5-28-2007 Ethanol or: the lack thereof

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”--Dean Wormer

With this big ethanol push gaining more and more momentum at a dizzying pace, I gleefully jumped on board for the ride. And why shouldn’t I have? Imagine what this country would be like if it were to finally claw it’s way to energy independence. I did. And I’d like to live in such a place.

Although, after doing some necessary reading, it’s painfully obvious to me that it’s going to be a very short ride if it‘s powered by ethanol. The deal is, the mass production of affordable ethanol ain’t going to happen. So I guess we’ll either have to get used to paying $??? for a gallon of gasoline, or invade some oil-rich country that hasn’t upgraded it’s Soviet-era T-72 battle tanks since they were first purchased long before MTV was launched to rape the minds of teenagers.

The long and short of it is, barring that aforementioned occupation and harvesting of another countries resources, affordable energy is a thing of the past. And the life-altering question facing all of us serfs is, what to do about it?

Well, I guess the possible answers depend on how high the price of gasoline, crude oil and natural gas actually goes. What the politicians won’t tell you is that alternative energies are just as expensive to produce as the time-tested rotting dinosaur variety. But despite knowing that, they keep making hollow speeches about the pressing need to embrace that which will never come about in any appreciable sense. Put simply, they are lying to you. And deep down, you have to know as much. You do.

So, we’re back to what to do about it.

Whether it’s a howling Republican or a scowling Democrat, you must know that they don’t really care what lifestyle changes you will have to endure. That is, until you blame one of them in particular and stop voting for them. If the political status quo stays roughly as it is, they could care less if your kids are raised on generic macaroni ‘n’ cheese and sliced franks imported from China. Until you cause a sizeable ripple in the political cosmos, they’ll be fine with you eating the scraps they wouldn’t wish upon their personal servants they imported from Mexico. So don’t look to them for relief when the life you built for yourself begins to become unaffordable to you.

What will you do when the soaring price of energy demands that life as you knew it is no longer possible? Will you call WILK and bitch? Blame the sitting president, perhaps? Maybe you could buy into the latest conspiracy theory making the rounds on the internet. Will you trade the gas-guzzling domestic for the gas-guzzling import that guzzles just a little bit slower? Call DirecTV and tell them to get the dish off of the porch roof? Tell the kids you can’t afford Little League anymore? Seriously, if this unstable world of ours gets a just a bit more unstable sending oil prices to previously unheard of heights, what would you do about it?

If you built one of those 6,000-square-foot mansions in the forest so as to get away from those black people you secretly detest, if you’re carrying a mortgage that exceeds the gross national product of most of the countries in Africa, you may want to find that handgun of yours and point it at where your tonsils used to be. No, the gargantuan in-ground pool, the central air, the all terrain vehicles, the 5,000-pound SUVs and the pretty lights dispersed throughout your lavish shrubbery show don’t use much energy, do they? Nah, and neither does that stupid hot tub you installed right next to the 100-inch plasma television you bought and parked on the back deck, right next to the 3-door bottle cooler the wife bought you for your 50th birthday. Oh, and the long commute to work each and every day doesn’t cost you much, does it? Although, even if it does, it still beats living in the same neighborhood with those off-color people.

Or does it?

The reality is, you’ve got one political party that will not allow any microscopic part of this country to be opened for oil exploration. Their political base, the grant-fed junk scientists and the well-meaning ignorant, demand that they do as much. Save the snails, but forget Little League this year. We want cheap energy, but we don’t want a single tree, or a rare species of grass harmed in the process. We can’t get through a single day without the hair dryer, but we vehemently oppose the construction of nuclear power plants. We want gasoline to be cheaper than a pack of Razzles, but we don’t want a gasoline refinery built anywhere near our neighborhood. Why can’t they build it right next to that disturbing public housing project? Even though solar power is prohibitively expensive, we should encourage it’s utilization at nearly every turn. And, yes, wind power is almost free, readily available and abundant and friendly to the oh so precious environment we now pray to, but if those big turbine blades kill a couple of diseased-ridden pigeons, well…then we’re also vehemently opposed to that. In short, from here on out, these sorts of people should be referred to as assholes. Yes, we’re all entitled to our sound byte-based opinions, but some of us are assholes. Assholes with one hand on the electrical cord and the other hand on the gas pump.

Then we’ve got that other political party that is purported to be in cahoots with the dreaded oil industry. They claim that other political party blocks the long-overdue construction of new oil refineries at every turn, yet, the oil industry itself readily admits that importing prohibitively expensive refined oil is still cheaper than building those much-needed oil refineries on American soil. In other words, the free market demands that you and I must pay significantly more than we otherwise should for the sake of their profit margins. But, with so many of our major employers being publicly traded on the stock market, the well-being of the customers, the lives of the employees and doing the right thing in general place a distant, distant second to the price of the stock. The almighty dollar matters more than some far-fetched notion of energy independence, or whatever it is that would ensure our livelihoods. So, if you think throwing your support behind one ideologically-bent political party over the other will keep the foot massager relatively inexpensive to operate, you are sadly mistaken.

So, we’re back to what to do about it.

