lights The Madrigal Dinners have been canceled. Instead, we will be singing at the lighting ceremony on the square.

I love the lights on the square, and it should be fun, like caroling, though we can expect to freeze our — well, actually, Renaissance costume will accommodate long underwear, so our bottoms should be okay. Shoulders are another matter. If it is not so cold that we end up with excessive vibrato, it could be a perfect beginning to the holidays.107422-sm

I have had on my desk for about a week a survey from the local college. It is about biofuels. I started off well enough with the true/false philosophical questions:

“It is worthless for the individual consumer to do anything about pollution.” “When I buy products, I try to consider how my use of them will affect the environment and other consumers.” “Each consumer’s behavior can have a positive affect on society by purchasing products sold by socially responsible companies.”

A little iffy on the syntax there, but easy to answer.

But then there were questions like “What kind of raw materials do you think are converted to biofuels right now?” There was no spot for “I have no idea.” And “Do you think current processing of raw materials… is environmentally friendly? occurs in rural areas creating rural jobs? is done on a small scale to benefit small business?”

I don’t know. Having just read about the environmental costs of growing corn in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I  mark “Disagree” fairly confidently on the question of whether biofuel production produces more energy than it uses in the process of production. But we aren’t a corn-growing state particularly any more. Soybeans are more our thing, and rice. The Omnivore’s Dilemma hasn’t said much about soybeans yet. I know they are made into crayons (we sell them in our store). Maybe soybeans are used for fuel. If it were just corn, would the local university be into it?

I realize that it is a survey, not a test, and I will not be getting points for correct answers, and move on.

We are back to philosophical issues. “The so-called ‘ecological crisis’ facing humankind has been greatly exaggerated.” “Plants and animals have as much right as humans to exist.” “The balance of nature is strong enough to cope with the impacts of modern industrial nations.”

I am reminded of Stephen Jay Gould’s remarks on the whole concept of “saving the earth.” It was a great marketing ploy, he said, but the earth will be fine no matter what we do. We may bring about our own extinction and the end of the age of mammals, but the earth won’t care.

I’ve gotten distracted again. I return my attention to the survey. It is no wonder it is taking me so long.

Now we are supposed to rank the factors that would affect our fuel choices.

As far as I know, we have no fuel choices. I can buy gasoline, and people with diesel engines can buy diesel, and I think that is it around here. No one has ever offered me ethanol or restaurant grease fuel or any other choices, including “Other (please describe).” But there are a lot of factors listed on the survey, and I am supposed to say how they would affect my choice if I had one. Do I want fuel that reduces agricultural surplus? Does it matter how it smells? Certainly I want to make the least negative impact on the world food supply, but what is this “produced in the agricultural sector”? Who else could produce fuel made from soybeans or switch grass? Where is the agricultural sector? Some of the factories that make food and feed are pretty smelly. Is that what they are talking about?

I keep having to close the survey and think about it.

I make it through the questions about what I personally would do if fuel costs keep rising. But now there is a section asking “which option is more important to you?” The choices are things like “import biofuels vs. protect domestic biofuels industry from foreign competition.” I didn’t even know we had a domestic biofuels industry. Is it in the agricultural sector? Do they deserve protection?

And they want to know if I am more in favor of importing biofuels from politically stable countries or buying the cheapest biofuels. What is a politically stable country? Saudi Arabia? A stable dictatorship might have cheaper oils than a country going through upheavals, but should we hold it against countries that have a little instability? What are they talking about anyway?

I leave that part blank.

Now I am supposed to choose between rising fuel prices and lessening food prices, or rising food prices and lessening fuel prices. That seems like an unlikely choice. When fuel prices rise, food prices do too. Are we saying that using organic domestic waste in our cars would make milk prices go up? Or would restaurant grease be a more expensive fuel option? Would it depend on the kind of restaurant?

Hmm. Agree or disagree, “The government may not interfere with this.” Is the government interfering with biofuels? Maybe when we get the oil men out of the White House they’ll quit. The next government might be all for the agricultural sector and creating rural jobs. Or totally opposed to restaurant grease in cars, particularly if it turns out to be smelly. We might even have a government that is concerned about the environment. Would we really want the government to be unconcerned about fuel?

Oh, well. I finished the survey. I am going to mail it in today. Be watching for headlines that say, “Average American startlingly ignorant on the subject of biofuels.”

The lights are an example of conspicuous consumption of energy, of course, but they have a positive economic impact on our region, bringing in the tourists and whatnot. Perhaps we could run them off of restaurant grease.