the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Incrementally Dumber

Posted by Jeff Id on October 13, 2010

Stupidity like this is what happens when you let greens take over your economy.  Lessee, high unemployment, costs rising everywhere, and we’re going to add cost to food and gas production – for no reason.

EPA to allow 15% ethanol in gasoline, up from 10% now

 

 


41 Responses to “Incrementally Dumber”

  1. stan said

    Obama may face a primary opponent in 2012. Getting trounced in Iowa in Jan 2012 would seal his fate.

  2. Thanks, Jeff.

    The public has been getting “incrementally dumber” since the late 1960s, when the Apollo Mission landed on the Moon and politicians suddenly realized that they could hire scientists with public funds to find “scientific evidence” for any story that they wanted to promote.

    The result has been a steady decline in intellectual honesty and an increasing danger of tyrannical one world government. I don’t think anyone wanted this outcome, but following the path that President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address led us here:

    “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded. . . . in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

    This short video shows critical experimental observations that were distorted or hidden by Federal research agencies on the way to the Climategate scandal:

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  3. Jeff,
    Unusual for you to protest the relaxing of a regulation.
    What if the EPA didn’t regulate ethanol content at all?

  4. Brian H said

    When you spend a dollar to save 80¢, you will soon enough be parted from your money.

  5. Brian H said

    Nick;
    The overarching regulation which is driving this one is the requirement to blend 36 bn gal. of biofuels like ethanol into the nation’s mix by 2022. So this is an eddy in the inane turbulence created by the big rock in the flow.

  6. Jeff Id said

    #3 It’s not good for most IC engines to have higher ethanol content, the lubrication properties are substantially lower. Using more ethanol is bad for food costs, it’s also bad because it is so heavily subsidized. Some studies have shown a net zero for CO2 impact, some have shown increased CO2, none have shown a large advantage.

    All it is is more cost for no benefit, thus it’s stupid.

  7. gallopingcamel said

    Down here on the Space Coast there are still a few stations that have ethanol free gas for use in boats. This saves me at least 5% in terms of fuel economy (the price per gallon is the same) and my Jeep dealer says my engine will last longer.

  8. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Nick Stokes,

    Super. Let’s cut all supports for ethanol, eliminate all import duties on ethanol, and while we are at it, drop all sugar duties. Neither you nor farmers are going to like the results. Ethanol fron corn is simply nuts (economically); it uses almost as much petroleum as teh energy it generates (many studies), and is a huge taxpayer boondoggle.

    No surprise to me that you appear to support it.

  9. 8 Steve, no,I’m not a big fan of ethanol, for the practical issues you mention. I’m just surprised that Jeff seems to want the EPA to keep prescribing a 10% limit.

  10. Jeff Id said

    #9 Nick, you have a little TCO in your blood. I’ve explained why very clearly. Regulation does not lead my life, nor should it. Should we have regulations against murder, yes, should we have regulations supporting ethanol for cars — only if we’re too stupid to run a calculator.

  11. crosspatch said

    Let me get this straight. They have increased both the fuel mileage requirement AND the ethanol content requirement? So you need to get much increased fuel mileage with a fuel containing much less energy?

    At what point are they crossing the line into the impossible or at least the hyperexpensive? It seems to me they are trying to get everyone out of their cars by making it too expensive for anyone to buy one and the “use public transport” option sounds a lot like “let them eat cake” to someone on a farm 40 miles outside of town.

  12. Jeff,
    I understand that. My initial response was a bit tongue in cheek, because your post seemed to advocating tight EPA regulation. As I said, I think we probably agree in general on ethanol.

  13. Adam Gallon said

    Increased fuel mileage is easily gained by a lighter car.
    The trouble there, is getting all these obese Yanks into what you term a “compact”, which for we Europeans is a normal-sized car!
    Brazil uses a lot of Ethanol, produced from their sugar cane production, itself a simple job creation scheme.

  14. Peter B said

    #13

    No Brazil’s ethanol program has far more complicated origins than that. It got started in the seventies due to the oil shock, at a time when Brazil was still a net importer of crude oil; and as a huge pork barrel program by the government to buy the political support of sugar cane producers, influential in some states. With the help of government subsidies it was hugely successful despite some technical issues with the early ethanol-only cars (I have driven several of them). At some point in the 1980s, Brazil’s entire passenger car production had ethanol-only engines. One of the consequences of that is that Brazil became an exporter of gasoline even as it remained a net crude oil importer. Later, as Brazil’s domestic oil production increased and oil prices declined in the late nineties, ethanol-only cars became very unpopular as occasional drops in sugar cane production led to ethanol shortages (with Brazil having to occasionally import ethanol from South Africa). More recently, things reached a new equilibrium with the high oil price and the introduction of new engines that can easily handle both ethanol and gasoline in any mixture. These flexible-fuel engines are really popular.