Can you afford to keep pumping your paychecks directly into your gas tanks? I filled my F-250 the other day and it cost my employer a quick $100. Yeah, I can laugh my way all the home since I commute practically everywhere by bicycle, but if my employer is taking a serious beating at the gas pump, sooner or later, I’m going to take a financial hit, as well as my customers. And what happens when the price of gasoline approaches $4 a gallon? And what if Iran tries to close the Straight of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf, as some sort of suicidal response to the maneuvers of the U.S. Navy just offshore? Is $5 a gallon possible? Is the unthinkable--pick a number--$? a gallon in our immediate future when the complete lunatics running Iran into the ground finally militarily confront the Great Satan they manufactured to keep their populace pumped-up with nationalistic pride in an on-going and successful attempt to keep their focus on anything but their mundane lives delivered by their inept government?

What happens to your personal finances when some barely-educated Iranian patrol boat commander commanding a crew of eight barely-educated, ill-trained sailors stupidly decides to fire an ill-advised shot over the bow of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that displaces over 100,000 tons? Are you prepared for that? Have you given it any thought? All of your hard work, your plans for the future and the new deck you were planning on installing can go Poof! in an instant. This so-called, interconnected worldwide economy has increasingly transferred our economy into being a literal house of cars just waiting to collapse with the very first major shock to the system. And if you’ve been paying attention to current events at all, that first major shock to the economic system seems entirely possible, if not probable. As far as I’m concerned, you can count on it. Plan for it. CNN will love it when it comes, but we won’t.

What to do about it?

Well, there are those who will tell you that you can’t live your life that way, you know, planning for the coming apocalypse and whatnot. But, when the coming apocalypse is but an errant patrol boat shot away, it suggests to me that maybe we are too selfish, too completely self-absorbed and too committed to demanding that we should live the good, good life while most of the rest of the world toils away in abject poverty in war zones soaked in blood. Images of Iraqi children with gaping holes where their under-nourished brains used to be is somewhat upsetting, but not nearly upsetting as a rolling blackout, or a brownout would be. Imagine that, no American Idol. Suicide rates would surely soar.

And thankfully so.

Sure, the image of a Somali family cropped tightly together and closely resembling a bar code stamp on a pack of cigarettes is somewhat upsetting, but not nearly as upsetting as having to scale-back our exorbitant lifestyles. Flies on the little boy’s face in some remote village in Mozambique? Yeah, that is troubling to some minor degree, but what is George Bush going to do about the price of gasoline? At this rate, with the price of gas straining my budget the way it is, I’ll never be able to afford one of those ridiculously self-indulgent home theaters that even Arthur C. Clarke himself couldn’t have possibly envisioned.

Yes, the all too frequent mass-death events, the wholesale destruction of societies and the genocidal atrocities are a problem that the think-tanks need to address after they figure out whether Jesus was into gay sex or not, but if the pump in my back yard fish pond craps out due to some unexpected power grid anomaly, I’m going to be hopping mad, on the blower and demanding answers right quick. If my giant gold fish die, I will sue somebody.

Totally unacceptable!

So we’re back to what to do about it.

Honestly, I’m completely used to being surrounded by fat, drunk people, but the stupid thing has always bothered me. And at this point in time, we probably need to smarten up and realize that we’ve had it artificially too good for far too long now. They starve, they fight for scraps we wouldn’t offer to our overweight dogs, and then we wonder aloud long and hard about how they came to hate us. We send a check to some Catholic charity and feel good about ourselves for having done so, but feeding one of the starving millions amounts to little more than applying gauze to the exposed brain stem of a decapitated head.

What to do about it?

Face it, there’s nothing you, I or any politician can do about it. What we are facing is a declining standard of living. And short of moving to some section of the country where energy is much less of a factor whereas our personal finances are concerned, we had better get used to the fact that our “leaders” played partisan politics with our livelihoods for far too long, when what they should have been doing was putting in place a long-term energy plan that was doable and in the best interests of everyone involved. They did nothing of the sort, and now we’re going to have to pay for their repeated failures.

Here’s the gig:

We cannot drill for oil. We cannot build more refineries. We cannot construct nuclear power plants. We cannot tolerate wind turbines killing pigeons. We cannot personally afford tapping into solar power. And we cannot produce enough ethanol to go on living the beyond cushy life we’re currently living. Be it corn, beets, or cast-off cellulose-based materials…it just ain’t happening. And anybody who tells you that ethanol is the cure-all is a new-age Elmer Gantry.

What to do about it?

Move back to the city, walk to the corner store for the first time in decades, rethink the enormity of your daily commute, scale back your financial outlays and reduce your outstanding debts. Take the bus to Sprawl-Mart and buy yourself an imported bicycle.

Whether you like it or not, the “white flight” exodus out of town is about to end. You may be fat and stupid, but the world in which we live in is demanding that we sober up. And while that may suck, it is what it is: reality.

Some necessary reading:

Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels

The Many Myths of Ethanol

As for myself, I’m just itching to get out there on my leg-powered Hummer once again. Same as I always was: mobile no matter what. And unless they discover how to produce cheap and overly abundant energy from used condoms or something else in such great supply, I’m thinking that very many of you will eventually do the unthinkable: ride a bicycle.

Anyway, buck up, kiddies.