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AuntiePinko Donating Member (46 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 12:16 AM
Original message
Am I Green Enough?
Dear Auntie Pinko,

Where do liberals get off jumping on other liberals for not being liberal enough? I just traded in a big old gas-guzzler for a car that runs on ethanol, and was told that if I really wanted to do something to save the environment Id be biking to work. Apparently (according to this oh-so-politically-correct environut) ethanol is just as bad as gasoline because it takes as much oil, or produces as much carbon or something, to manufacture and distribute ethanol as it does to use gas! Is that true?

And even if it is true, shouldnt we be re-directing those profits away from the old oiligarchy, and cant we at least take some steps toward developing and using alternatives even if theyre not perfect yet? Can we ease up a little on the youre not good enough yet talk amongst ourselves on the left, and do a little encouraging and appreciating for a change?

Cody, WY

Dear Fender,

Auntie understands your frustration, but I also understand the frustration of those who worry about the enormous shell game being played in the hopes of staving off real and substantive change that will save a livable environment for our grandchildren. Our government has shown more interest in making short-term adjustments to preserve the status quo than tackling the tough issues that will spell disaster for our children and grandchildren, and we citizens are far too complicit in letting them get away with this prioritization.

I hope that my highly simplified, very incomplete summary of the fuel issue doesnt cause too many scientists and engineers to herniate themselves laughing, and I hope that if my understanding is completely inaccurate or misleading, someone will correct me. Ill pass such corrections on if its clear Ive really misrepresented these very complicated matters. I dont claim to be a scientist or engineer, but I have been trying to educate myself to be a smarter user and consumer of energy, so here goes.

On the biggest, broadest level of the Universe, energy is all there is, and everything there is, is energy. This energy is stored in matter that has various levels of static stability, everything from minerals which are very stable, to volatile liquids and organic compounds which are pretty un-stable (at least compared with rock!) Energy that is not stable at all is expressed in a lot of ways like heat, light, radio waves, electricity, and so on. As Mr. Carl Sagan once said, We are made of star-stuff, and so basically, here we are, star-stuff trying to figure out how to manipulate other star stuff to do mundane things like wash our clothes and get us to work.

And however you measure it, or whatever form it takes, the amount of energy required to move a mass of X kilograms from point A to point B is always the same. Its just that some of the energy exists in forms that are effectively limited and some in forms that are effectively unlimited. The sun, for example, is an effectively unlimited form of energy to us. Oil is a form that is limited. But since we cant use any form of energy without processing it in some way, an important equation to consider is how much of what forms of energy do we have to manipulate altogether in order to accomplish our goals?

For instance, how much energy is used in getting a gallon of gasoline to our cars fuel tank? How much to find an oilfield and tap it? How much to maintain the drilling equipment and operate it? How much to refine and deliver it to a storage depot? How much to truck it to your gas station? And what are the sources and limits on all that energy?

The same questions apply to ethanol. How much energy is required to grow the crops and harvest them? How much to deliver the raw materials to the production plant? How much to process the materials into fuel, and then deliver them to a retailer? What are the sources and limits on that energy?

The same questions even apply to the electric power that charges battery cells for electric cars (and the energy used in creating and replacing those cells,) and if you want to carry it that far the costs of producing and delivering the food, etc., that enable a commuter to bicycle to work!

All of this will make you dizzy if you think about it long enough, but it does provide a starting point for understanding the true energy costs of various forms of fuel. It gets more complicated still when you move beyond the basic question of whether a source of energy is limited in amount or in the ability of our technology to access it, and factor in the human priorities that dominate the process of energy production. Questions of power, control, profit, etc., confuse and muddy the issues even further.

It is complicated and it can be time-consuming and frustrating to think about all of these things when were not used to having to think about it. Weve had the incredible luxury of thinking only about whether we have enough cash to fill up the tank today, without consideration for the web of long-term tangible and intangible costs and factors. Weve become so accustomed to that luxury of not having to think about it that many of us regard it almost as a natural right, and become angry or even hostile as change forces these things into our awareness. We just want to be able to fill up the tank and drive to work without it being some kind of heavy moral or political or social issue.

Its taken the prospect of not having enough resources to do that to wake many of us up to the reality that it is a heavy issue, and one that affects us all. It wont go away, and it wont get better until each and every one of us makes many small changes, and demands that our leadership make bigger changes.

However, with all that said, Fender, I agree with you that negativity, shaming, finger-pointing, accusing, playing the dozens, etc. among those who are naturally our allies can be a very counter-productive tactic. (Not to mention very bad manners, and Auntie puts good manners right up there on the priority list with preserving the ability of our planet to support life!) While your decision to change to an ethanol-using vehicle may not be as greenly correct as becoming a bicycle commuter, you have made an important statement of awareness. It is a step in a positive direction.

If enough people make such steps and statements, there will be great incentive to develop new technologies that manipulate the star stuff to meet our needs without cutting off our planets ability to support our species. So thanks for making that step, Fender, and dont let a little misguided criticism turn you off from learning more, thinking more about these issues, and making more and more choices that will help. And thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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nosmokes Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 02:25 AM
Response to Original message
1. that's a pretty lame ass answer auntie pinko.
the fact is ethanol is jusy gonna be another great corporate welfare program for ADM and monsanto. oh, i get it now. auntie pinko done bought shares in those companies. it's all a conspiracy i tell ya, a bleedin conspiracy!
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sinkingfeeling Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 09:40 AM
Response to Original message
2. I think your answer is right on. People can't and won't jump to the
'greenest' answer...not in this country anyway. And what may save a small bit today or even alot, will be replaced with something better in a few years anyway. The important thing is to get people to think about what we're doing to the planet and its future.
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clydefrand Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 09:49 AM
Response to Original message
3. Food prices need to be figured in the equation, because
it will take millions of acres to grow the corn and/or sugar cane to be used for ethonal.
These will be the same acres that are now used for growing food - so, we don't save much on the fuel (ethonal), but we will sure as hell raise the price on food.
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unpossibles Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-11-06 08:58 AM
Response to Reply #3
13. but only because corn and sugar may not be the best crops to use
there are many sources that are fast growing and/or can grow where corn can't, such as hemp and certain kinds of algae.