    Having said that, sugar cane producers still continue to both yield disproportionate political influence and to get advantages from the government. But then, that has been the case for centuries.

  15. Jeff Id said

    #13, “increased fuel mileage is easily gained by lighter car”

    Unfortunately this isn’t true. Rolling resistance (weight) is a very small percentage of a car’s fuel consumption on a highway. In Europe where the roads are too narrow and cars stop and go all the time or in big cities, it can be helpful. Most Europeans don’t know that American consumption per mile is as good or better than Europe because of our straighter wider road system. The savings from a small car is mostly in frontal projected area from lower wind resistance.

    “Brazil uses a lot of Ethanol, produced from their sugar cane production, itself a simple job creation scheme.”

    Brazil actually uses very little ethanol (total volume) because despite its size, the country apparently has very few cars. Brazil only produces 525000 barrels per day (alcohol) wheras the US consumes 28.3 Million barrels per day of oil. With nearly all of brazil’s farmable land already producing cane, there isn’t any possibility for that to work (or even dent the usage) of more industrialized countries such as in Europe, Canada or the US.

  16. Andrew said

    There should be strict limits on what can be sold as gasoline. You should not be able to sell an impure mixture as “gasoline”-it’s deceptive and whats more, it is harmful to cars that are not equipped to handle ethanol.

    The rule should be that if you want to sell “gasoline” it must be have 0% ethanol. If you want to sell a mixture then you can put however much you want, BUT YOU MUST MARKET IT AS A MIXTURE!

    That’s not regulation that’s common sense.

  17. Neil said

    I think it is complete nuts. NZ looked at it and it quickly become clear that the country was going to have to import the ethanol to blend!! Just look on a map and see where NZ is. Good news if you are a small agricultural based country is that when the USA diverts food to energy, the value of food exports goes up. So the USA taxpayer (I’m one of those at the moment) subsidises overseas food producers too (well it is not really a subsidy to them just a supply and demand effect, but you get the idea).

    Like a lot of this stuff, it has more to do with geopolitical considerations of fuel supply than CO2. Why not call it what it is?

  18. j ferguson said

    Dr. Manuel,
    Eisenhower’s address certainly identifies a real worry – something that has become a pervasive problem. But isn’t it the case that a lot of the really useful hypotheses of the last 60 years would never have been followed up with experiments without this money?

    If science needs the experiments to “prove” the concept and the equipment for those experiments is increasingly costly, what other sources are available? Sources which don’t have an agenda?

    I think we’re stuck, but need to be more sensitive to the effects of political agenda on funding.

  19. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Jeff, #13,

    “Brazil actually uses very little ethanol (total volume) because despite its size, the country apparently has very few cars. Brazil only produces 525000 barrels per day (alcohol) wheras the US consumes 28.3 Million barrels per day of oil. With nearly all of brazil’s farmable land already producing cane, there isn’t any possibility for that to work (or even dent the usage) of more industrialized countries such as in Europe, Canada or the US.”

    Some inaccurate information Jeff. Brazil produces 6.6 billion gallons of cane based ethanol, while using 1% of total arable land. Much more land is dedicated to other crops like soybeans, where the tropical climate (combined with varieties optimized for tropical growth) is huge advantage in terms of productivity. The USA produces 10.8 billion gallons of corn based ethanol using 3.7% of total arable land. Ethanol represents ~50% of total auto fuel use in Brazil (versus 8% in the USA). The total number of cars in Brazil is much less than in the USA (their economy is much smaller, but growing rapidly). 100% of current auto fuel could be produced using ~2% of the total arable land. If the economy were 4 times larger (approaching the per capita income of the USA), and auto use were to expand in proportion, all autos could be supplied with fuel using ~8% of the arable land. Cost of production is about US$0.84 per gallon (versus US$1.14 in the USA, but subsidies add $0.45 per gallon cost).

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel_in_Brazil#Comparison_with_the_United_States for more detailed information.

    The Brazilian ethanol model would never work in the States, but in Brazil ethanol production is economically competitive with petroleum.

  20. Jeff Id said

    6.6 billion gallons/yr = 18 million gallons/day = 428,000 barrels per day, similar to my quoted number for 2011 above.

