What facts are really facts?

It can be really hard to know which way to feel about some issues because these days it seems everyone has their own set of “facts” that conclusively proves their point. The problem, of course, is that as soon as you conclusively prove a point, you run into someone else who has an entirely different set of facts that definitively proves their point, which happens to be the opposite view of the first point that was proven. Confused yet? I know I am.

One only has to sit and listen to a political debate on any issue between any candidates of any party to get all caught up in a muddled mess of my-facts-versus-your-facts. Then there is often a behind-the-scenes reporter who does a fact check on the aforementioned facts to clarify the situation. Unfortunately, more often than not, these fact checks often just compound the problem by providing another opportunity to spin the issue with a set of suspect facts about the facts.

Of course, in my line of work I see this all the time in great detail with the wide variety of complicated issues facing food and agriculture. This is certainly true in the current debate over the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending decision about the levels set in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The recent story by Joel Penhorwood on this issue highlights the divergent facts in the RFS debate. Here is an excerpt:

ACCF (an anti-ethanol group) Executive Vice President Dave Banks responded strongly to the outcry by Ohio ag and pro-ethanol groups.

“I think these guys sometimes get lost in this weird, parallel universe in which they actually convince themselves that this mountain of damning, definitive science and data about corn ethanol’s environmental impact doesn’t exist, or that folks don’t actually know about it,” Banks said in a statement.

That environmental impact Banks spoke of is one of negative consequence. The ACCF points to research that they say shows the production of ethanol doubles greenhouse emissions when compared to gasoline over 30 years, making it a dirtier fuel in the end — a highly disputed claim. 

“It’s just misinformation,” said Ohio grain farmer Chad Kemp about the anti-RFS ads. “The things they’re saying there is no scientific backing for. They’re trying to get the people to jump on board with it and basically, their idea is to kill renewable fuels in this country.”

The heated debate over the RFS really ramped up in recent weeks with dueling ad campaigns in Ohio and Washington, D.C. highlighting very different sets of facts pertaining to ethanol’s impact on the environment, the economy and so forth. So whose facts are right?

In the end, the complexities of these various issues generally boil down to some basic truths. The key for me is getting down to those basic truths and sorting out how I feel about those. So, here are some facts about the RFS (that are really facts) that helped me to form my opinion.

  1. Congress created and approved the RFS.
  2. Businesses planned their investment strategies based upon the RFS.
  3. The RFS was implemented and businesses responded as they saw fit.

While there are many more nuances to the RFS debate, for me this set of undisputable facts is reason enough to support it. The government made a deal. Regardless of whether you like the deal or not, it was made and I believe it should be upheld and seen through to fruition. Maybe this set of facts doesn’t address your primary concerns about he RFS. Here are more real facts.

  1. Ethanol offsets the purchase of foreign oil.
  2. Ethanol is made from corn produced by American farmers.

I would rather support farmers in the U.S. with my energy dollar than who knows who I am supporting when I use petroleum.

In the end, there is usually at least some kernel of truth in either side of these debates. Which facts matter to you? The way I sort through them is by identifying the key (and real) facts of the matter that really matter to me.

Either way, the RFS is a no-brainer in my book.

Facts is facts

Young one listen to me, what I tell you is true.

Many things look different, based upon your view.

Is it a grayish color? Or is it white and black?

When disscussin’ many matters, not all facts is facts in fact.

Is that wall purple? Or is it red and blue?

Which side of the story’s wrong, and which opinion’s true?

Who has the most clout? What pile’s the biggest stack?

Who is in control of which facts is facts in fact?

It’s a complicated game of fast talkin’ politikin.’

Your head starts a spinnin’ — your stomach starts to sicken.

Then you figure it all out and try to take a crack,

To take your turn at makin’ up what facts is facts in fact.

Soon enough you’re in the game. You’ve picked which side you’re on.

Sometimes your side loses, but sometimes you’ll have won.

Figures lie. Liars figure. Have you ever heard of that?

If you have then you’ll know — not all facts is facts in fact.

How do you sort it out? How do you really know?

How can you tell which team to choose? Which way should you go?

The answer lies with whom you trust to always have your back.

That’s where you start to find out which facts is facts in fact.

Look to what you KNOW is right and who you KNOW is wrong.

Use your experience and theirs to help you sing life’s song.

Live and really feel reality’s sting upon your back.

Through life’s lessons you learn to find which facts is facts in fact.

Choose your mentors wisely. Select those whose life is sound.

Find a God who’s proven, leaders who won’t let you down.

Do your due diligence and discard those things that lack.

Avoid the facts that seem like facts, but are not facts in fact.

Life’s secrets are in finding the facts that are in fact facts.

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  1. I think the argument about ethanol from corn hinges on how the corn is grown. If it is grown in a continuous no-till system (especially with cover crops) then the energy balance favors ethanol. If corn is grown with fall plowing and 1 or 2 spring tillage passes (with resulting soil erosion), then the anti-ethanol folks have a point worth debating. The efficiency of ethanol production has improved; if we can get the efficiency of producing the crop to improve (with no-till) then RFS wins.

  2. Additional facts:
    -The demand for gasoline has decreased significantly from when the RFS was adopted. Thus we are approaching the 10% blend wall.
    -The RFS was based on the consumption of a certain volume of ethanol, not a % of the blend.
    -Auto makers threaten to void warranties if consumers use >10% ethanol gasoline in most cars on the road.
    -Corn is a food product. You can’t eat crude oil.
    -Ethanol on a energy content bases is significantly more expensive than hydrocarbon only gasoline.
    -While required by the RFS, cellulosic ethanol is still not produced in the volumes needed to meet the requirements of the law.
    -The US produces about 4 million bbls of crude oil more that it did 5 years ago.
    -Canada is our largest source of foreign crude oil. We import very little from other countries including the middle east.
    I do not work for an oil company, but follow political energy related subjects.

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