Friday, November 30, 2007

Corn Dump Hours

When I was between the ages of 8-11 or so, I lived in Maine, on 17 acres of land. I have been thinking about that time a lot lately -- about the ghost in the woods, the small old family cemetery near the brook, and the snakes that lived in the wood pile.

My mother designed the house we lived in and built it together with a carpenter whose name I can't remember, but he had a great laugh. The house was heated by a Russian fireplace, fueled with trees cleared for the building. We used water from a well in the front yard.

My mother also gardened. Down by the road, about a quarter mile from the house, she had a whole acre garden. I hated it -- though there's nothing like the taste of corn picked, then eaten immediately, raw for breakfast. Corn is hard on the earth though, and you have to rotate where you plant it each year because it sucks all the nutrients out of the earth.

The sugar in corn is what makes it such a good fuel.

Lynn L. Walters for The New York Times

Today I strayed a bit, to begin to learn about ethanol. Ethanol is not oil. Ethanol is seen as the leading replacement contender to oil. Ethanol production -- energy made primarily from corn -- is on the rise. It's so on the rise that there's been a bit of a glut on the market this fall.

The Times reported in September:

About 1,000 pumps at the nation’s 179,000 gasoline stations offer gasoline blended with ethanol...Congress essentially legislated the industry’s expansion by requiring steadily higher quantities of ethanol as a gasoline blend, a kick-start that was further spurred by the proliferation of bans on a competing fuel additive used to help curb air pollution.

Nate Hagens, a PhD student at the UVM Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, reported on The Oil Drum this morning:

Recent increases in oil prices in conjunction with subsidy policies have led to a dramatic expansion in corn ethanol production and high interest in further expansion over the next decade. President Bush has called for production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2017, which, if achieved, would comprise about 15 percent of U.S. liquid transportation fuels. This goal is almost certain to result in a major increase in corn production, at least until marketable future alternatives are developed.

Recently, a book was published by the National Academy of Sciences about the implications on the environment of the growth of these programs. It's not good. Both water use and degradation will be huge -- fertilizer and pesticide use. The taxing of the land.

I think it's time to invest in a tandem bike for commuting with the kids.

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