Sunday, March 30, 2008

Electric cars, people! Electric cars!

Let's start with an interesting article in the NYT:

High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest

What's really interesting is how they carefully manage to avoid mentioning the word "ethanol" anywhere in that article. The closest they come is this, pretty much:
Many rice farmers are turning to more lucrative cash crops, reducing the amount of land devoted to the grain.
The "lucrative cash crops" are those which can be converted into ethanol. They don't say that. But I read another article today which does, in Time magazine, of all places. It's the cover story. Worth reading, or at least looking at (I only read about 3/4 of it).

In short, biofuels need so much vegetable matter to produce that their use is driving up food prices worldwide, as agribusiness shifts towards those crops instead of food-only crops. One unpleasant side effect of this is that it raises the value of food crops, which leads to clearcutting of rainforests, draining of wetlands, etc. There are also some countries which take a more direct route and simply burn down their rain forests to grow palm trees instead. Palm oil is apparently big money these days, in that it's used in a lot of different food products, and can be converted to ethanol. It's estimated that fully 20% of total carbon emissions now are a direct result of ethanol production. In other words, what was supposed to help reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmostphere is actually making the problem a lot worse, and it's causing people to starve to boot. From that standpoint, we'd be better off burning pure gasoline.

As for the other big side effect: Formerly, world hunger was being slowly but surely reduced. No more.

By the way, all the major presidential candidates in the United Staes are totally gung-ho about ethanol. Part of the problem there is Iowa, which is not only home to the first big primary race in the country, but which has also developed such a substantial ethanol production infrastructure that it is now a net importer of corn. Iowa, importing corn. Unbelievable. Needless to say, ethanol is the new god in Iowa, and heaven forbid that any presidential hopeful should fail to toe the line on that issue. Something like over 50,000 jobs in the state depend on its production, which means Iowa would be screwed if the ethanol idea went away.

I shouldn't pick solely on Iowa, though. It's not like they're the only corn-producing, ethanol-producing state in the nation. They're just the best at it.

Electric cars, people. Electric cars.


[Props to Wily at DWS forums for the NYT link.]

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