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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 16, 2004

Weekend Living

The Canola Boom

Commentary by MICHAEL AMES

At a recent Democratic fundraising event in San Francisco, John Kerry said something incredible. He said that if elected president, he would implement a "Roosevelt-Truman Manhattan Project to develop an alternative, renewable energy source by 2010."

This winter a group of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at The Community School in Sun Valley did something astounding. With the aid of their science teacher Scott Runkel, nine school children converted a diesel VW Rabbit into a "grease car" that runs on vegetable oil.

This year, the Bush administration did something stupendous by not actively and openly pursuing alternative fuel sources. While not acknowledging our Middle Eastern oil dependency, they did, however, start a war, wistfully hoping that a democratic domino effect could create the world’s biggest, friendliest corner gas station in Iraq.

To wit: vegetable fuel can be produced domestically. Vegetable fuel recycles CO2, whereas fossil fuels introduce new greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Grease car emissions are 34 percent cleaner than an already clean diesel engine. One 10-gallon tank of vegetable oil is nearly enough for a drive to Boise and back. The industrial transition to vegetable-based fuel could give our economy its next great surge: The Canola Boom.

Knowing the tantalizing opportunity to spur the domestic economy and cure our Arabian oil addiction all in a way that is environmentally beneficial, one would naively expect the government to look into it. Yet since 9/11 and throughout the petroleum-fueled war in Iraq, the administration never mentions that cars and tanks and buses can run on corn oil. When faced with a real opportunity for significant change, the stodgy Bush administration plods headlong in the opposite direction.

Is there a catch? Apparently the grease car’s exhaust smells distinctly of fried food.

For too long now, we have treated the Middle East, as Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman says, like "A big dumb gas station." We don’t care what the gas attendant does to his family when he goes home at night, as long as he gives us more gas. Opulence reigns in the royal court of Saud while the people languish in backward poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness. Combine this with the twisted Islamic teachings of fundamental clerics and you have the seething powder keg of nihilistic bloodthirst that creates a 9/11. This is the "Not Your Parents’ Jihad" generation of angry young Muslim men who have and will continue to attack our country with grave impunity.

We so clearly need to rid ourselves of this nagging Middle Eastern oil habit. Yet since 9/11 and throughout the war in Iraq, the administration has shown no interest in doing so. We continue to pad the pockets of the gaudy Saudi royals while everyday life in that country has not improved. The teachings of radical clerics do not change. And the only time this administration mentions alternative fuel, it is in regards to drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for its nonrenewable, crude oil.

Disengagement with Middle Eastern oil, through Kerry’s quietly proposed "Manhattan Project," would leave Arab rulers isolated. Their oil oligarchies will wither under internal strife as their revenues disappear and the people rise not against the "Great Satan America," but against their own negligent rulers.

Imagine a successful Manhattan Oil Project. Imagine an American administration with foresight, rather than tunnel vision.

Imagine our country no longer suckling at the teat of Saudi oil; our freighters cruising out of the Persian Gulf fueled this time by Crisco, leaving the unmistakably American scent of French fries in their wakes.

Michael Ames, former publisher of The Street, drives a car that gets poor gas mileage.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.