Tuesday, May 09, 2006

American Agriculture, Fuel Technology And National Security

With uncertain oil prices and a dicey international situation concerning oil producing nations (like this has been any different for thirty-five years), there is much talk of developing alternative sources of fuel.

One that is bandied about a lot (especially here in the corncentric Midwest) is ethanol which is made from that very bounty of the American Middle West. I know that there are laws in certain places that mandate a certain percentage of ethanol in fuel and that there are also engines that can run on an increasingly high mixture of ethanol and petroleum-based products.

Sounds good, right? The American farmer can be freed from damaging and outdated subsidies (please hold back the laughter) and sell their crops for a fair and higher price so that their relevance and efficacy is guaranteed. The U.S., broadly, would become a more important producer of an increasingly important source of fuel, right?

[Here begins the wild speculation.]

So, if this is true, and the U.S with its corn resources becomes a globally significant producer of fuel, then the source of this fuel would become more valuable, right?

If this source is indeed corn, then corn is more valuable than ever before, correct? Boon for farmers, producers and speculators, a golden [Bantam] age for American agriculture, right?

Could it be said that, given this situation, corn would have to be more closely guarded than it is now. The fields of it consume, let's be honest, whole states and the bulk of a region of the U.S. If it is indeed valuable as a source of fuel, will it have to be guarded like oil fields?

Does this change the dynamics of national security as far as energy resources. Oil refineries and storage units are, doubltess, guarded fairly closely, as are pipelines, depots and transport vessels both land and sea. I am sure that even before 9/11, a significant portion of expenditure for oil companies was spent on asset security. Does this new development make corn fields and grain elevators across the nation more vulnerable because of their increased worth.

Think of the "what ifs" here...terrorist attacks made as simple as torching fields of passive grain as their owners wonder how to protect their vast and diffuse assets...cities such as, say, Dubuque, Iowa becoming as big of a concern for security as any port city...the potential for chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear attack against a crop with no natural defenses must be vast...this is all ignoring the devastating effects on food production, both crops and livestock...

Is all of this rather far-fetched? Possibly and I certainly hope so.

It cannot be ignored, however, that in a search to protect ourselves through the use of resources and technology, new concerns may arise and with them, new complications.

In other words, is the cure potentially more deadly than the disease?

Could the plowshares of the American farmer become a target for the swords of potential enemies?

Is it possible that the American staff of life could be transformed into a cudgel, wielded by those who would destroy us?


Lost A Sock said...

And wouldn't we be pissed, rather than impressed, with crop circles?

In all seriousness though, you bring up very good points.

Anonymous said...

I'll take my chances


Matthew Jenks said...

Um...you do realize that ethanol is a by-product of yeast metabolizing sugar. Pretty much any sugar will do. Maltose is the sugar of choice for brewing (and it comes from, surprise, malt...at least in beers with flavor).

Rice would also be a source of sugars for fermentation. As would sugar cane, and sugar beets, and wheat, and rye and pretty much any other "cash crop".

Nice try, though.

You should worry more about how we're going to find a safe and effective way of transporting hydrogen fuel from one place to another.

Will Shannon said...

Thanks, Jenks for the perspective from someone who actually knows something.

Perhaps my larger point was that energy security is, and will remain, an issue and we must be flexible.

Luckily, since energy reserves are privately owned, there will be an incentive to protect them.

If they were nationalized...

Matt Jenks said...

I forgot all about potatoes also being able to be cooked into ethanol (most likely because my adventures with vodka are, well, you were there for most of them).

So, that means that we can shift our attentions from one I-country to another. Yes, in the not-too-distant-future, Ireland will be holding the world by the nutsack.

And I for one am going to stop making fun of those little limerick-spewing blarney stone kissers...tomorrow...for sure.

Matt Jenks said...

Here's another alternative-fuel driven source for you. Looks like Indiana will be vying with Ireland for world domination.