Energy Reform Needs More than Ethanol

In "Time to Switch Fuels" [by Frank Lingo, 5/15/00 PP], ethanol is suggested as an answer to the looming oil shortage and to pollution. It may be that ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline. However, I remember reading years ago that American agriculture typically uses 10-12 times as much fuel-based energy to produce its crops to point of sale as it gets back out in usable product.

Perhaps certain questions should be asked:. How is the land plowed or prepared on which that corn is grown? Are herbicides used? How are they made, stored, distributed and applied? How is the seed planted? Is it sprayed or dusted? How were the pesticides made and so on -- and what are all their effects down the line? Is the crop fertilized? How are the potash, sulfates, nitrates and trace elements collected, processed, bagged, transported, handled, and applied? How, in some processes, is the nitrogen removed from the air and processed? How is it combined with hydrogen and other elements to make ammonium nitrates and ureas? Is the crop mechanically harvested? Transported? Stored? Refrigerated or gassed? Ground? Processed? Just what is the total energy input:output ratio for ethanol from corn?

A major producer of ethanol, by the way, is Archer Daniels Midland, the same company that insists that the only reason third world farmers go hungry is that there are too many trade barriers to American grain, How many truly independent full time family farmers remain in this country? Last I heard the census no longer counted them. I'd agree that it's time for Big Oil to go. The subsidies and the wars and the pollution are expensive. But I'm not so sure I'd want to replace it with Corporate Corn.

I can think of several better ways to reduce dependency on oil, and lots of reasons:

• Convert cars, trucks, and power plants to natural gas. ... Burning methane reduces carbon emissions substantially -- perhaps as much as a fourth vs. ethanol, and more vs. octanes

• Convert to hydrogen powered fuel cells. Generate the hydrogen using solar energy. ...

• Convert our highway systems to light rail passenger/freight systems tied in with bicycle terminals to covered all-weather bikeways. Sell remaining interstate and national lanes to private corporations and tax them, all levels.

• Emphasize cluster housing in rural areas, and apartments (sound proofed!) in urban areas and locate services within walking distance.

• Use solar heat for heat and hot water. Use it,, also., for industrial process heat. It works.,

• Store summer heat in insulated pressurized underground tanks of water, salt water, or perhaps a eutectic combination. ... Winter cold could be stored the same way and used for air conditioning. ...

• Convert agriculture to integrated systems connecting fish ponds or tanks and livestock and poultry pens and yards to modules producing fruits and vegetables, all in greenhouses. ...

• Run domestic sewage in urban centers through glass/plastic tanks alongside sidewalks, where it's digested (first stage can be out of sight) and moved on to feed algae, snails, etc. -- and fish. Eat the fish. Recycle the (extremely clean) water endlessly. Enjoy the aquarium as you walk. Enjoy the moderated climate. Contact Dr. John Todd.

• Develop perennial corn and wheats not genetically modified. These would need far less fuel and save soil, especially if crimson clover or Dutch white clover were grown between corn rows -- also reducing need for fertilizer.

• I noticed that Clinton applauded the development of 70 mpg cars as one of the "great answers." But look out for Big Motor. Even if all vehicles get 70 mpg, with every place on earth slated to have the same car to people ratio as the US (isn't that the New World Order/WTO plan -- development of world markets?), fuel use and emissions, by my calculations, will increase at least sixfold, which isn't likely to help reduce C02 emissions ...

As for reasons for doing all those things. As Ed Ayres, in his book God's Last Offers so well develops, we're now faced with four runaway spikes: greenhouse gas emissions, consumption, population, and extinctions. Extinctions seem due to culminate by about 2050, leaving us with a few weeds, pests, isolated specimens, and domesticated plants, and dead oceans., as things now go. Full scale reform of the World's energy systems, if it goes hand-in-hand with drastic reduction of population, restoration of forests, fisheries, and coral. reefs, reinvention of communities and development of sensible trade and really helpful aid might help save something.

Lockwood, NY

Familiar Name

Charles Levendosky's column "States Brutalize Problem Children" [4/15/00 PP] mentions some egregious cases in South Dakota and the unsympathetic response of Gov. William Janklow.

I thought I'd seen that unusual name before. I was right. The index of Peter Matthiessen's In the Spirit of Crazy Horse lists him on 30 pages. Here's one of the references, which may serve as useful background for his lack of zeal in protecting juveniles' rights:

"On January 14, 1967, according to delegates from the Rosebud Reservation, a fifteen-year-old student at the Indian boarding school named Jancita Eagle Deer reported to her school principal that she had been raped on her way home the night before by her legal guardian, a young white lawyer named William Janklow, who was serving effectively as director of the tribe's Legal Services program, and was therefore friendly with a number of people who would later become his enemies. ... The principal had escorted the girl to the hospital; the hospital records included evidence suggesting that the attack had occurred. A complaint was made to a BIA investigator, who filed a report recommending that Janklow be prosecuted. But no help was available from the Legal Services program, and the case had been smoothed over by the FBI. In a January 16 report, Agent John Penrod stated that "it was impossible to determine anything," and Richard G. Held (Special Agent in Charge in Minneapolis and later a leading FBI official at Wounded Knee) concluded six weeks later that there was "insufficient evidence, allegations were unfounded; we are therefore closing our files on the matter." Meanwhile, Jancita, ashamed when the ugly story spread, had lost progress in school and finally disappeared from the reservation. Jancita's stepmother, Delphine Eagle Deer, swore she would prove that her daughter had been raped by William Janklow, but she never did. Mrs. Eagle Deer ... died after a beating by the BIA police, who left her unconscious in a winter field."

