Farm fields landscape

My story in short, and my encounter with ethanol

I've had a lifetime of experience in the construction trades and project management. I was a salesperson and managed the electrical and plumbing departments at a local chain of homecenters / lumberyards, and later served as Construction Project Manager with a $3 million budget at an intentional community that served adults with special needs. I spent ten years teaching high school physics and technology in independent schools. And I delivered all three of my children (with midwives backing me up!)

I grew up in Southern California in the boom years of the 50s. Though I enjoyed outdoor times with family, at the sea and camping, I was essentially an idealist and bookworm. The confidence in "doing good" that went along with that was "blown up" by revelations of atomic destruction, pollution and its concomitant health effects and birth defects.

Since leaving college I've spent my life learning and doing practical services for real lives. I became a professional builder, so I could have charge over the quality of my work, and know it would not have hidden "side effects."  I became a solar heating installer in the early days of the industry at a time when issues of sustainable energy were just coming to light. I studied at night to gain the knowledge that could result in work of maximum longevity and quality; I did much of the design work for hundreds of systems – domestic hot water, pool, spa, and home heating, including 24 whole-house systems, both air and hydronic. One development was featured in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

With the birth of my children education became a priority. For sixteen years I was involved with alternative education, including ten years teaching high school physics and technology at independent Waldorf schools – working to learn and develop an education that did not deaden the love of nature inherent in young people, and an extended science that considered actual human experience a legitimate and necessary element of knowledge.

For six years I worked in sales at Ed Herrington, Inc., a local chain of home centers & lumber yards, in counter sales and managing the electrical and plumbing departments. I was responsible for many product lines, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly sales.

I was hired away from this to develop an office as Construction Project Manager for all phases of construction and renovation at Camphill Village,USA, a life-sharing community of 250 individuals, including over 100 adults with developmental disabilities. in Copake, NY, where I was responsible for a $3 million 5-year budget and all phases of process, from project definition through Requests for Quotation to contract, implementation and sign-off, along with every step of the accounting and, finally, reimbursement by a State agency.

Retired after the Camphill projects, I became involved in my town and neighborhood of Stuyvesant, a rural area on the Hudson River in Columbia County in upstate New York with a long history of agriculture, particularly dairy farms and apple orchards.

Early in 2013 I experienced a kind of "perfect storm" of conscience. I saw the extraordinary film "Chasing Ice," with its heroic explorers who produced time-lapse photos of the actual deep retreat of glaciers in the Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, and Glacier National Park. The next night I heard Bill McKibben speak illustrating that Climate Change is NOW, not only in the future; that oil companies with budgets larger than most countries count as their wealth five times more fossil carbon than we can burn without destroying life as we know it; and that near-militant resistance to "business-as-usual" is essential.

And I encountered a book by a life-long practitioner of Permaculture ("permanent culture"), David Blume, detailing real-world sustainable production of ethanol fuels to supplant petroleum in transportation and heating, which account for 709% (CHECK) of petroleum use in this country.

Being "ecologically literate, " I was confident in my knowledge that in actual fact ethanol involves the equivalent of burning food in automobiles - what could be more stupid? That it takes more energy to grow and process ethanol than what is attainable when it is used as fuel; and that it takes food out of the mouths of poor farmers in Latin America.

All of which David Blume, in his book Alcohol Can Be a Gas (he's from California) and the web site of the same name - demonstrated to be false. Note that I said "demonstrated."  I'm a science and engineering guy; I want to see real numbers, clear details of working assumptions and their rationale, multiple peer-reviewed studies. Blume provides these - along with multiple references that detail the sources and methodologies of the attacks and dissension on ethanol.