiling too. When Jack had down shifted into 3rd with a series of jumps and starts, Dale indicated that he should try to go up one of the dunes. Jack was introduced to a new thrill as his stomach drop down into his shoes on the up slope and shot up into his throat on the down slope. After the first few dunes Jack could take them in forth gear. He discovered a whole new level of excitement when he took a particularly steep dune and the front tires actually caught a brief moment of air as he crested it.

They drove back to the garage for lunch and after they ate Dale showed Jack some of the more mundane things about the vehicle. The areas of the desert that motored vehicles could travel and where they were forbidden to travel due to the fragile ecology of the area or because they were preserved for wildlife and hikers. He showed him how to change a tire. How to call for help. Where the first aid kit was. Jack barely paid attention. He knew he would not need any of this knowledge. They were going out into the desert and coming right back. Nothing more. He would not drive as fast with the children in the vehicle as he had on the dunes with just he and Dale. And he would make sure that all of them would be harnessed to their seats.

Jack then helped Dale Jr load the vehicle for the next days trip. The garage also supplied food and water for the trip. Finally, Dale Jr showed him the GPS monitor and programmed it for their destination.

Dale Jr. escorted Jack back to the Jeep and Jack looked at it disappointed.

“Don’t worry. I’ll give you a ride back.” Dale Jr. climbed into the drivers seat. Jack was chagrined at how smoothly the vehicle slid into motion with Dale Jr behind the wheel.

When Jack met up with the children at the hotel they were already in the cafeteria. He sat down at the table with the other two adults who gave him a wide eyed expression.

“Are we going to ruin our clothes too, tomorrow?”  Rhonda asked.

Jack looked at her perplexed. Then he followed her eyes to his shirt and discovered that his body was as covered in dirt as Dale Jr.’s had been when they met.

“I wouldn’t wear your best suit on this outing.”  Jack said with a broad grin.

The Concepts behind the Fiction:

1.  Infrastructure Blues

The world is quickly running out of oil. In the year 2000, global production stood at 76 Million Barrels per Day (MBD). By 2020, demand is forecast to reach 112 MBD, an increase of 47%. But additions to proven reserves have virtually stopped and it is clear that pumping at present rates is unsustainable. Estimates of the date of “peak global production” vary with some experts saying it already may have occurred as early as the year 2000. New Scientist magazine recently placed the year of peak production in 2004. Virtually all experts believe it will almost certainly occur before the end of this decade.  Robert Freeman

I was listening to the news the other day and they were discussing the bridge collapse in Minneapolis two years ago.  The discussion was bemoaning our deteriorating infrastructure and the need to invest in maintenance and new highway and bridge structures.

My heart sank as they spoke.  We are facing global warming and peak oil and yet no one is talking about the need to build our infrastructure in a sensible way.  There is no long term game plan.  We no doubt will waste money updating a system that is doomed in the next few years.  As a tax payer, I find that hard to take.

We have all the technology we need to make the transportation system I described on these pages.  And I long for such a system.  Not only would I say good bye to having to spend my life taxiing people around but the ERs of America could have few motor vehicle accident victims.  We could say good bye to huge chunks of real estate covered in hot asphalt for the purpose of temporarily covering them with equally hot cars.  We could convert all our garages to a spare bedroom, office, home gym, green house, chicken coop, whatever.

What we lack in making this dream reality is leadership.  The reason we lack it is because the leadership of America no longer belongs to us.  It belongs to the super rich and the super rich are heavily invested in oil and not our future.  They are seeking a way to continue their control by picking a new type of energy that can remain a monopoly.  They continue to tell us that such a vision is impossible when the truth is America has done this sort of thing before when we did have strong leadership.  FDR told manufacturing to stop making cars and converted the plants to war machine manufacture during WWII.  The freeway system was largely built in those same years.

Are there any precedents for such an ambitious vision? In the 1980s China adopted a nationwide energy efficiency program. Within a decade, overall energy intensity fell by 50% while economic growth led the developing world. Also in the 1980s, Denmark began a crash program in wind-generated electricity. Today, wind provides 10% of Denmark’s electricity while Denmark makes 60% of all the wind turbines sold in the world. India’s Renewable Energy Development Agency used a similar set of programs beginning in 1987 to reduce oil based electricity usage. Today, India is the largest user of photovoltaic systems in the world.


Even within the US there are ample precedents for optimism. The US economy was 42% more energy efficient in 2000 than it was in the 1970s when the Arab oil embargoes shocked the country into action. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards more than doubled the average mileage of US automobiles between 1975 and 1985 before being effectively abandoned in the late 1980s. The National Research Council has reported that efficiency programs sponsored by the Department of Energy returned $20 for every $1 invested, making them arguably one of the best investments in the economy even before a change in national energy strategy. Robert Freeman


I spend a lot of time on transportation in these pages because with 600 million cars on the road it is a large part of our carbon foot print.  (Actually not the biggest part, that would be housing.  Food production and river damning are also right up there.)  In truth our whole system needs an overhaul that is simple not being discussed Washington.

