The Ethanol Craze Begins
The 60 Minutes story, "The Ethanol Solution: Could Corn-Based Fuel Help End America's Dependence On Imported Oil?", also focused on Brazil's booming Ethanol frenzy, but also on American ingenuity. Their story featured a small town no one has every heard of (no one except maybe its 300 residents), Steamboat Rock, Iowa. About a year ago things got so desperate in this farming community that a few residents put their heads together and decided to invest in and build an Ethanol production plant. It converted the corn that they were unable to sell into Ethanol, a product that they believe is the future oil of America. The good folks of Steamboat Rock and many other farmers believe that Ethanol might be the answer they have been looking for to stabilize a declining agricultural economy.
Additionally, both reports looked at Flex-Fuel cars, produced mostly by American car companies GM and Ford, which are highly successful in Brazil. Both companies have pledged to up their production of the cars -- which run on gas, ethanol, or a mixture of the two called E-85 -- in the next year. Today these cars make up only 5 million of the approximate 130+ million cars on America's roads. But the American car companies hope that an Ethanol boom might mean that millions more of their cars find their way to the road in the next few years, healing an ailing American automotive market.
So, what does all this mean for America? Well, this could be a perfect storm for the American economy and the country in general. Were America to aggressively pursue this alternative fuel source, many predict that within 15 years America could be energy independent, even as Brazil has in that same amount of time. Though relatively few cars today are Flex-fuel, any car can be retrofitted to use both E-85 and Ethanol. Add to that Khosla startling revelation that with the advancing technology, prairie grass, leftover wood pulp, and orange peels could be potential producers of ethanol, leading him to predict fuel prices could drop as low as $0.70/gallon using these techniques. Fuel prices that low would inevitably open up travel, increase tourism dollars, and fuel an economy already hindered only by oil prices. And without a dependence on foreign oil, OPEC countries would no longer be in a position to make demands of the U.S., and we would no longer worry that we are indirectly supporting terrorist efforts.
What should the Christian take be on this? Well, I think we should be supportive of any effort that provides jobs for low income families, brings economic development back to rural areas and farming communities, and produces less greenhouse gases which will undoubtedly make our air and water quality better. But we must beware of any utopian fantasies and realize that no technological breakthroughs can suppress evil or bring salvation. Ethanol may indeed bring needed relief to America, but without repentance and revival nothing will save the soul of this country.