    It appears from this link below on land usage Brazil could potentially expand that area several times over so on that I was wrong. My link was an environmentalist one this morning so I should have been more careful.

    http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/articles/hof/HofJan09.html

    However, even expanding several times over does nothing of significance compared to industrial country usage. Of course if they can make a profit at it, that’s fine to me.

  21. Jeff Id said

    (versus US$1.14 in the USA, but subsidies add $0.45 per gallon cost).

    You don’t believe this number do you?

  22. Jason Calley said

    J. Ferguson @ #17 says: “Eisenhower’s address certainly identifies a real worry – something that has become a pervasive problem. But isn’t it the case that a lot of the really useful hypotheses of the last 60 years would never have been followed up with experiments without this money?
    If science needs the experiments to “prove” the concept and the equipment for those experiments is increasingly costly, what other sources are available? Sources which don’t have an agenda?”

    While what you say sounds very reasonable, I wonder if maybe we are not looking deep enough. Granted, many of the big budget government sponsored programs have produced results, but at what cost? Every dollar spent by the government comes out of some taxpayer’s pocket, either immediately or eventually. If those same dollars that were used in government sponsored research were available for use of ordinary businesses, researchers and universities, wouldn’t the research done be more efficient and more likely to be done in fields that would have a more immediate appeal to, and impact on our lives? Additionally, the large scale consumption of capital by the government also distorts the cost of what free-market capital is still left available.

    In short, while I appreciate what you say, I do not think your point can be considered demonstrated without a clear accounting of all those non-governmental research and developement projects that would have been done, but instead never came into existence.

  23. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Jeff #19, #20,

    I was not suggesting that there was an error in the total volume of production, only in what that volume requires in land use. You suggested that a lot of arable land is being dedicated to ethanol; in fact the fraction is quite modest.

    “You don’t believe this number do you?” I believe this represents the cost of production at the factory, but not the total cost, (cost of capital, transport to market, and profits are not included) which is why it is low. The current wholesale price for ethanol in Brazil is about US$2.28 per gallon, versus about US$3.20 per gallon, which in both cases includes all costs plus profits. On an energy equivalent basis with gasoline, Brazilian ethanol is about US$3.45 per gallon, which is not so attractive (US ethanol is equal to US$4.85 per gallon…. what a boondoggle!).

    But it is possible with pure ethanol (or using high concentrations of ethanol mixed with gasoline) to greatly increase the thermal efficiency of the engine via higher compression (http://www.epa.gov/otaq/presentations/epa-fev-isaf-no55.pdf), and approach the MPG of gasoline, in spite of ethanol’s lower overall energy content per gallon.

    Brazil does in fact have substantial industrial production, as well as huge exports of agricultural products and certain industrial raw materials. Brazil’s population is only about 2/3 of the USA, with current per-capita income about 1/4 that of the USA. But the economy is growing rapidly. Expanding the economy 4-fold (over ~30 years at current pace) would make per-capita income equal to that of the USA today. I have no doubt that Brazil will use only ethanol (no gasoline) if the price for petroleum increases to more than $100 per barrel for an extended period, even with an economy that is comparable in wealth to the USA today.

  24. Jeff Id said

    “I was not suggesting that there was an error in the total volume of production, only in what that volume requires in land use. You suggested that a lot of arable land is being dedicated to ethanol; in fact the fraction is quite modest.”

    You were right, my bad. I also believe if Brazil can make money at it, that’s great. I’ve read claims that the corn ethanol uses as much energy as it makes. Since gas is near $3/gallon, it’s difficult to see the prices that low.

  25. j ferguson said

    Jason,
    I agree with you. It isn’t hard to imagine that there might have been a whole string of wonderful discoveries had the money taken from us and aggregated by the government been left i private hands.

    But there is a scale issue and there are some possibly worthy areas of investigation which seem unlikely to be privately funded given our recent interest in short term results at the expense of recapitalization of facilities and long term research.

    Sure, both of these activities are pursued in some industries.

    This doesn’t speak to the inter-relationship of government funding and the universities. If people got to keep more of their money, do you think there would bhe more or less funding og university research? Of the sort where the equipment is pricey?

    You are not going to get a space program, or a Manhattan project form the Bill Gates foundation – assuming he would want either.

    So my point would be that for some kinds of research, we’re stuck with government funding with it’s inefficiencies and political influences – and I think it unproductive to complain about it in terms of not liking the agenda without suggesting an alternative.

    Leaving more money with the earner, to me doesn’t begin to answer the question of support of worthy large investigations.

