Law of Unintended Consequences
August 28, 2008 · Updated 1:20 PM
The Charley Rose show on PBS, Feb. 13, featured Richard Branson. Branson, British entrepreneur and idea-man was discussing the dismal reality of global warming and the critical need to act to halt or slow its effects. As part of his discussion, he threw out a fact which, to me at least, was astonishing.
He said that between 1902 and 1916 automobiles in the U.S. and elsewhere ran on ethanol. This usage ended because the gathering forces of prohibition made its manufacture illegal.
I went to my handy old World Book to get the facts. The 1913 Congress passed the Webb-Kenyon Bill prohibiting the shipment of distilled spirits or wine or beer from wet states to dry ones. Later laws forbid advertisement of such beverages. During World War 1, laws prohibiting manufacture of such substances were passed and finally in 1919 the 18th Amendment to the Constitution made Prohibition the law of the land. The dry forces had won the war against those of whiskey and rum. But their success, later repealed by the 21st Amendment, propelled gasoline into its prominence in the market place, from which we still suffer.
Just think of the world-shaking changes this has caused. The rise to prominence of the oil-rich, sandy deserts of the Middle East was for territory and control of the now-vital resource. And now the global warming issue which portents even more disastrous events unless it is brought under control.
Branson suggested that since the world is awash with sugar which is now very low priced, the U.S. should open its borders to foreign sugar as an ethanol feedstock to alleviate the pain caused by rising prices for corn and soy products. He said sugar is a more efficient feedstock as well.
Anyway, the story is that those well-intentioned, true-blue American prohibitionists with their success brought us into the carbon-fueled world and all its problems. Talk about the (un-repealable) law of unintended consequences.