“Our lives are destined to change,” said Iowa State University director of bioethics Clark Wolf, who spoke at a Missouri State University’s Public Affairs Conference.
“We grew up in an age of cheap energy,” he said. “No more. the party’s over. It’s coming to an end.”
Ethanol, the fuel additive made from refined corn sugar, has recently received a boost in popularity due to encouragement from the Bush administration.
Because it is made from quick-growing corn, ethanol is considered by many a major renewable resource that is better for the environment than conventional fossil fuels.
But ethanol is only a short-term solution, according to Wolf, who said that the additive’s long-term impact on the environment and economy would outweigh its current benefits.
“Alternatives to oil will not reduce our reliance on petroleum by one single drop,” he said.
Ethanol-producing plants release such pollutants as carbon monoxide, methanol, formaldehyde and cancer-causing acetic acid into the air. Over an extended period of time, the negative effects of these chemicals could be overwhelming.
The additive is also expensive to produce and, according to the panel, inefficient because of the amount of energy required to make it.
“More energy is used to produce ethanol than the energy that is actually made from it,” said New York Times transportation writer Matthew Wald, who agreed that ethanol is a risky investment for the nation.
“Oil is like any other commodity,” he said. “The price is going to crash soon, but the average price will probably continue to increase over the years.”
While some economic factors like the recent war in Iraq can cause the price of crude oil to fluctuate, Wolf believes we’ve only seen the beginning.
“The rate of discovery of oil is in decline while demand increases,” he said. “We are reaping more than we can possibly sow.”
The panel stressed the importance of conservation above all other current methods of fuel-efficiency.
Wald suggested that by doing a little every day, Americans can help drive down the rising cost of energy. Simple acts like walking, taking public transportation, and carpooling could help reduce the demand for gas.
“We forget the consequences of our every day actions,” said Jacek Grodzicki, associate professor of economy at the University of Gdansk.
“There is more carbon dioxide in the air today than there has been in over 650,000 years,” he said. “We must be thoughtful. It makes no sense to separate ourselves from nature.”
“We are each responsible for our predicament,” Wolf said. “Each of us is entangled in the consumption process. Our desire for oil may overcome our concern for the Earth.”