  26. DeWitt Payne said

    Private companies don’t sponsor blue sky research. The return on investment is just too low. Bell Labs was an exception based on AT&T’s monopoly position. As soon as the telco’s were deregulated, Bell Labs was a goner. Research grants mainly support higher education in general. Any commercial success is icing on the cake. Without grants from the NSF and NIH, getting an advanced degree in science or engineering would be potentially as expensive as getting an M.D.

  27. j ferguson said

    #25

    DeWitt, you support my case that we need the government funding arrangement or something like it. If we’re uncomfortable with the politcal biases of the system, shouldn’t they be addressed politically or are some of those biases so arcane that they are beyond remedy?

  28. Andrew said

    26-Perhaps a constitutional amendment which stipulates that Federal funding would go to research to be determined by the states alone. That way we get more control over how the money is spent as opposed to it going to whoever Congress wants. If the state legislatures chose, or the people, then if the people in one state tend more to want one kind of research, they can get it. The way it is now, which ever party holds the national majority, directs where ALL the money goes, essentially. By localizing it, we get at least closer to individual choice.

    To be honest, I don’t buy the idea that there would be zero interest in science by private investors. If I had money I would invest in scientific research-hell I’d build my own SCSC-even if I didn’t think I’d make money off it, because I personally find science interesting. Are you really telling me that in a prosperous free market, all the people with money would spurn research if it wouldn’t make money? Really? I think not. There would be people who accumulated significant wealth that they would be willing to spend some on things that they did not get a return on, to support science for its own sake for example. Ever heard of philanthropy? Of course not. But then, according to the justification for government funding research, philanthropy is impossible, after all, people only spend money on something if it will get them profit. But the value that I would get out of building my own particle accelerator, that philanthropists get out of charity, is not monetary. People spend money to get HAPPINESS not money!

  29. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Andrew,

    Certainly some people want (as you seem to) to pursue research for the love of knowledge, rather than the love of money.

    My experience is that these people usually don’t have the money to pursue their dreams. Most people people who do have the money don’t have dreams of improving knowledge through scientific research. I do not think that is in any way a coincidence.

    Even very wealthy philanthropists (like Bill Gates) who support some research, support research to achieve a specific philanthropic goal, like an effective malaria vaccine, not the general pursuit of scientific knowledge.

  30. Andrew said

    28-You believe it is no coincidence, I am not entirely clear why I should believe that it is both not a coincidence and something which is the natural, inevitable consequence of the market dynamics.

    When people don’t have enough money to pursue their dreams, well, if it were me, I’d try to get enough money that I could. You can’t always start with your dreams, you have to get to a place where they are within your reach.

  31. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Andrew, 29

    My experience tells me it is not a coincidence for several different reasons. Most people want to make a lot of money, but very few people want to pursue scientific knowledge. Making lots of money is difficult, and not many people succeed. Most that do are highly motivated and smart… and making money is high on the list of priorities. It is usually lower on the list of priorities of people who love the pursuit of scientific knowledge. If you want to become rich simply so that you can pursue science, then good for you, but I think there are not too many like you.

  32. kuhnkat said

    My opinion is that government interferes more with science than it helps with the money.

    Government is ALWAYS poor, inefficient, and often corrupt in the selection of projects to receive the money. The occasional good decision is overshadowed by the monumental waste in general. It is pretty much the same argument as to whether the government should be running the economy. Do you think they should? If so, why?

    Government also puts security restrictions on technology and science to protect us from bad guys. I read about a year ago that the US Army has developed a personal energy weapon based on old patents of Tesla. Wonder where science would be if they hadn’t locked up a lot of his work for so long?? I do.

    I knew a gentleman for years who worked for Locheed here in SoCal. Never knew he worked on the Blackbird until he complained about them not going full speed on the last flight across the US!! Security kept him and other teams from exchanging information requiring the reinvention of the wheel over and over and over…. That is just within the US security projects. Imagine how much that limits science and technology world wide???

    Think about the environmental data from the nuclear subs and B-52 flights. No telling what else has been squirreled away for various reasons over the years based on bureaucrats poor decisions.

  33. HaroldW said

    #21 Jason,
    Thanks for mentioning opportunity costs. It’s always overlooked when e.g. politicians brag about how many jobs they’ve “created.”

    #24 (& others) J Ferguson,

    You are not going to get a space program, or a Manhattan project form the Bill Gates foundation – assuming he would want either.

    So my point would be that for some kinds of research, we’re stuck with government funding with its inefficiencies and political influences – and I think it unproductive to complain about it in terms of not liking the agenda without suggesting an alternative.