In more specific terms, energy reconfiguration means retrofitting all of the nation’s buildings, both commercial and residential, to double their energy efficiency. It means a crash program to shift the transportation system-cars, trucks-to a basis that uses perhaps half as much oil per year. This is well within reach of current technology. Energy Reconfiguration means using biotechnology to develop crops that require much less fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and machinery to harvest. It means refitting industrial and commercial processes-lighting, heating, appliances, automation, etc.-so that they, too, consume far less energy than they do today. It means increasing efficiency, reducing consumption, and building sustainable, long-term alternatives in every arena in which the economy uses oil.


Such a program would return incalculable benefits to national security, the economy, and to the environment. Robert Freeman

2.  Maybe I was wrong

Okay, so maybe you can’t see your self in a monorail on a daily basis.  Even one that can be called in seconds and is outfitted with the internet, movies, TV, and Kindle.  I admit that would be a drastic change.

I was pretty hard on the biofuel people during my first few entries to this blog.  Now it is time for a mia-culpa.  I was sucked into the belief that ethanol would create mass starvation.  This was of course an intentional deception, but in general I have tried to see through media generated deceptions.  In this case, after further reading, I think I failed you when it comes to biofuels.

I now wish to reexamine ethanol production.

First lets clear up what happened between ethanol and food prices.  The oil giants know that they are in trouble even if the public does not.  They are keenly aware of peak oil and of global warming.  They know even if they do not care about global warming, eventually we will care and we will force some restraints on them.  They are desperately seeking a replacement for oil.  But oil has some very interesting properties.  It is only in certain locations.  If you own all the locations you own all the oil.  It can be transported anywhere.  It delivers a lot of energy in a small amount of liquid when burned, and our entire society is already set up to run on this liquid.

Ethanol, has many of the properties of petroleum.  For this reason ethanol caught the attention of big oil companies.  So they began to invest in ethanol production.  They began a bidding war for the corn that was to make the ethanol.  This made the price of corn go up.  That started the food crisis.  Then they bought out two of the manufacturers of ethanol.  Now that there was no competition for the corn the price dropped precipitously.  That created havoc with farmers who had started to grow more corn because the price was good.   Suddenly there was a glut of corn on the market and the price for corn had bottomed out.  This sent small farmers out of business and another coup for agribusiness.  During this whole scenario, even in the beginning when there was a bidding war for corn, there was an excess of corn on the market.  There was more corn than could be consumed on the market the whole time.

So it was not the use of ethanol as fuel so much as speculation that caused this crisis.  Ethanol did not cause the crisis.  Capitalism did.  The truth is that ethanol may very well fit into a world healing itself from peak oil and global warming.

Why Alcohol Fuel?
  1. Almost every country can become energy independent. Anywhere that has sunlight and land can produce alcohol from plants. Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world imports no oil, since half its cars run on alcohol fuel made from sugarcane, grown on 1% of its land.

  3. We can reverse global warming. Since alcohol is made from plants, its production takes carbon dioxide out of the air, sequestering it, with the result that it reverses the greenhouse effect (while potentially vastly improving the soil). Recent studies show that in a permaculturally designed mixed-crop alcohol fuel production system, the amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere by plants-and then exuded by plant roots into the soil as sugar-can be 13 times what is emitted by processing the crops and burning the alcohol in our cars.

  5. We can revitalize the economy instead of suffering through Peak Oil. Oil is running out, and what we replace it with will make a big difference in our environment and economy. Alcohol fuel production and use is clean and environmentally sustainable, and will revitalize families, farms, towns, cities, industries, as well as the environment. A national switch to alcohol fuel would provide many millions of new permanent jobs.

  7. No new technological breakthroughs are needed. We can make alcohol fuel out of what we have, where we are. Alcohol fuel can efficiently be made out of many things, from waste products like stale donuts, grass clippings, food processing waste-even ocean kelp. Many crops produce many times more alcohol per acre than corn, using arid, marshy, or even marginal land in addition to farmland. Just our lawn clippings could replace a third of the autofuel we get from the Mideast.

  9. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, we can easily use alcohol fuel in the vehicles we already own. Unmodified cars can run on 50% alcohol, and converting to 100% alcohol or flexible fueling (both alcohol and gas) costs only a few hundred dollars. Most auto companies already sell new dual-fuel vehicles.

