Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Future's all Yours

The Future's all Yours, You Lousy Bicycles
© 2006, Ross Williams

Ideologues are funny, funny people.

That's the cynic's code for "clueless hypocrites".

Robert Redford wrote an op-ed piece about E85, and which was pasted on cnn.com this morning[1]. Having just written about E85 myself, I read his bit to see what he had to say on the subject. He's academically correct, of course. Being dependent upon petroleum in order to get to work has required us to buy it from people we’d rather not deal with, at their prices, et cetera. If we had another fuel source, one that used an American product, we could save money, employ Americans who’d pay taxes, not be in so much foreign and fiscal debt, et cetera. We’d be causing less self-righteous indignation among the Global Warmers and other environmentalists, not to mention less damage to the environment, et cetera.

On paper it all looks very good. It was most likely designed to look good on paper. E85, the savior of the Futureworld. Any solution should, though, look good somewhere other than paper, and I’m not sure their solution does. It would cost too much; not necessarily in dollars, but in ideological distress.

Mister Sundance Kid directs our attention to an activist website to funnel our outrage against the “big oil” chimera[2]. Here on this website you will find the snide, backhanded swipes at the easy target [Dubya]; direct, forehanded swipes at the convenient targets [“big oil” and CEOs of same]; pleas for donations; self-congratulatory lauds of the “coalition partners”; and an on-line form-letter to whine at the convenient target for being the problem.

E85 is the mission of this activist coven, and E85 is a good idea. So it isn’t the intentions of these masturbatory twits that lodges sideways in rational minds causing grave discomfort. Their problem is the sanctimoniousness, the smug self-righteousness, the superficiality. In short, their problem is them.

They haven’t thought out the full implications of the “energy problem” before declaring the causes of it and deciding the solutions to it. They haven’t even thought out partial implications before doing so. These anti-big-oil ideologues have simply decided, as so many have before[3], that the problem is “big oil” and the politicians which support same.

In doing so, they’ve presumed that “big oil” is the equal-n-opposite ideologues to the anti-big-oil ideologues.

One problem: they aren’t. “Big oil” does not have an ideological imperative to obliterate every last drop of oil on the planet; their purpose is to convert petroleum into cash. They’d be willing to convert anything into cash, frankly. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

Oh, no, I’m sorry; we would never lower ourselves to profit on auto fuel made out of hydrogen, or alcohol or even chicken shit; our earthly mission is to refine every last smidge of petroleum, bwa-hahahahaha! We’ll go broke if we need to. We must refine oil… Oil… oil… must... refine… oil…

Sorry, but that’s retarded.

They’re in it for the money, not the ideology.

If auto fuel made from bird droppings were profitable, you’d see Texaco and Chevron all over it with poop scooper-bearing engineers. What it would take to make such a fuel profitable is customers to buy it and pour it into their gas tanks. And, of course, customers will only buy it if they think they’re getting a good deal.

That’s it.

Nothing more.

Texaco and Chevron don’t like buying raw materials from dubious foreign suppliers with bad tempers and anti-American sentiments any more than you like having them buy raw materials from dubious foreign suppliers with bad tempers and anti-American sentiments. They’d just as soon get their raw materials from peevish American suppliers with an over-priced union labor force.

The problem with peevish American suppliers providing our raw materials is not simply the over-priced union labor force. Nor is it simply the hobbling effect of the burdensome federal and state regulatory agencies imposing layer upon layer of [I laugh at this word] “oversight”. Nor is it simply the sneering self-superior ideologues making sanctimonious declarations about “big oil” claiming it to be some corporate boogey-man intent on planet-raping and resource-plundering – the latter-day equivalent of yanking Tokyo’s skyscrapers up by the roots and eating them whole.

All of those are part of the problem, but not the biggest part of the problem – even combined.

