Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Pied Piper of Ethanol

Critics of peak oil often sidestep dealing with issues of geology and production, and dive straight in with attacks on the resulting scenarios, as if that might falsify the science and the observations of a century.

A favored rubric used in the critique of “gloomy” scenarios is to pseudo-falsify them by associating them with religion. In other words, should one claim people around the world are going to starve, and worse that overfed Americans might hit their ideal weight, one will be tarred with the brush of the Christian Apocalypse. In this way, many rationalists are lumped in with those who take the book of Revelation literally.

Thus categorized, they are humiliated and forgettable -- in the minds of critics.

This is instructive, because it allows the stray cornucopian thinker who might be reading this blog an insight into how I conceive of Vinod Khosla in my pitifully illogical and bad chemical soaked brain.

I think Vinod Kosla sincerely appeals to as broad an audience as possibly on basically religious grounds, with a shamanistic frosting of reason and science around his gooey, globalist new- age vision.

He shepards a flock of boomers who need the salve and balm of forgiveness for consuming the world - - but not actual change. Oh no.

Charlie Rose interview of Vinod Khosla and Richard Branson [video]
I'm not a big believer in asking people to change their behavior

This problem, if it is going to be solved, (...) is going to be solved by lots of money from Wall Street

It is very visible to me that within 25 years we can replace all the gasoline in (the U.S.) with ethanol.

While I have perhaps unfairly arranged his quotes, I believe this is an accurate portrait of his message. Ignored here are the questionable assumptions and erroneous statements regarding ethanol which he litters his presentation with. Others have done a fine job highlighting the technical problems.

Vinod Khosla has been struck by a powerful vision of America powering her pathetically inefficient transportation system on grass, and doesn’t realize that he has hitched his wagon to a perpetual motion machine.

His passion is that of a saint,

A holy fool,

And he might succeed in dragging your friends and neighbors with him.

People love it when you tell them they needn't change, that a thirty dollar upgrade on their car will save the world.

Forgive me, world, for I have sinned. Pennies in the hat.


At 9:28 PM, September 29, 2006, Blogger WHT said...

Brilliant post. This was something that has irked me for a long time -- getting lumped in as a "true believer", as if seeking truth gets confused with relgious beliefs.

And it figures that Charlie Rose would bring Khosla on. He tends to cheerlead for whoever his guest is, substituting some inane philosophical mumbo-jumbo instead of asking a hard-hitting question. If Rose ever asks something like "What is the EROEI of Ethanol?", I would poop in my pants.

At 1:10 AM, October 01, 2006, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

I used to enjoy Charlie Rose, some time around 1993.

Thanks for your comments. Turning religion and peak oil into a mobius strip infuriates me.

Energy is such a fringe topic for most people (water cooler talk about gasoline prices notwithstanding) that langauge can be used seductively, as when Vinod claims it is more energy effecient to produce ethanol than gasoline. Blah. He actually invoked transportation costs as being unique to gasoline. Really. Reeeeeaaaalllly.

I'm tired of the software / communications tycoon as saviours. Software is endlessly mutable. Hitch a factor of ten software developer to a middlin' idea, and you will have a successful business. Tie same to a great idea, and you might end up with a google dollars.

Software and energy don't mix. Software is like any other techology, takes energy to activate it.

Vinod Khosla may not figure that out until he is invested in 35 ethanol plants that can't acquire enough feedstock due to a shortage of


At 4:50 AM, October 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


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At 10:05 AM, October 03, 2006, Blogger Phila said...

People love it when you tell them they needn't change, that a thirty dollar upgrade on their car will save the world.

Sad but true. And what's even worse is that when you tell them that it won't, and that only massive, disruptive societal change will, they won't listen.

IMO, there's really only one way in which a technological fix is at all feasible, and that's in the sense that technology is normative and actually "thinks" for us. People always follow the path of least resistance, so that path needs to be changed by changing technology towards a deconsumptive model.

I'm not holding my breath, personally...especially when I see people squandering valuable time and credibility by prattling about ethanol.

At 12:26 AM, October 05, 2006, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

I hope some time in the near future the only people involved with cars are men in their basements painting little models and putting them on little roads next to little lovingly painted chicas.

Really, they are so ancillary to western civilization, like disposable razors or vinyl.

At 11:50 AM, October 11, 2006, Blogger Bill said...

Jon, nice post.
As usual you have augered into the center of the issue. Most people have not reached the realization that when there is no oil to grow crops there will not be enough crops left over to replace oil. Bio-fuel seems logical but I think that is because it is logical at some level of population. At some level of population very much lower than exists today. I can imagine a society living the good life in a sustainable manner, using only bio-fuels for transportation, but I have a very hard time imagining how to get to that place gently. Short of everyone suddenly deciding to quit having children and living a "simple" life it doesn't seem like it is going to come down easy.
BTW: I got here via a link from Good to see them supporting the Peak Oil pragmatists.


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