Food for Fuel

I have heard of different vegetables being used to create ethanol. The current selection that researchers use are beets, soybeans, and corn. On the surface this sounds like a great idea. Instead of discovering more pockets of oil and converting it to gasoline, why not discover new ways to create different fuels? All of these vegetables are easy to grow. They are renewable unlike oil. We can always grow more beets. We can’t create oil. It is something that once it is used up there isn’t any more. Need more vegetables – just plow another field.

But then I started thinking about it in a different way. This is food for fuel. We are transforming food into fuel. It isn’t that we are transforming something we don’t need like kudzu into fuel. In that situation we would have a win-win. We want to get rid of kudzu. It chokes trees. It destroys landscapes. Or how about crab grass? Scientists can start with my yard. It would save a lot of work for my husband every summer.

Do we really need more energy? Is that the most pressing concern we have going these days? Is fuel more important than food? There are starving people all over the world. How many people are starving or suffer from food insecurity every day? The last report I read is one in four here in America have problems getting enough food. So they can get gasoline to get to the grocery store, but they can’t afford to buy actual, fresh, nutritious food.

But apparently our society thinks we need more fuel, more gasoline. Or rather, we need more ethanol to water down our gasoline. Because our cars don’t actually run on ethanol. As the price of gas keeps going up we notice that the amount of gasoline in our fuel keeps going down. More and more ethanol keeps going in. Some car manufacturers even say that this is dangerous for your car. You could destroy the fuel pump using anything less than pure gasoline, and that kind of damage isn’t covered by that expensive extended warranty you bought.

But what other damage are we wreaking with this insatiable appetite for fuel? People are starving. But instead of being able to fill their mouths, they are able to fill their gas tanks. Somehow we have our priorities reversed.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we need to seriously assess our “need” for so much fuel. My cousins in England rarely have to drive anywhere. There is good public transportation. There are markets in the neighborhood that you can walk to. They don’t have to have a car for most things. Cars are expensive. They are seen as a luxury, unlike here where they are seen as something that every teenager feels he has the right to have.

The price of gasoline keeps fluctuating, yet we don’t seem to see the cliff that we are hurtling towards. We go through the crisis of high gas prices and when it is over everything returns to normal. A lady I know freaks out when it reaches over $4. Every time she says if it stays this high she is going to have to quit her job and find another job closer to home. At the time of the last large spike in gas prices house was 60 minutes away. Now her house is 40 minutes away. Still she complains when the prices begin to creep up. The last time she started in on her litany I pointed out that gasoline is a limited resource. There won’t be more. The price will only continue to go up. So it makes sense to wean ourselves from this addiction. She could take the train for free but she would have to walk two miles from the train station. This is way too much inconvenience for her. Perhaps that is the root of many problems. We want things to change but we don’t want to have to work for the change. And it certainly can’t involve any time or effort on our part.