  11. Alcohol is a superior fuel to gasoline! It’s 105 octane, burns much cooler with less vibration, is less flammable in case of accident, is 98% pollution-free, has lower evaporative emissions, and deposits no carbon in the engine or oil, resulting in a tripling of engine life. Specialized alcohol engines can get at least 22% better mileage than gasoline or diesel.

  13. It’s not just for gasoline cars. We can also easily use alcohol fuel to power diesel engines, trains, aircraft, small utility engines, generators to make electricity, heaters for our homes-and it can even be used to cook our food.

  15. Alcohol has a proud history. Gasoline is a refinery’s toxic waste; alcohol fuel is liquid sunshine. Henry Ford’s early cars were all flex-fuel. It wasn’t until gasoline magnate John D. Rockefeller funded Prohibition that alcohol fuel companies were driven out of business.

  17. The byproducts of alcohol production are clean, instead of being oil refinery waste, and are worth more than the alcohol itself. In fact, they can make petrochemical fertilizers and herbicides obsolete. The alcohol production process concentrates and makes more digestible all protein and non-starch nutrients in the crop. It’s so nutritious that when used as animal feed, it produces more meat or milk than the corn it comes from. That’s right, fermentation of corn increases the food supply and lowers the cost of food.

  19. Locally produced ethanol supercharges regional economies. Instead of fuel expenditures draining capital away to foreign bank accounts, each gallon of alcohol produces local income that gets recirculated many times. Every dollar of tax credit for alcohol generates up to $6 in new tax revenues from the increased local business.

  21. Alcohol production brings many new small-scale business opportunities. There is huge potential for profitable local, integrated, small-scale businesses that produce alcohol and related byproducts, whereas when gas was cheap, alcohol plants had to be huge to make a profit.
  22. Scale matters-most of the widely publicized potential problems with ethanol are a function of scale. Once production plants get beyond a certain size and are too far away from the crops that supply them, closing the ecological loop becomes problematic. Smaller-scale operations can more efficiently use a wide variety of crops than huge specialized one-crop plants, and diversification of crops would largely eliminate the problems of monoculture.

  24. The byproducts of small-scale alcohol plants can be used in profitable, energy-efficient, and environmentally positive ways. For instance, spent mash (the liquid left over after distillation) contains all the nutrients the next fuel crop needs and can return it back to the soil if the fields are close to the operation. Big-scale plants, because they bring in crops from up to 45 miles away, can’t do this, so they have to evaporate all the water and sell the resulting byproduct as low-price animal feed,which accounts for half the energy used in the plant.–David Blume’s 2 min Primer

3.  World Hunger

“Would food be considered an instrument of national power? … Is the U.S. prepared to accept food rationing to help people who can’t/won’t control their population growth?”  Henry Kissinger in National Security Study Memorandum 200, 1974

So now that we stopped producing so much corn for ethanol the crisis is over, right?  Food prices have come down and the pressure farmers had last year is off.  No!  Instead, the real issues behind the food crisis where not addressed and so the food crisis is deepening and worsening.   Yet, it is out of the media.  It seems that, with ethanol no longer a threat, the food crisis is no longer needs to be covered.

Yet one billion people go hunger every day.  We are told this is due to food scarcity and overpopulation.  This is despite the fact that the world produces more per capita food than it ever has (4.3 lb/person/day).

There’s enough to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day: two and a half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs.

People starve because they’re victims of an inequitable economic system, not because they’re victims of scarcity and overpopulation.

It’s a myth that most of the food is grown in the rich countries. The US, for instance, is the world’s biggest-ever food IMPORTER. “US exports of corn and other grains for human food to reduce malnutrition and starvation” is another myth. Most US grain exports go to feed livestock, not humans. Much of it is also used as feedstock for industry. It can also undercut local food production, leading to less local food security, not more.    



  1. The US and the other industrialised countries are the world’s major food importers, importing 71% of the total value of food items in world trade (Handbook of International Trade and Development Statistics 1994 (New York and Geneva: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 1995), table 3.2).      
  2. The US imports about $1.5 billion worth of beef a year (Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO Trade Yearbook 1995, vol. 49 (Rome: FAO, 1996), 160, table 12).      
  3. The US imports 54% more in farm commodities than it exports (FAO Trade Yearbook 1995, table 6), much of it from countries where the majority lack a healthy diet. The US is in fact the biggest food importer the world has ever seen.      