Seven years later, the case was resurrected by AIM members trying to get out from under Janklow, who was by then the assistant prosecutor in the state AG's office leading the local effort to neutralize AIM -- and who had been quoted as saying: "The only way to deal with the Indian problem in South Dakota is to put a gun to the AIM leaders' heads and pull the trigger."

Jancita was located and brought to testify in a proceeding for the purpose of getting Janklow disbarred from the Rosebud Tribal Court. She did so, and although Janklow "refused to answer his summons, the BIA refused to deliver the subpoenaed file, and the FBI refused to cooperate in any way," her testimony and other evidence presented got Janklow disbarred. (Because it was a tribal court, it lacked jurisdiction over the white guy and couldn't do anything about the rape allegation.)

Leggett, Calif.

Think Globally, Grow Food Locally

Thank you for your excellent coverage of the WTO protest last fall and the IMF and World Bank actions this spring. Many people around the world have been struggling against these institutions and their ilk for years. I am proud of my fellow heartlanders who are doing their part.

I am always distressed when farmers in this country bemoan their powerlessness: there are too few of us, the forces against us are too big, not enough people care. The truth is that over a billion small farmers around the globe are threatened by the power of agribusiness, not to mention the full six billion of us who depend on farmers for our food.

On the surface, US farmers seem to have little in common with landless peasants in Brazil or subsistence farmers in India. But we have enemies in common: the Cargills striving to control trade of the world's food supply; the Monsantos that are stealing and adulterating our genetic heritage; the Smithfields and Tysons that torture animals and foul our land, air and water in the name of profit. And we all face the same drum beat repeated by our despot governments and their expert toadies: We need to compete in the global market, never mind the social, economic or environmental costs.

Small farmers will never compete in the global market. Believe it or not, the people of the world do not depend on US farmers for food.

There is a powerful, growing movement of people on this planet. US farmers can be a part of it, but not by demanding a piece of the global commodity pie. We need to live up to our rhetoric: Farmers grow food for people. The struggle, and the power, lie in food security and the right of people to feed themselves.

This is what democracy looks like!

Madison, Wis.

PS: Hooray for Margot Ford McMillen, my first read of the paper! [Women] have something to say!

Beware Gifts

While reading my Sunday paper this morning, I read a couple of interesting articles. One was headed ''Pesticides still around despite ban.'' The other was headed ''South Korea to ship fertilizer to the North.

In the article on pesticides, scientists planted a garden in ground that was heavily treated with chlordane 38 years earlier. The chemical turned up in all 12 vegetables that were planted. I presume that most of us have heard of the ban on DDT. Also stated in this report was that chemicals in use now are often more toxic than organochlorines but dissipate far more quickly.

In the item regarding the South Korean shipment to the North: South Korea was not directly asked by the North for aid and decided to provide the 200,000 tons of chemical fertilizer out of humanitarian concern, said Lee Kwan-se, spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry, the government agency in charge of relations with North Korea.

Personally, I would suggest to the North Koreans to ''Beware of strangers bearing gifts.'' While much less obvious than landmines, the results would be just as bad.

Fred W. Stover organized the Iowa Farmers Association that was opposed to the Korean War, and I later became a member. I am glad to belong to an organization with the motto: "Peace, Parity and Power to the People.''

Davenport, Iowa

Give Us a Break

Thanks for highlighting William Greider's proposal (in The Nation May 1) to uncap the "taxable maximum" of wage income subject to Social Security taxes -- and for thinking of it yourselves. I did, too.

In the summer of 1996, I started using Census Bureau (and, later, SSA) income figures to calculate that the regressive cap was costing the system tens of billions of dollars. I told my district's Congressman -- privatization-pusher Nick Smith (R-Mich.) -- just that in answering his January 1997 constituent survey. (I wish I'd known then that Progressive Populist was behind me.) And I've been spreading the word in letters to editors across Michigan ever since.

I have one correction to Greider's figures. If the worker's share of the FICA tax rate were cut by 2%, the 4.2% rate -- almost 1/3 lower than it is now -- would let people with incomes up to $112,000 pay less in Social Security taxes. As the current $76,200 cap rises (under existing law), that "break-even" point would also rise.

Personally, I live on the Bohemian easy-payment plan (100% down, nothing a month) -- so I might budget conservatively and only cut the tax rate 1% or 1-1/2%. This would still give working people a good chunk of money back, and leave enough to spur businesses to give all their workers livable pensions and other "secure-society" benefits -- or build a cushion in case the system ever stops deferring its actuarially-threatened date with bankruptcy.

Help stop privateers like Nick Smith -- and the profitizers behind them.

Marshall, Michigan

Flavor of the Month

The name of your publication is The Progressive Populist, yet you have been running columns by Arianna Huffington, who is neither a progressive nor a populist. Her flavor of the month, for now, apparently is to try to make people think she has shed her regressive conservatism. Wrong. You may believe that, but I do not.

If you insist on running her columns, I insist you cancel my subscription and refund the remainder of the subscription price. I hoped for better from you when I subscribed three years ago.

En la lucha,

San Antonio, Texas

Editor Replies: If Arianna Huffington has repented her conservative ways -- and lately her columns have been populist if not doctrinaire progressive -- we should welcome her voice to the choir. As we state on page 2, we don't necessarily agree with all our writers but we think their views are worth sharing. But if disagreement with one columnist causes you to cancel your subscription, I suppose we were bound to lose you eventually. Anyway, thanks for your three years of support.


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