Last week I tried to give you some ideas on fuel-saving behaviors. You are all having to pay more at the pump, but the issue of fuel is much bigger than the pain at the pump everyone is feeling these days.


Last week I tried to give you some ideas on fuel-saving behaviors. You are all having to pay more at the pump, but the issue of fuel is much bigger than the pain at the pump everyone is feeling these days. You know there is a scramble to reduce your dependence on foreign oil by developing alternative fuel sources, and the first generation of alternative fuels, ethanol (alcohol) seemed good at the time but we have learned that there is a real downside to all that corn that’s as high as an elephant’s eye. People and animals eat it too and the competition for corn has increased the price of just about everything you hold near and dear, like your steak at the back yard barbecue. Luckily, flies don’t eat corn.
So, you have quickly learned that the solutions to a problem that sound good at the time can, and often do, have consequences that are dire. It’s the law of unintended consequences. Ethanol consumes more energy to produce than does oil. So now there is talk of the second generation of alternative fuel and green energy made from non-food crops like reeds and wild grasses. It is thought that these would offer fuel without the risk of taking food off the table. They are easy to grow and need little attention, and that is what creates their invasion potential. For example, there is a giant food crop that holds much promise and has been greeted with enthusiasm by investors. It is being opposed in some botanical sectors as too thirsty, draining neighboring wetlands, and highly flammable.
There are biologists and botanists that are warning of serious unintended consequences because most of these newer crops are invasive species ... weeds to you. These are crops that have the potential to escape the plantations and overrun adjacent farms, creating environmental havoc. Controlling the spread of such plants could be difficult and create greater financial losses than gains. Think kudzu in the southeastern United States. It is estimated that the damage caused by invasive species if $1.4 trillion a year, or 5 percent of the global economy. But it is also known that these plants can be managed safely and be a boon to the global economy.
All of this is to say that there are pluses and minuses with just about every issue in this environmental debate. There are the bottom-line pressures that work for a quick return on the investment and there are those experts who say “slow down” and look at the long-term problems. Think ethanol. There is a sense of urgency today to bring new technologies of many kinds into the marketplace but that may prove to be ultimately counterproductive. The best any of you humans can do is to try to educate yourselves and make informed decisions and opinions. I have a good illustration of how easily you can form conclusions based on partial information, but I’ll write about that next week.
Right now I am going to catch flies. My life is so much simpler than yours.