Also, I wonder how many people who make this argument would stop eating meat simply because it takes more land to feed and to house the cattle and uses far more water and more energy than a plant-based diet.

Not many, I would bet.
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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 10:08 AM
Response to Original message
4. Part of the environmental problem
comes from the release of sequestered carbon.

When we burn gas in our cars, we are releasing carbon that was taken out of the air and "locked up" millions of years ago.

When we burn ethanol, we are releasing carbon that was locked up last year.

In a perfect world, ethanol would be carbon-neutral, meaning you are not contributing to the rise in atmospheric carbon, but it's not a perfect world. It still takes fossil fuels to grow and transport the corn or whatever. But we're working in the direction of making ethanol from less energy-intensive crops. It's a start.
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DinahMoeHum Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 10:38 AM
Response to Original message
5. Bottom line: there are no "magic bullets" or one solution that fits all
Edited on Thu Aug-10-06 10:39 AM by DinahMoeHum
situations, environments and cultures.

Rather, there will be choices and alternatives galore that can be tailored to fit one region's needs, or a household's, or a community's.

Solar, wind, biodiesel, ethanol, fuel cells, electric cars, hybrids, etc. None of these alone are THE solution. But working in concert together, they will make an impact for the better. They allow each of us to "sweeten our own cup" as it were, instead of preaching and criticizing that one won't work here, or, they better use this there. THAT approach is like dumping a truckload of sugar in the ocean and expecting syrup in return.

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PurpleChez Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 11:58 AM
Response to Original message
6. It's got precious little to do with the meat of the question, but...
I appreciated the writer's comment, "Where do liberals get off jumping on other liberals for not being liberal enough?" because I think this is one reason why the moderate/progressive/liberal majority so often loses to a RW thug minority. It's especially prevelent in a college town (such am my current home, and past ones as well). You might see it more in social/lifestyle matters (such as undergrads trying to out-vegan one another or expecting the congressional Medal of Honor because they ride their bike to class), but it also shows up in politics when you run into folks who (f'rinstance) won't support the pro-choice democrat because he's not pro-choice <i>enough</i>. It might not be right, but many republicans will vote for ANYONE that the GOP puts on the ticket. If they nominated John W Hinkley for president in '08 they'd fall over each other trying to convince the rest of us that he was the single most qualified man in the world to lead the US. But dems so often seem to be void of unity and cohesion. Like Will Rogers said (paraphrasing), "I'm not a member of any organized political party -- I'm a democrat." Which is a smile and all that, but while I don't want anyon to think that they shouldn't advocate for their positions, I wish we could get past the whole bit of trying to one-up each other over our shared progressive goals.
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bluescribbler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 12:01 PM
Response to Original message
7. There is another cost associated with petroleum

Added to the cost of drilling, refining and transporting the fuel, is the cost of protecting the oilfields, shipping lanes, refineries and pipelines. As we see from Georgie W's little adventures in the Middle East, those activities add a lot to the price of gasoline.
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NastyDiaper Donating Member (806 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 01:28 PM
Response to Original message
8. It does not take 15 gallons of oil to produce 15..
Edited on Thu Aug-10-06 01:42 PM by NastyDiaper
..gallons of ethanol. Growing for burning has many negatives (I see being pointed out), but number one importance: the net carbon added from e85 is a fraction of what's added from regular unleaded (see XemaSab's 'sequestered' above).

Claiming ethanol is 'just as bad' as oil is wrong. Regardless of what we burn, the demise of biggie SUV's means we are burning less. More good steps.

Thanks, Auntie. (You Too, Fender)
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ekwhite Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 02:28 PM
Response to Original message
9. Thanks Auntie Pinko, and thanks Fender!
There are some people, such as respondent #1, who think that any solution other than their preferred solution, should be roundly criticized. This type of criticism is just plain rude and counterproductive.

I salute Fender for taking a step in the right direction, even if ethanol does have problems. The more people who take action now, the more likely that a better solution will be found.
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Ikari Gendo Donating Member (46 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 05:52 PM
Response to Original message
10. As a South Dakotan...
... let me say that much ethanol is produced by farmers' co-ops, which are not corporate owned.

Also, ethanol production does not significantly impact food production, because the processed mash can then be sold as cattle feed. The sugars are removed, but most herbivores convert cellulose into sugars, and the rest of the nutrients are almost unchanged. Most of the corn converted into ethanol was destined for cattle feed anyway.

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svpadgham Donating Member (374 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 06:41 PM
Response to Original message
11. Climate and biking distance
are also huge factors. I live in Central Texas, bike 15 miles to work every day, and I'm pretty funky when I get there. Fortunately, that's not an issue where I work. But, if a guy works in an office, he can't go in all sweaty and disgusting. Not every one lives in an urban environment just a bit down the road from work. Car pooling is more of a feasible solution.
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burrowowl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-10-06 08:59 PM
Response to Original message
12. Ethanol is not
a panacea. Burning all the vegetable oil from fast-food and restaurants would be maybe better since it has already been grown and processed.

Off the subject, being a southpaw, I am chagrined that the writer on Aunite Pinko's mast is right-handed, I think the image should be mirrored to show a lefty!

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