Naysayers are always with us

Friday, April 11, 2008

By Pettus Read

Guest Columnist

In my most recent column, I expounded on just why I am supportive of the use of ethanol and expressed the point that increased use of ethanol and biodiesel may help stem even higher gas prices at the gas pump.

But, since that column hit the presses, the naysayers of what's wrong with the world have spent their extra computer time sending me emails with copies of other people's articles attempting to prove that I must have been drinking the ethanol at the time I wrote that "piece," as my mother calls my articles, rather than pumping it in my FFV.

I use the term naysayer because it pretty much defines many of the comments I have received lately from those who just don't want to get onboard with using ethanol as one of our alternative fuels.

For those of you who are not sure just what a naysayer is, I found a definition from the "Urban Dictionary" on the Internet that explains their thought process. It says, "A naysayer is one who frequently engages in excessive complaining, negative banter and/or a genuinely poor and downbeat attitude. Naysayers are distinguished by their tendency to consistently view the glass half empty, make frequent one-way trips to negative town, and constantly emphasize the worst of a situation."

Nowhere in that column did I write that ethanol is the answer to all our energy problems. Yes, I have had a small decrease in mileage and when it starts up in the morning there is an odor that smells a lot like a night at the Grand Nationals Tractor Pull. However, I enjoy tractor pulls and if I can slow down the use of oil coming from the distant deserts in some small way in this country, then a few miles less to the gallon is well worth the effort.

Back in the '70s and '80s there was talk of moving our fuel usage from gasoline to ethanol. Farmers everywhere were all set to grow corn and soybeans to help wean our country off of foreign oil. Ethanol in small percentages was being used in gasoline and the hopes for a reduction in oil usage was seen just over the horizon for many in the agricultural industry.

That was until the price of oil went down, gas prices were reduced and the American public soon forgot about alternative fuels. Once again we all slipped back into our oil coma of over indulgence and moved on to other things. If in those years we had continued our efforts to find a good oil substitute and not been swayed back into our oil overuse habit by those at the head of the corporative dipstick, today's energy problems might not be happening.

Now we are again awaking from another foreign oil coma. Due to even higher prices projected at the gas pump and hopes for alternative fuels, our gaze is fixed once again on the proverbial hopes for the future horizon of running our vehicles with something else besides crude from deserts.

I have received emails containing the copy of "Time" magazine's April 8 cover story, "The Clean Energy Scam," by Michael Grunwald. His attack on biofuels, in particular ethanol, is just what our naysayers are looking for. The article lacked some facts that should have been mentioned and is really a one-way trip to negative town. I saw some of the same type of articles back in the '80s and it looks like another trip to deja vu all over again by political environment writers and talk show hosts.

They are spending their time naysaying food production in this country in relation to fuel manufacturing.

The American Farm Bureau reports that in 2002, cultivated cropland in the U.S. totaled 324 million acres. In 2007, only 317 million acres were cultivated for crops, and it is predicted that in 2008, 320 million acres will be cultivated for cropland. In that same time period ethanol production has increased from 1 billion gallons to a projected 9 billion gallons.

In that same statement AFB President Bob Stallman said, "This fact alone refutes the false assumption by some researchers that ethanol will increase the amount of land needed for corn production to make ethanol. There is ample land available for cropland in the United States. Moreover, U.S. corn yields are increasing at a rate of almost 3 bushels per year, another fact that has been ignored by some researchers."

Let's not give up this time. Just like going on a diet that works, it may cost you to buy the special food, but the results are worth it.

From ethanol to cellulosic and biomass fuels, the horizon for alternative energy success is out there. But folks, you have got to give it a chance. Another "Great Generation" is needed and you are it.

Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.