Opinion: Doug Thompson

Fuel tanks or bellies
By Doug Thompson

Ethanol, the feel-good fuel placebo, is leaving much of the world starving.

Check out the recent article in the Economist magazine. Costs for the United Nations’ World Food Program have gone up 50 percent in five years. Those costs are expected to go up another 35 percent in the next couple of years.
Hunger is moving up. The world’s working poor are joining the impoverished in going to bed hungry at night.
I could attach more blame to eating meat, I suppose. Corn and grain would be a lot cheaper if we all woke up as vegans. Jean Ziegler didn’t call meat eating a crime against humanity and ask for a five-year moratorium on meat eating, however. No, the U.N. food supply specialist was talking about biofuels from food crops when she said that.
I’ve written before about the piddling amount of fuel, relatively speaking, provided so far by the ethanol boom.
For the first time in modern memory, a 15 percent increase in U.S. corn acreage will not cause any drop in corn prices. It will just keep the price from rising faster.
Ethanol and other “crop fuels” are nothing but a piece of candy to suck on until real biofuel from cellulose is achieved. Crop fuels do more harm than good. For instance, why would the ethanol lobby support fuel efficiency? If our cars were more efficient, fuel prices would drop. Alternative fuels would be priced out of the market.
By the way, our cars are more efficient. We move a lot more tons of cars per gallon of gas than we did in the 1980s. That’s something else shown by a recent Economist article.
Unfortunately, our cars now weigh a lot more than they did in the 1980. The extra tons of metal we’re moving more than cancel out the dramatic improvements in mileage per ton.
“Over the past 20 years, the proportion of trucks and SUVs bought annually in America has gone from around 20 percent to over 50 percent of all new vehicles sold,” according to an Oct. 19 Economist article.
Gosh. Since everybody who has an SUV or pickup “needs” it, however did they manage to get through the day 20 years ago?
“As a consequence, the average amount of power under the hood has almost doubled, while the average vehicle weight has increased by nearly a third,” the article said.
Miles per gallon, per ton has gone from less than 30 miles in 1975 to more than 40, a considerable increase. Miles per gallon per car, however, was better 20 years ago.
I remember when Granddad’s big GM car was a joke in the 1970s, taking the blame for the fuel crisis then. Well, that car would be comparatively lightweight today.
I remember the real reason trucks and SUV’s came into style: Because 1970s and 1980s fuel efficiency standards didn’t apply to them. Neither did many safety standards. I drove a light-duty pickup in the 1980s, knowing that my chances of dying in a wreck were greater but willing to take the risk. The price was cheaper.
I say, let the market decide fuel efficiency. So take the subsidies off oil. Tax gasoline for the cost of the Iraq War. Pay for new roads and expansion of existing ones by taxes on gas and cars. Let car companies go bankrupt without government bailouts. Stop offering cash and tax amnesty for any car manufacturer willing to come here.
Failing that, the single most effective thing we could do to increase fuel efficiency in these United States is to tax non-hybrid cars by the ton.
If I insist on having a minivan that’s longer than others, fine. I should be willing to pay for it. I drive a Toyota Camry, which weigh a ton and a half. If I want the size, the ride, the comfort and the safety that’s greater than I’d get with a Corolla, I should pay for it.
I can hear farmers and other business owners gasping in horror already. I need a commercial vehicle. What would happen to me if I had to pay by weight?
I’ll tell you exactly what would happen. So many millions of people would no longer opt for a gas-guzzler, your commercial vehicle’s fuel prices would go down.

Categories: Legacy Archive