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See Inside October 2008

Fuel's Errand: "Alternative" Fuel Hunt by State

Whimsical suggestions from Steve Mirsky on what each state can bring to the search for oil alternatives



Matt Collins

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has a new book out called Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America. He makes the case that going green isn’t bad for the economy—in fact, it’s the only way for America to remain an economic leader. I interviewed Friedman for the weekly Scientific American podcast (available at www.SciAm.com/podcast). And an abridged Q&A version of that interview can be found here.

But something came up during our conversation worth closer consideration during the homestretch of this protracted presidential campaign.

I’d long suspected that the enthusiasm for ethanol was really an enthusiasm of politicians for pandering to Iowa’s corn constituents. Because ethanol from corn has many downsides—higher food prices, more water for irrigation, possible losses in nutritional value of the soil, potentially higher levels of ozone output from car exhaust, and more. So I asked Friedman, “Would corn ethanol even be on the table if Iowa didn’t have the first caucus?” Friedman replied, “There is no question; it would not be on the table. This is another form of agricultural welfare in my view.”

So I got to wondering, what fuels in abundant supply could the other 49 states offer as alternatives if they led off the presidential sweepstakes?

Alabama: Confederate flags; Confederate flag blankets; Confederate flag posters; Confederate flag car window decals.
Alaska: Electrons flowing through Ted Stevens’s series of tubes.
Arizona: Solar, along with “My Grandson Is an Honor Student” bumper stickers. Plus, see Florida.
Arkansas: Hope. And the oil coating its feathers.
California: Any remaining marijuana not being used medicinally.
Colorado: Coors beer. (The pressurized carbonation, not the trace amounts of ethanol.)
Connecticut: Potential energy stored as extreme jaw tension.
Delaware: Virtually endless supply of credit-card junk-mail applications.
Florida: Medicare forms; Bengay tubes. Plus, see Arizona and Alabama.
Georgia: Peaches; whatever is actually in Caffeine-Free Diet Coke; Jimmy Carter poetry.
Hawaii: Thermal from Kilauea; petroleum-based long-chain polymer leis.
Idaho: Recovered french fry oil; Larry Craig’s toe-tapping nervous energy.
Illinois: Land of Lincoln logs.
Indiana: Hoosier Hysteria; Indy 500 fuel spills.
Kansas: Elmira Gulch bicycle power.
Kentucky: Bourbon; cellulosic ethanol processed by thoroughbred horses.
Louisiana: Hydroelectric at the 17th Street Canal.
Maine: Pages emerging from Stephen King’s printer.
Maryland: References to Johns Hopkins as John Hopkins, Johns Hopkin or John Hopkin.
Massachusetts: Wind power of Red Sox fans doing anti-Yankees chants at all home games, including those the Yankees aren’t in.
Michigan: Unsold SUVs.
Minnesota: Lake power (needs a lot more work); mosquito wing movements.
Mississippi: Double letters; see Alabama.
Missouri: Snide remarks about Kansas.
Montana: Joe; Hannah.
Nebraska: Angst produced by driving
the entire 455 miles across I-80 without even making a stop at Cabela’s.
Nevada: What gets drilled here stays here.
New Hampshire: “I Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers.
New Jersey: Offal from Satriale’s Pork Store; hair gel.
New Mexico: Turquoise jewelry.
New York: Subterranean ticker tape deposits; broke brokers.
North Carolina: Unfinished furniture; offal from all the pig farms stocking Satriale’s.
North Dakota: Vacuum energy.
Ohio: I-dotting energy of the Ohio State sousaphone player.
Oklahoma: Panhandlers.
Oregon: Ways to say Oregon.
Pennsylvania: Lancaster County’s unused electricity; apple butter.
Rhode Island: Quahog’s emetic chowdah!
South Carolina: Miss Teen South Carolina’s responses to pageant questions.
South Dakota: Giant sculptures; pronghorn pronks.
Tennessee: Al Gore’s awards.
Texas: Big, bright night star photons; wide, high prairie sky wind.
Utah: Osmonds.
Vermont: Maple syrup supercharged with dairy cow methane.
Virginia: William and Mary; Joey and Mary; Frankie and Mary ...
Washington: Tourists looking for the Lincoln Memorial.
West Virginia: Discarded mine safety regulations.
Wisconsin: Brett Favre retirement speeches; cheese curds.
Wyoming: Unused half of Dick Cheney’s smile.

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