[saymaListserv] [afmdiscussion] burning ethanol

Julia Ewen jewen at bellsouth.net
Tue May 23 08:29:06 JEST 2006

Dear Friends,

I am a fan of "green fuel" for cars. However, it just crossed my mind when Woody noted the big difference in Brazilian prices and Florida prices for sugar cane: why are Brazilian prices so cheap? Is it because of cheaper wages? and what about safety and health issues for Brazilian workers in cane fields and refineries? 

Once upon a time in the Southern United States, we too produced a large amount of sugar with very cheap labor and lousy working conditions. The working conditions for these slaves were so bad that masters throughout the rest of the South had only to threaten "I'll sell you South!" to bring an unruly field hand into line...Machinery does much of what human beings used to do probably, but it is still a hot, hard job. Which should be fairly compensated. Does it pay the workers a wage that will provide at least the necessities, health care and education for workers and families? 

Or will we be faced with boycotting ethanol because sugar is still being produced by economic, if not legal/political, slaves?

There's more than American farmer "greed" at stake. If great demand produces a widely available cheap supply, prices world wide may not rise to the level that provides a decent pay level for US workers. Farm workers do not even today live luxurious lives! Pay may indeed fall further for them, working conditions get far worse, or the sugar cane industry, like so many others may go entirely overseas. Florida would have to replace that industry with something else that produces the same or more tax revenues and puts the same or more cash into its daily economy. So even if you don't like farm subsidies and don't care if your sugar comes from the US or Brazil or the Moon, you will pay for cheap sugar, and cheap ethanol made from it, with higher taxes--and perhaps less demand for your own product or service, as people's higher taxed incomes shrink and they make choices about what to cut out. It might be your service or product. 

And these are just the foreseeables! There is also the law of unintended consequences! Whenever we change one thing, thousands of other linked things change, and thousands of things linked to them change. Sometimes this is a positive chain. Do you remember a TV  series called "Connections"? It examined various technololgical changes in history and historical events and how they grew out of one another over a period of decades and centuries. They focused on the positive linked changes. But there are also negative chains of changes. And no one can see with the mind of God to know in advance what unintended consequences will follow from change--whether it be consciously undertaken or not!

I, like everyone else, do not want change to be painful--particularly painful to me! But what I see in scripture stories is that there is a lot of pain involved in life, in history, whether one is doing the right thing or not. Life happens. History happens. We keep living. We keep showing up trying to discern how to live rightly according to God's leading. 
The rain continues to fall on the just and on the unjust. Sometimes doing "good" seems effective and rewarding and sometimes "bad" seems to prosper. But we keep going on in the Light.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Steve Woodall 
  To: 'Janet Minshall' ; 'Julia Ewen' 
  Cc: afmdiscussion at yahoogroups.com ; sayma at kitenet.net 
  Sent: Monday, May 22, 2006 11:57 PM
  Subject: RE: [afmdiscussion] burning ethanol

  Dear AFM reader,

  As you consider the national debate about ethanol as a fuel, keep in mind the difference between complete combustion and incomplete.  If the conditions for complete combustion are presented, then only water and carbon dioxide would be produced when ethanol is burned.  Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but it is also the giver of life (without carbon dioxide, there's no photosynthesis).

  If gasoline is combusted completely, it produces carbon dioxide and water, but also tiny quantities of other things.

  The rub however is the incomplete combustion scenario.  And combustion is hardly ever complete, especially so with automobiles, which do not operate at a steady state.  The driving habits of two drivers in the same vehicle will produce different ratios of exhaust constituents.

  Then there's the additives.  Remember leaded gasoline?  More recently, an additive designed to help atmospheric conditions has been found to be more mobile in groundwater than the original gasoline constituents.  Who knows what additives to ethanol may be mandated in the future?

  It is difficult to pose the question (is ethanol cleaner or less polluting?) in a way that allows meaningful or precise answers.

  But I can tell you this:  the human body has a marvelous ability to detoxify large quantities of ethanol, and a far less robust ability to detoxify even small quantities of gasoline constituents, viz. benzene.  Gasoline is a witches brew of hundreds of vague compounds and has many negatives, while ethanol is a single simple compound. It is reasonable to assume that whatever negatives the products of incomplete ethanol combustion may have, they would not tip the scales in favor of gasoline.  

  When one compares Brazil's reliance on ethanol to the US's tentative moves toward ethanol, note that Brazil is using sugar cane and we are using a raw material that is far from ideal.  Only a small portion of the corn plant (just the kernels) is used, and the starches in those kernels have to be converted to sugars before the fermentation begins.  Sugar cane on the other hand is loaded with sugars, and ready to go as soon as the juice is squeezed from the stem.   US sugar producers have long complained about cheap imports of sugar.  Seems to me that we should encourage sugar cane for fuel production.  With a significant increase in world demand, the domestic price can rise to the level needed by the south Florida producers.  Same for sugar beets.

  404/315-7395 (cell=678/431-0725)
  stevewoodall at bellsouth.net 

  -----Original Message-----
  From: afmdiscussion at yahoogroups.com [mailto:afmdiscussion at yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Janet Minshall
  Sent: Monday, May 22, 2006 9:29 PM
  To: Julia Ewen
  Cc: afmdiscussion at yahoogroups.com; sayma at kitenet.net
  Subject: Re: [afmdiscussion] Ken Spitze Column for May 14: "Economics 101: How (not) to Lower Gas Prices

  Hi Julia, Thanks for your response.  I have one question about
  ethanol.   Someone with the information is probably on this list and
  can answer it for me.  Is the burning of ethanol any cleaner and less
  polluting than the burning of gasoline?    Janet Minshall

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