Just Above Sunset
October 9, 2005 - Put Some Green Boom In Your Tank

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear here and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs.

PARIS - Friday, October 7 - A few weeks ago in the midst of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco gasoline prices were boosted to historic highs, in Europe as well as in America. In Europe fuel prices are always higher than across the Atlantic, possibly because cars are smaller here, countries are smaller, and government social programs are thirstier.


So motorists were getting a bit edgy and TV-news displayed graphic representations showing that the New York crude fixing was so much, and the government's petrol tax - a percentage of something or other - was floating on top, actually increasing more than the crude oil price. It looked so much like the government was getting some windfall profits that nearly nobody noticed the 19.6 percent value-added tax sitting on the very top, absolutely flooding the finance ministry with unearned petro-euros.


In most countries motorists would merely wring the hands and hope for better times but in France there are many people who are firmly convinced that the government - despite all its so-called socialist tendencies - is really clueless when it comes to the pain of pocketbooks being squeezed without mercy. Those government guys live off government money and the government perks that they give themselves.


Besides the people who doubt the government's sincerity there are others, like farmers, who are at the bitter end of the food chain, being squeezed by distributors, Brussels and Paris. These people, on the teetery edge of survival, are not famous for rolling over without a fight.


During the Katrina price-crunch farmers were shown on TV-news with their bio-reduction stills, stuffing in truckloads of sunflowers, and watching clear liquids emerge from one hose while grotty little pellets emerged elsewhere.


Then they were shown pouring that clear liquid into their tractor gas tanks. At the same time they'd say they hoped the customs inspectors wouldn't check their tanks - the stuff they were putting in them was without the petrol tax or the value-added tax - just like your classic bootlegger.


There actually are a few customs agents sneaking around testing gas tanks to make sure they contain taxed gas, but the farmers were philosophical, reasoning that they might save more money than any eventual fine.


Here in Paris we could salute the farmers, our good food-chain friends, and continue wringing our hands in frustration. After all, it's not the easiest thing to set up a bio-still in an apartment bathroom and feed it a ton of sunflowers.


Then amazement. TV-news can actually be good for something sometimes.


It showed Parisians going into discount supermarkets - not Monoprix! - and buying sunflower oil by the case, in 12 litre lots. Sunflower oil for cooking, at less than a euro per litre.


You know what these city people did? They poured that stuff in their gas tanks. Then TV-news got a tame professor of petro-chemistry and he said that sunflower oil is good stuff. Won't hurt a motor at all.


Lately there have been a lot of stories about alternate fuels. All sorts of farmers are being driven out of the food business and they are turning to green crops that can be easily and cheaply converted into bio-fuel or ethanol.


Imagine, some of these big green fields you see lying around, aren't producing cabbages for your salad, but some green boom for your gas tank. Turn it around a bit and if you are stuck, you can eat your fuel. Not only is it nutritious, but when used for fuel it's clean, and it degrades back into green. Try that with oil!


Anyway, while you are thinking about your rosy future, you should be aware that the newspaper that prints all the 'News That Fits' is a couple of years behind on this major story.


Yesterday's New York Times had a sob piece about wine growers in the Rhône titled 'A Wine of Character, but How Many Miles to a Gallon?' This was about how wine producers have been spoiled by success, or ruined by wine drinkers who are getting price-conscious, and how they are having to divert their beautiful AOC wines into ethanol. Either that or simply let it all rot.


According to the story, France had to ask Brussels for permission to turn 150 million litres of AOC wine into ethanol. The ethanol is sold to refineries and they add it to gasoline, just like beet juice has been added for years.


Then folks, because France has lots of big refineries - so many that some major ones are on strike all the time - France exports gasoline to the United States, which can't be bothered to build refineries.  You are driving around today in your gas-guzzling SUVs with some fine French AOC wines in your tank, according to the New York Times.


Actually all sorts of other people are gearing up to get into the fuel business. While the United States' foreign policy seems to be focused of the potential underground riches of the Middle East at the behest of the oil folks in Texas, there are people in that very state growing green stuff that will be converted into energy.


Thanks to greed oil producers are getting $60 a barrel for crude oil that doesn't cost a dime more to produce than when it was $30 a barrel. On top of it they get a subsidy for the empty hole left behind, and motorists pay the whole shot, choke on pollution and then global warming comes along and wipes out New Orleans.


But the end is near. Our farmers have the means to free us from dependency on fossil fuels, dependency on the Middle East, and dependency on those good old boys in Texas and their bosom pals on the futures exchanges.


Pretty soon we'll be able to gas up on green and go for a drive to a picnic out where it's green, and if we run out of wine we'll just siphon some out of the tank. Life in the green lane is going to be fine for everybody, all except for a small minority of those grinning petro dudes and their sorry lobbyists.


In case you are thinking this is all a fantasy, read the rest: When Jacques Chirac got out of the hospital a few weeks ago TV-news treated alert viewers to images of his new car, the just-launched Citroën C6. This big luxo otto, coming out about the time of the 50th anniversary of the mythic DS, has a diesel option, an injected V6 of 208 euro-horsepower. It runs on bio-diesel, based on colza. A gas pump at the Elysée Palace has been converted to green gas for the presidential fleet.




Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis



Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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