Last week My Conservative Friend was railing on about how they use sugar cane for fuel in South America and by God why isn’t America running its cars on American corn? I had to explain to him that actually we are, we do, and we have: and some of us don’t think it’s a good thing to turn our food into fuel. Not when people are going hungry, not when food prices are going up, not when Wall Street speculation on corn prices causes price spikes, and most of all not when corn fuels are so energy-intensive to produce that they don’t really solve our energy problems or the climate change problem.
He was completely unaware of the whole ethanol thing, how we now mix ethanol with gasoline. I couldn’t remember how much, but I did remember that it was a couple years ago that Congress mandated higher ethanol content in gasoline, and I remembered some people raising a big stink about it because ethanol can tear up some engines, especially things like lawnmowers. And I remember gas pumps have a big sticker on them indicating the percent of ethanol content in all gasoline. So how someone like My Conservative Friend can fill up his big gas-guzzling SUV with gas every week but not be aware that it’s mixed with ethanol is a little mind-boggling to me.
Over at Grist I saw this article which says 40% of all U.S. corn produced goes into our gas tanks. That’s a lot of corn, and I have to say, even I didn’t realize it was that high.
One of the things that frustrates me about our world today is that people are being increasingly asked to engage in the public discourse, yet they are not given the information they need to do so with any level of accuracy. It’s like the Powers That Be want people to be uninformed, but they also want people to be engaged. I guess it’s easier to manipulate an uninformed populace, and giving people politics instead of news and opinion instead of information is the modern-day “bread and circuses” which makes us feel like we are involved in our democracy without actually having control over anything.
I mean, seriously. How can we have a discussion about national energy policy when people don’t even know that American gasoline is mixed with corn ethanol? How can our opinions be valid when we aren’t even informed about what our government is currently doing?
Anyway, Grist calls corn ethanol “the boondoggle that won’t die,” and it’s hard to disagree:
What’s frustrating isn’t that the government is investing in alternative liquid fuels. It’s that, national security be damned, we’re barking up the wrong energy tree: All the data point to ethanol being a climate dead end. And it’s a dead end that’s eating our food. Yet the government finds ways to keep the money flowing towards ethanol. It’s truly the boondoggle that just won’t die.
There is an education gap that makes debating public policy issues so difficult. All the Republicans have to do is come up with some amygdala-triggering slogan: “Nuke The Ragheads!”, “Drill Here, Drill Now!” and “America Fuck Yeah!” None of these things educate people about the world as it is, policies that are currently in place, or the issues that these policies raise. But they do provide an emotional release.
The Left operates on the assumption that people already know what policies are in place, what issues they present, and let’s talk about what we need to do. And we get nowhere.