 Journey to Forever

  • For every one ton of US corn exported in 1996 to one of the 25 countries with the world’s most serious malnutrition problems (Category 5 countries, with at least 35 percent of the population undernourished), 260 tons were exported to a wealthy Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country.      
  • 20 percent of the total US corn crop is exported; two-thirds of these exports go directly to the 28 industrial OECD countries, where it is mostly used for feeding animals.      
  • 76 percent of the corn used in the US is used for animal feed.      
  • Less than three-tenths of one percent of total US corn exports went to the poor Category 5 countries in 1996.      
  • Less than three percent of total US corn exports in 1996 went to the 24 Category 4 countries (where undernourishment affects at least 20 percent of the population).      
  • More US corn goes to make alcoholic beverages in the US than is exported to feed the hungry in the world’s 25 most undernourished countries combined.      
  • About one-third of the total US soybean crop is exported; 70 percent of US soybean exports went to 28 industrial OECD countries in 1996.      
  • No soybeans were exported to Category 5 countries in 1996, while 17.8 million metric tons went to OECD countries.      
  • In 1998, a year of record-low soybean prices, the 25 most undernourished countries received less than 0.027 percent of total US soybean exports.  Journey to Forever      

As it turns out if a substantial amount of feed corn had been used for ethanol production, then the starch from the corn would have gone to make ethanol while the rest of the corn could still be fed to cattle.  In fact it might even be better for cattle seeings as the high starch content in grain gives them gas.

Ethanol distillation takes only the 31.5 pounds of starch.  The rest — germ, protein, feed, and gluten meal — are suitable for many animal and human food requirements. Anything a cattle herd needs from a meal of corn — the widest use of the stuff — it will get after the ethanol has been distilled out. It’s entirely possible that we’d be doing the world a favor by exporting corn protein as liquid by-products rather than as tons of high-starch dry corn kernels. The 31.5 pounds of starch, by the way, yields, in addition to two and a half gallons of 200-proof       alcohol, 17 pounds of carbon dioxide, useful in the carbonation of soft drinks and in refrigeration systems. In Defense of Alcohol

Vital proteins in feed grains remain after       distillation. It’s even arguable that the protein in wet mash or dry pulp form is more easily       transported and refined.  In Defense of Alcohol


In truth the reason that Exxon and Shell find ethanol threatening is because they can not control it.  Grains, including corn, can be grown world wide.  In can be grown in large agribusiness acreage as well as by back yard farmers.  The technology to make ethanol is as old as man and does not require a complicated refinery.  In other words, it fails one very important requirement that the big oil companies were looking for…control.  They would not be able to make ethanol the monopoly that oil has been.  They would rather make gas out of coal even though that would be a disaster for the environment.

It takes four units of coal to get out one unit of       electricity. But the reason we do this is because electricity is a very viable energy source.       You can distribute it easily. The same thing is true of liquid fuels. It’s very difficult to       use coal in your car, or wood in your car, or cheese whey in your car.  In Defense of Alcohol

Alcohol, incidentally, has a better       conversion rate than if you tried to liquefy coal into one of the new synthetic gasolines that       Gulf is making. In Defense of Alcohol

Internationally, such a system could actually help third world countries pull themselves up from poverty actually decreasing world hunger.

Economic growth is projected as the road to overcome global poverty. With economic growth of $100 the rich 20% of the world population pocket $83 and the poorest 20% get $1.40. Global economic growth is therefore a highly inefficient way to help the global poor.

In probably the most comprehensive study to date, Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker and other researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that economic growth and rates of improvement in life expectancy, child mortality, education levels and literacy all declined in the era of global corporatization (1980-2000) compared to 1960-1980. “For economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades… The poorest group went from a per capita GDP growth rate of 1.9 percent annually in 1960-80, to a decline of 0.5 percent per year (1980-2000). By almost every measure, the progress achieved in the two decades of globalization has been considerably less than the progress in the period from 1960 to 1980”, especially in the low and middle-income countries. Millions of people who could have escaped a lifetime of poverty under the former rules of market economics under democratic limits were unable to do so under the new rules of global corporate governance. Journey to Forever

As for poor countries, local production of biofuels from locally grown crops, where appropriate, can cut dependence and cash expenditure on imported fuels, increase community self-reliance, and provide a spur for local job creation and growth. It can also cut dependence on fuel wood, which is often scarce and causes immense health problems through indoor air-pollution. And, as we’ve seen above, growing biofuels crops can encourage food-crop production rather than reducing it. Journey to Forever

What the advocates of ethanol have envisioned is a far cry from the monopolistic relationship we have with oil companies today.  In fact what David Blume and others have envisioned fits more with the ideas presented in this blog than many other proposals for global warming.  They are trying to create a system of small farms manufacturing ethanol for about 100 families at a time.  Not just growing corn to do this but using a variety of waste products to make the ethanol.  Sort of a CSA for fuel.  This would make each such ethanol community energy independent.  Blume has actually started this movement and has over 100 such small ethanol producers.  Learn more about his movement at Alcohol Can Be a Gas.



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