    Leaving more money with the earner, to me doesn’t begin to answer the question of support of worthy large investigations.

    The Manhattan Project & the space program are examples of the government pursuing research for the purposes of national defense. That’s the kind of research for which I have no objections to government funding. The alternative suggested (or at least implied) by #21, is to have government not fund research for the sake of research. You talk of “worthy investigations” — and now you’ve started down the slopes. Worthy by what criterion? The only answer is what a specific individual, or committee, thinks is good. It’s not their own money which is being spent, though.

    You complain that any private source of research funding is going to have an agenda. If it’s a corporate source, yes, I’ll concede that. [But don’t kid yourself that government research is agenda-free.] I don’t think that corporate research is inferior to state-supported research, personally. Tends to be more self-limiting as far as throwing money down rat-holes. And more importantly, it’s the choice of those corporations, not forced upon people to fund it.

    Also remember there’s a fair amount of personal donations for medical research (especially). I bet the amount doesn’t compare with the billions which the government can throw at it. But it’s given *voluntarily*, by persons who are interested in progress, and focused on the areas they find of value.

  34. HaroldW said

    oops…messed up end-blockquote part of that last one. Can you fix please, Jeff?

  35. j ferguson said

    Guys, I think my original point to Dr. Manuel was a nicely put (I hope) expression of exasperation about the Eisenhower quote. Yup, we have a problem with the influence of government funding on the universities. I thought the Penn State Michael Mann review comment that he must be pretty good because he brings in so many grants (paraphrased to avoid plagiarism)clearly demonstrated that Ike was right as usual.

    But what choice do we have. If you need a particle accelerator which requires a 24 mile diameter ring to get all the magnets in, where else but the government(s) will you get the money?

    And if the heavy lifting being done in Physics requires these machines, then there is no choice. Or we could go back to pseudo-science and just run computer-models and not do experiments.

  36. Chuckles said

    @J Ferguson,

    The money which governments have is money which they have taken from the citizens of the country by whatever means. Governments have no currency other than that which they take or print, and the second option has certain currently fairly visible shortcomings.

    If it is to be used for particle accelerators, some of that money can indeed be used, less whatever it cost to extract and administer it. This could equally be achieved by like minded people forming the Proprietors of the Engine for Circulating Elementary Matter at High Speed via Certain Artifices, and soliciting subscriptions from the public?
    Government funding simply ensures that less money is available for the particular purpose, but if you feel some incentive is required, then offer prizes for specific achievements. SPaceX for example, seems to be doing a whole lot better at getting cost effective launchers going than NASA?

  37. j ferguson said

    Chuckles,
    I know full well where the money comes from and suspect I hate it as much as the rest of you. But who will be the aggregator?

    My mistake here may be in assuming that some experiments are so costly that even with the cost reductions due to avoidance of governments’ very sticky hands, would still be well beyond the pale. It would be delightful to be proven wrong.

  38. gallopingcamel said

    The ethanol in gasoline legislation is a monument to huge influence lobbyists have on our government. In this case, the lobbyists for Archer, Daniels, Midland (ADM) pushed the legislation harder than anyone.

    With a few minor exceptions it is no longer possible for the general public to buy unadulterated gasoline. If gas stations were allowed to sell “straight” gasoline, the market would soon sort out the situation probably to the detriment of E10, E15 and E85.

    Ethanol may make sense in Brazil but it makes no economic sense in the USA. Jeff calls the ethanol mandates “Dumb” but what is even “Dumber” is our acceptance of the ever growing and pointless restrictions of our freedoms.

  39. Chuckles said

    An interesting article here, some fairly robust home truths on display –

    http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N45/yost.html

  40. Jack Maloney said

    This thread began with:

    “Stupidity like this is what happens when you let greens take over your economy.”

    But the article actually says:

    “The new ethanol blends, known as E-15, come with serious risks for our engines, wildlife, water, and the air we all breathe,” warns Nathanael Greene at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental activist group.

    “A broad coalition of environmentalists, public health advocates, livestock ranchers, and automakers have long opposed EPA’s move,” he says.

    The problem isn’t the ‘greens’ this time, it’s the farm lobbyists, the ethanol industry and the Obama administration which depends on their funding.

  41. j ferguson said

    Jeff Id

    Have a look at today’s Dana Millbank column in the WAPO, which advocates a geoengineering “solution” to the AGW threat because Cap and Trade clearly will never be “approved.”

    I find the idea that “climate change” could be “controlled” very unsettling – full of peril of either no effect or additional unforeseen BAD effect and huge cost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: