Tuesday, February 13, 2007

In Thrall to a New Energy Master One Day

What if the balance of energy production shifted from the land of mullahs to the land of megachurches? That's what proponents of ethanol production are hoping. The New York Times (Week in Review, February 11th 2007) indicates that the Great Plains is waiting for a revival of economic life in what has long been America's Empty Quarter.

For fifty years the population on the prairie has been dropping. Long ago garrisoned against wandering Sioux, then thinly settled by government subsidized stakeholders, the prairie has never been viable economically. Some say it is better left to bison and antelope. Can there be any doubt that returning the American steppe to its natural state would be a boon to our warming globe?

Another plan is afoot. Latched to buzz-concepts such as "energy independence" and "renewable energy source", there's a grass-roots campaign to harvest fuel from corn; and later, fuel from straw. Right now there's enough of it going on to supplant maybe five percent of US oil consumption, but its just getting started.

Does the future look like Kansas and Nebraska, thick with single-species farms, studded with energy-enriched evangelicals, telling the rest of us what the price of heating fuel will be? Have we really thought through this Alternative Energy thing?

I read somewhere there's a 25 million dollar prize on offer for the person who figures it all out. Sure hope some real smart folks are working on it.