Sunday, January 20, 2013

Anti-ethanol Propaganda isn't 100% Wrong, Just 100% Crazy

Yesterday, I found myself clicking around a website that called itself "smarter fuel future". The distortion of facts to fit fictions and lies by omission committed throughout the site would be laughable, if they weren't so readily accepted by some of the mental midgets (mental little people?) that frequent this site's comments section from time to time.
I welcome the wingnut contingent, though. I'd like to say something here about keeping things honest and objective, but the reality is that a pageview's a pageview, right?
SO, in the interest of calling the anti-ethanol people out on their ridiculous bullshit keeping things honest, let's address some of the nonsense I read on the "smarter fuel" website. People with an IQ below 90, prepare to comment sarcastically without understanding the logic of what you are about to read.
The specific link that came to my attention from an ad on Gas 2 that was emailed to me by a confused reader. It linked to this page that talked about vehicles and small engines, so let's start there.
Please click the link and notice the heading "Decreased Fuel Economy". The "smarter fuel" site reminds us that "smarter" is a relative term almost immediately here, committing 2 logical fallacies at once. The "smarter fuel" website (like most ethanol detractors) points to the 100% correct fact that ethanol contains about 30% less energy by volume than petroleum gasoline. They specifically say "vehicles fueled with ethanol cover fewer miles per gallon than those running on conventional gasoline. The higher the ethanol blend, the lower the fuel economy, meaning consumers must fill up at the pump more frequently." The first fallacy in the "Decreased Fuel Economy" argument is here: the informal fallacy of equivocation, or "the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)." In this case, "fuel economy" and "miles per gallon" can mean many things, since "fuel" is a vague and intentionally misleading term, and "miles per gallon" implies "miles per gallon of gasoline". Think about the statement another way: if you substitute the vague term "fuel" with the specific term "petroleum gasoline", I think (hope) that arguments made against ethanol from a basis of "decreased petroleum gasoline economy" becomes a laughable objection to ethanol. They are literally saying "the higher the ethanol blend, the lower the amount of petroleum gasoline will be used", and there, RIGHT THERE, is their core complaint ... because they are either oil company employees or the idiot pawns of oil company marketers who never took (or, more likely, passed) a formal logic class.
Education FTMFW, amirite?
Beating a dead horse just a bit, I'd like to point out that (even if you accept that whoever wrote it simply too stupid to realize their logic is horribly flawed) this is strictly an appeal to short-sighted convenience, and places "more trips to the pump" ahead of concerns about foreign oil dependence, environmental damage that comes from extracting oil from the ground, the huge amounts of resource-draining government oil subsidies, the wars fought over a finite (non-renewable) energy source, and the numerous health problems associated with burning petroleum fuels. In scientific terms: all this anti-ethanol hysteria is crazy-talk.
Moving on, let's talk about the next heading, "Damage to Vehicles and Performance". The site says "Beyond the damage to your wallet, ethanol can also damage vehicles and affect performance - corroding metals, causing rubber to swell and causing engines to break down more quickly. Some ethanol blends should not be used on certain engines and motors at all. EPA's E15 waiver covers only 2001 and newer motor vehicles." All of that, by the way, is 100% true. Alcohols can dry out the organic rubber o-rings and fuel lines in many automotive fuel systems, causing them to crack, leak, and require replacement. If not enough fuel is getting to your engine because of a fuel leak, your car will stop running and require maintenance. You may need to replace several feet of rubber fuel lines with ethanol-safe line, at a retail cost of about $6/ft. O-rings cost a few cents.
That doesn't sound quite as scary as "break down", does it?
Those of you who are not too young or too senile to have long memories will recall that a lot of this bickering and fear-mongering sounds pretty similar to the hubbub raised in the 70s when the US government banned the use of lead as an octane-boosting fuel additive. The transition away from leaded fuels was fought by the oil companies, who didn't want to have to find new ways to refine fuel for higher octane. Claims were made that vehicles designed to run leaded fuel would experience knock conditions that could damage engines' efficiencies and hurt fuel economy, even leading to break downs.
Sound familiar?
As with ethanol, the claims made against unleaded gas were true. The changeover was long, lasting form 1975-1986, and it was expensive. Automakers had to build engines with tighter tolerances that ran hotter to burn the unleaded fuel, while oil companies had to find newer and cheaper ways to make higher-octane fuels available to the public. Change costs money, and the people who will have to spend that money will fight doing so, tooth and nail, long after reason has failed them.
Why was lead used in the first place? Leaded gasoline was discovered on Dec. 9, 1921, at the General Motors research labs in Dayton Ohio. GM researchers had been testing fuel blends since 1916, trying to stop engine "knock." Knock is caused by early detonation of fuel inside a combustion chamber due to compression, which pushes the engine "backwards" causing a knock-like sound. Knock was a hug problem in early internal combustion engines, and was a problem that was preventing the development of higher efficiency, higher compression engines that could generate more power. GM researchers tried many different additives and found quite a few that worked well. Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) from cellulosic materials became Detroit's strong preference. "Of course," Thomas A. Midgley of GM wrote in a memo to his boss, GM research vice president Charles Kettering, "alcohol is the fuel of the future." Oil companies, however, resisted the use of alcohol, and pushed for lead - which was (all together now) cheaper.
That's right, kids. We knew 100 years ago that alcohol was the way forward, but we decided to put all that aside in favor of a substance that was known to be toxic just because it was cheaper.
Thankfully, someone got their head out of their ass long enough to put pen to paper and legislate lead out of our fuels. That move away from lead in gasoline was motivated by public health. It was expensive, to be sure, but it was money well spent. Cases of lead poisoning are way down, and the average lead content in Americans' blood is much lower than it was in the 70s and 80s.
Today, the move away from gasoline is similarly motivated by public health. Carbon emissions cause heart attacks and respiratory problems and kill millions every year. Thousands of soldiers - American and otherwise - die in land wars over oil. Inconceivable fortunes in government spending subsidize oil companies and lobbyists, and pay them to produce twaddle like the "smarter fuel" site, all in an effort to convince the most impressionable among us that their vote should be cast this way or that, so that they can save their fortune just a little while longer. "Don't think too much about the future," they say. "In the future, we'll be dead."
Sorry, oil-advocate douchebags. My kids will be alive in the future. They're pretty cute, so they'll probably breed and then their kids will be alive in the future. I'd like for them to have some clean air to breathe, some water to drink, and maybe some scenery that isn't shimmering purple from oil slicks. As such I would like to ask, sincerely, that all you anti-ethanol hysterics douse yourself in your precious gasoline and die in fires. (this is the part where we all send letters to the men and women in congress who opposed the EPA's move and tell them we hate them)
Sources: Smarter (ha!) Fuel Future, Radford University, and a bunch of others, linked-to in the text.
The post Anti-ethanol Propaganda isn't 100% Wrong, Just 100% Crazy appeared first on Gas 2.