Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ethanol is not the answer

As gasoline prices continue to climb, people are understandably upset. (Why they aren't more upset with a government that steals half their money is another matter.) In situations like this, all the usual myths about energy are trotted out once again.

One such myth is that ethanol is a solution to our nation's energy needs. A Congressman has sponsored legislation to mandate more ethanol in our gasoline. However, this simply won't work. A recent post at Human Events points out that ethanol mandates actually make things worse. In addition, studies have shown that a gallon of ethanol requires more than a gallon of gasoline to produce. Using ethanol not only wastes money, it wastes gasoline.

Sometimes ethanol is defended as a solution to our dependence on foreign oil, since it is produced domestically. But we need oil to produce ethanol. Barring drastic and unlikely changes to the state of the world, we will never be independent of foreign sources of energy, anyways. What ethanol really is is disguised welfare for farmers.

The lack of economic understanding in this country is highly destructive. It ought to be obvious that people will naturally choose the cheapest way of accomplishing a given job. Hence the most efficient source of energy is whatever people freely choose to use. If ethanol were really a viable energy source, then people would choose to use it without government subsidies and mandates. What sense does it make for the government to pay people to waste money? The case of ethanol is one more example of how government just makes things worse.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

allan,

No one in their right mind would freely choose to subsidize your public college education. If left to the free market, higher education would still be a privalege of the wealthy. This state has a long history of subsidizing public education. Be it the k-12 system hashed out under an oak tree in Marshall in 1834 or the founding of the University of Michigan in 1817 or MSU's record of being the first land grant college, this state has subsidized education. Was that a mistake? Your last post ripped Joe Schwarz for not subsidizing WMU enough. Now you are ripping Fred Upton for subsidizing automotive fuel production. I guess you are only against government intervention if it has little to do with your personal gain.

Dan said...

Allan, I have to disagree with you that our country will never be independent of foreign sources of energy. I personally think we could if the tree huggers would shut their mouths and let people who care about Americans get the job done. Afterall, there's enough oil in ANWR to stop importing from Saudi Arabia (where we get most of our oil) for the next 20 years.

The thing with the whole gas issue is I think America's been going around these high prices all wrong. We're trying to reinvent the wheel here. (As much as I hate to say it) Look at Europe. They've been dealing with really high gas prices for a long time. So what have they done that's available right now to help with these prices? Not E-85. Gas-electrics haven't caught on too much. But here's a quick list of things they do to get more from their gas:

1. Small cars. Physics says that it takes more energy to move a large object. All of these people who use SUVs to get around a city get no sympathy from me.

2. Manual transmissions. Cars with a manual transmission gets about 1-3 MPG better than an automatic. It may not seem like much, but over the life of a car, the difference can near hundreds to thousands of dollars.

3. Diesel. Diesel isn't the loud and dirty technology it used to be. It's now my choice of fuel. For example, a BMW 330d (the d in the name represents diesel) gets better gas mileage (I want to say 10-15 MPG) and has better low end torque than the 330i (the gas version we have in the states). The Mercedes E320 CDI (a turbocharged diesel) gets 27 city and 37 highway with a range of 780 miles per tank. Not bad for a 3,800 lb car.

The fact of the matter, America could be extremely energy efficient today. But for some reason (I'm going to blame a lack of a clue on the part of the general public) we choose not to be.

Allan said...

Where did I ever say that I support government subsidies for higher education?

Allan said...

I certainly agree with Dan about ANWR. However, we don't get most of our oil from Saudi Arabia. If I remember correctly, it's actually more like 10%.

High gas prices in Europe are the result of high taxes. I don't think that taxes of several dollars per gallon are something that we want to import from Europe.

Small cars definitely save gas, but at a price. Small cars are also less safe. Your risk of dying in a crash is greater in a small car.

I certainly believe that we can become less dependent on foreign oil. However, given that we use much more than third world countries, complete independence isn't going to happen. Positive steps that we can take include producing more domestically are reducing government regulations.

Dan said...

I phrased it wrong. We import more oil from Saudi Arabia than any other country, it's not our primary source.

And the issue with small cars being safe is a matter of design more than scale. For example a four point harness is safer than a 3 point with an air bag (the current setup we use in cars). Also I'm not mainly talking about extremely compact cars like the Ka. I'm just talking about cars that aren't 2 ton SUVs. And you're right. We don't need to bring over their high gas taxes.

And you're right, we probably never will become completely independent of foreign oil, but it would be nice if we starting getting a little more from home. Afterall, we did buy Alaska, how about we get some use out of it?

Steve-0 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

If you cry about a lack of funding for WMU one day, it seems disingenuous to pretend the next day that you would eliminiate government funding of schools. Admit it, you like your piece of the pie. Don't let the dogma get in the ways of reality.

Eric Statler said...

America - right now - could not deal with high oil prices the way Europe has. Europe is much more urban, and the culture befits using mass transit on a daily basis. America on the other hand, is not at a point where only a small (comparatively) percentage of the people drive cars daily. American love to drive. We have to! We drive longer distances to go to the store to buy groceries. We travel much more for basis daily needs than our European friends (friends?). Oil is taxed a heck of a lot more in Europe, which is why in Britain it costs 8 or 9 bucks a gallon. But taxes, and government regulations, still impact prices a great deal in America. For example, if America had one standard for different grades of gas throughout the country, prices would come down (a LITTLE bit). But hey, I just look forward to the day when some smart American invents the energy aparatus that replaces gasoline. Then I can buy stock in their company!