The balancing act: Butterflies are not free

By From page A4 | December 16, 2013

Every year on the first day of November Monarch butterflies arrive by the millions to the fir forests of central Mexico, except this year. Normally more than 60 million appear like magic, but this year they didn’t arrive until a week later and then in record low numbers, some saying fewer than 3 million. In fact, the 60 million from the year before was a low number.

Entomologists believe they may know the answer and it is not just pesticides. It may be the loss of native vegetation in the United States. Monarchs migrate yearly from Canada, across the United States central plains to Mexico and it’s what’s happening in the United States that could be jeopardizing the Monarch butterfly, farming.

Because of the federal government’s mandate for biofuels (read ethanol), the demand and the price of corm has skyrocketed and with that demand, native plants like milkweed have been destroyed in favor of planting millions of acres of new corn to meet this demand.

As reported in a recent New York Times article, studies show that between 60-90 percent of Iowa’s milkweed has been plowed under for corn and other farm plants. Milkweed is an important source of nectar for the Monarch butterfly.

Another example of the road of good intentions paved with unintended detrimental consequences. And why the push for ethanol? It had two intentions, the reduction of being energy dependent on foreign oil and a second intention of “combating global warming by reducing carbon dioxide,” the alleged main culprit of global warming.

Our president says if we don’t “combat” global warming we will subject ourselves to more severe and frequent hurricanes. If he said it once, he said it a hundred times. I guess he ignored the latest weather news, which said that the hurricane season this year (it closed on Nov. 30) was the mildest in 75 years. For the last eight years we were warned of massive destructive hurricanes only to find that the last eight seasons have been extremely mild in a historical context.

Or perhaps he keeps ignoring the continuing data that world temperatures are in decline for nearly the last 20 years. And this is occurring in spite of CO2 continuing to rise, reaching 400 ppm, up from about 280 ppm a hundred years ago and it is continuing to rise at the rate if 1.5 ppm annually.  And you think he only lied about health care. The question for our president should be when does he tell the truth?

Even more interesting is the frightfully cold weather the Northern hemisphere is suffering. In the last seven days there were 205 record snowfalls, 969 low maximum temperatures, 203 low temperature records and only 17 new high temperature records and 61 high minimum temperature records. It has been a cold week and many of those record snowfalls were in Texas and it’s not even winter yet. I don’t need to tell you that Northern California has recently suffered from record low temperatures as well.

Global sea ice is at its highest level in 25 years and the Arctic ice extent is the highest in 10 years. Alaska is being pummeled in snow and Italy is also suffering from arctic winds and heavy snowfalls. And if that isn’t enough, heavy ice in Antarctica has delayed the Aurora Australis ice breaker on its return to Hobart. So where is the global warming? It sounds more like the beginning of the next Ice Age. And this is how they start. With sunspot activity at record lows, it sounds like the world will be facing more cold weather for at least the next 10 years.

And ethanol is a poor fuel to begin with. It is water intensive to produce. It has an energy density a third less than gasoline. It is expensive and because it is hygroscopic it is difficult to transport and damaging (corrosive) to internal combustion engines. The only reason for ethanol is politics. In a free market there would be no ethanol. We have been hearing of the promise of dirt cheap ethanol from cellulosic materials like switchgrass for years. Once at an automotive dinner about five years ago, an allegedly knowledgeable reporter claimed cellulosic ethanol would be cheaper (and as plentiful) than gasoline by 2011. The breakthrough was just around the corner. Yeah, sure. Here we are three years after her claim was to come to fruition and the corner is farther away than ever.

Ethanol is just another reason why the government should stay out of decisions about products. When it comes to the marketplace, all the government seems to do is mess it up. And as to foreign oil dependency, it’s at its lowest level in decades, because of new American oil technology. U.S. oil production is approaching its highest level in decades and we are now exporting petroleum products at the highest rate. Meanwhile we are going to lose one of nature’s most beautiful beings.

Larry Weitzman is a resident of Rescue. 

Larry Weitzman

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