The biggest part of the problem is that petroleum has huge amounts of energy stored in it, and the work of storing that energy was done by mother nature; the energy is also very easy to get out again. This makes energy made from petroleum very inexpensive compared with other forms of energy in which we and our industry must do most of the work. Work costs money.

Scratch that; work done by humans costs money, work done by nature comes free. The work of putting energy into petroleum was done for us by nature. We only have to work to get the energy out of it. In order to use alcohol as energy we have to first work to make alcohol out of sugar. We must also work to make sugar out of corn.[4] All this work makes alcohol more expensive.

Which means that the condensed version of the biggest problem of getting away from petroleum is that consumers don’t want to buy something more expensive; in other words, consumers aren’t getting a good deal on it. “Big oil” would just as soon make it, but they need people to buy it. That’s why, until the war in Iraq, and Iran’s and Venezuela’s snit-fit-having, and Nigeria’s political decomposition, ethanol as an economically viable substitute for gasoline was not an option.

Again, “big oil” is in it for the money. Not a hard concept to wrap your brain around.

…unless you’re an ideologue who, by nature, doesn’t have much of a brain to start with. Or a socialist who, by nature, is an ideologue and, well, et cetera.

So let’s eschew the ideology. Getting the US off the foreign oil addiction and the greenhouse gas gravy train requires, again, exceedingly mundane and prosaic sacrifices … of everyone, not just those of us who [proudly] drive SUVs.

The sacrifices which need to be made by individuals, and mostly those who claim to want less foreign oil and fewer greenhouse gases, are, generally as follows:

1] pompous neo-suburbanites must move back to the cities, plow under their 3,000 square foot manses and leave room for corn to grow;
2] we must penalize those who turn agricultural land into residential or commercial zoning;
3] voters must reduce local governments’ addiction to property tax revenues from rezoning agricultural land as residential and commercial by asking local governments to do less for us;
4] environmentalists must welcome chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides as the means by which more corn can be grown on less land, and resist their natural impulse to file tear-stained lawsuits;
5] everyone[5] must start signing YIMBY petitions to attract the smelly and waste-making ethanol distilleries to their neighborhoods;
6] everyone, including our obstructionist regulatory agencies, must allow Big Business, including that heinous subset “big oil”, to do what it does best: efficient large-scale production for profit.

“Big oil” wants to profit from their efforts to make auto fuel. If people and regulations don’t get in the way of making E85 cheaply, “big oil” will manufacture it for us; if people buy E85 once made, it’ll make money for the manufacturer. Basic, garden variety capitalism.

But that’s a bad thing. For the main problem with “big oil” seems not to be that it deals with petroleum, but that it’s “big” and generates profits for itself without sharing[6]. The subtext of nearly all environmentalist groups and many of the faux-foreign policy “experts” who gather at Happy Hour to solve the world’s problems is that “big”, when followed by “business”, is bad.

If and when “big oil” converts to E85, it’ll still be “big” and generating profits for itself, and that will become the second-wave criticism: “’Big oil’ only went to environmentally-safe, domestic fuel when they could make money from it, just like the selfish corporate bastards they are!”

Well, frankly, duh.

If it worked any other way than that we wouldn’t have fuel much less the cars to put it in, nor would we have the corporations we all work for, which we need to drive to every day, so we can earn the money that buys us those cars and the fuel to drive them. Instead, we’d be subsistence farmers with a life-expectancy of 55, watching the sky for signs of weather.

You know, it could be worse. You get a lot more for your money in Bolivia, I checked on it.[7]

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/05/30/redford.oil/index.html
[2] http://kicktheoilhabit.org/
[3] i.e., the “real problem”® is Detroit won’t build the right cars; the government won’t impose higher fuel economy standards, etc.
[4] …or any other plant material. Brazil, which is a completely E85 nation, uses sugar cane, for example. Corn is North America’s most plentiful high-sugar crop.
[5] I’m thinking mainly of Californians, here…
[6] with people other than shareholders.
[7] http://imdb.com/title/tt0064115/quotes


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