Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Burning Up Another Crisis

Among the various “morality stories” that parents regularly recite to their children is the Tortoise and the Hare. Its point is that steadfast effort gets one to the goal more reliably than does off and on spurts of work..

Similarly, among the universe of land navigating mammals in machines, today – even with the price per gallon of gasoline (or gasoline and ethanol) racing toward the $4 mark – one can still encounter the “jack-rabbit” at the nearby stop light: gear in neutral or disengaged by the clutch; other foot alternating between applying and releasing pressure on the accelerator pedal, each molecule of each hand poised to synchronize the hand and leg movements that produce maximum controlled acceleration accompanied by the sounds and smells of burnt/burning rubber and raw gasoline.

For some reason, this past weekend two or three cars were engaged in “laying rubber” at the T road junction where we reside. Normally, I probably would not have alluded to this childishness (a value judgment on my part). But the recent spate of warnings from UN specialized food and relief agencies of a looming shortage of basic foods such as rice and wheat, warnings echoed by non-UN international humanitarian groups of sharply escalating costs as the extent of the shortages becomes more clear, and the beginning of riots and other destructive behavior, point to an eventuality that, should it occur, may cost humanity most of the recent gains against disease and the lengthening of average life spans.

So what does this have to do with laying rubber? One other factor came into play – the administration’s self-congratulatory announcement that by 2017, U,S, automobile fleets will have to attain overall fuel consumption standards of 35.7 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 28.6 miles per gallon for light trucks. Current conventional technology plus hybrids coming on the market could beat the administration’s timeline easily, according groups who track technology improvements. That would help cut down on the demand for biomass fuels – particularly corn for ethanol. Yes, the percentage of the diversion may not be large considering the totals harvested, but when you are starving, every ear of maize so diverted could well be a life lost.

So when government pats itself on the back for setting standards achievable in past decades or when fuel is burned simply to create a shrill sound and a noxious scent, both seem a form of stealing from those who are most at risk.

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