Science and Politics Don’t Mix

You can hardly get through a day without seeing a story about the benefits of some new technology in the energy sector.  Wind turbines, ethanol, solar cells, and a host of other solutions beckon at the door.  This doesn’t include the age old answer to all of our energy questions, “Just Use Hydrogen”.

These policies are based on politics and not logic.  If you don’t believe me, ask an engineer.

Ethanol, as a fantastic fuel source of the future, is one of the most popular myths.  I am sure that they have nothing to do with the Iowa Caucuses.  The states that seem the most excited about using ethanol as an alternative fuel are those that grow corn.  Corn is extremely demanding in terms of fertilizer, water, and top soil.  It has also been argued that producing ethanol consumes more energy than is produced in the ethanol.  Ethanol is less of a solution than a slogan.  Everyone can feel good about getting fuel from beautiful green plants.  It’s the same feeling you get when you are getting food from beautiful fuzzy animals.

The biggest problem is that even if it wasn’t environmentally retarded, it is economically unfeasible.  Ethanol from corn gets a $.51 a gallon subsidy in the US, according to The Economist.  Ethanol is actually viable in some foreign countries, because manufacturing ethanol from sugar cane is much more efficient and cost effective, but the government slapped a $.54 a gallon tariff on sugar based ethanol.  We could import the sugar to make it ourselves, but Washington has put quotas on the amounts of sugar we can import to protect lobby groups.  Meanwhile, oil and gasoline can be imported tariff free.

This whole system becomes more nauseating in an election cycle, when every presidential candidate is trying to kiss up to Iowa to ensure that they come out ahead in the race.  It is not good for the country, but politicians don’t care what is good for the country.  They are concerned with the next election cycle.  They apparently suck at science. The big problem is that the voting public is scientifically idiotic.  They spout some sound bite they heard, and expect that with enough research, we can break the laws of thermodynamics.  I think we should just start a “Manhattan style project” and make x-wings, beaming technology, and light sabers.  That is just as practical, and much cooler.

Wind turbines work where the wind blows and where politicians who’s names rhyme with “Eddy Kennedy” don’t care if their view is impeded.  They require repairs more frequently than many other sources, and only produce power when the wind blows.  Wyoming has wind farms, but they already generate more than enough power there, and ship off vast amounts to California.

Solar cells are so cost ineffective it’s disturbing.  They are good for two things.  Providing power to locations to which it is hard to run wires and helping environmentalists feel better.

People’s knowledge on hydrogen is laughable.  “Just use fusion.”  There is one minor catch.  The only reliable way we know to jump start fusion is with large amounts of fission… those nuclear bomb things.  “Well just use it in a fuel cell.”  Umm . . . It takes more energy to take it from water and get it into the car than it releases.  “Let’s just all ride ponies then.  Together, with and for the children.  And have world peace.”  All those people think if you think positively about something for long enough, it will happen.  It doesn’t work.  I had a crush on a girl named Ashley in 7th grade.  I thought positively about me going out with her a lot.  Going out with her would have violated one of the laws of eternity, that in junior high, cute girls don’t go out with nerds.  They wait till college when they find out nerds make many times as much as jocks.  You just can’t violate physical law.

All the same, people vote for the politicians that put forth the pretty promises. This is great if you live in a primary state and have billions of dollars going to you in subsidies.  If you are a normal joe, you are screwed.  You are especially screwed if you like candy (the quotas on sugar cost the US $1.9 billion annually).  So I guess the same old song will move forward unless we want to choose a candidate who will do some things based on principle and knowledge, not based on where the earliest primary states are.  I know what you are all thinking. . . .


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