Gentlemen, don’t start your engines

It seemed like a great idea for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions — power our cars from biodiesel fuel derived from palm oil, a commodity used in everything from shampoo to cosmetics to potato chips and literally, "grows on trees."

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Published March 19, 2007 by The Frederick Post News Online
By Unknown 

Maryland — It seemed like a great idea for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions — power our cars from biodiesel fuel derived from palm oil, a commodity used in everything from shampoo to cosmetics to potato chips and literally, "grows on trees."

Now that we are well on the road to pursuing maximum biodiesel production, serious "deforestation issues" are surfacing, and entire species from gorillas to rhinos to Sumatran tigers are at risk as the Southeast Asia rain forests are cleared to create palm oil tree plantations.

By now, you'd think most everyone's heard of the Butterfly Effect, a reference used to illustrate the more technical Chaos Theory notion of "sensitive dependence on initial conditions." It posits that a butterfly can create atmospheric changes that ultimately cause a tornado.

Read: The flapping of the butterfly's wing represents a seemingly insignificant change in the initial condition of a system which triggers a chain of events that leads to a large-scale phenomenon. Conversely, if the butterfly had refrained from wing-flapping, the trajectory of the system might have been entirely and vastly different. So, who in this palm oil initiative wasn't paying attention?

What in the world made us believe that even the slightest intrusion into the rain forests, for any reason, would not possibly spawn ramifications beyond, and in addition to, cranking out the barrels of palm oil demanded by the industry developing around the global warming crisis?

What can account for the breathtaking lack of foresight and restraint that propelled all palm oil production systems forward with seemingly negligible regard for potential on-the-ground and atmospheric impacts? Scarier still, word is on the street that the now burgeoning palm oil industry may well be "incapable of self-regulation."

That sounds familiar. It may be the human condition to eschew self-discipline and celebrate our gifts and abundance by consuming the world's resources with abandon. Enough already. Frederick Friends, our local Quaker Congregation, has the right idea. It leads away from our all-consuming "growth-centric mentality" towards a redefinition of prosperity.

No SUVs in the garages of this concept. Instead, you're likely to encounter a bicycle, maybe like the one displayed at the group's first Energy, Environment and Peace Forum. As the placard attached to the handlebars reminded, the bicycle is a "human-powered vehicle" — one we already know gets an impressive number of unending miles per absolutely no gallon of any kind of fuel, including biodiesel.

There will be plenty of times we can jump on our bicycles instead of seatbelting ourselves into our cars to get to some of the places we need or want to go. But that will require regulating our behavior and making the choice. If we do opt to bike it, and depending on the season, odds are we could encounter a butterfly. Or two.

Let's be sure to pay attention.