Tag Archives: whiskey

Chemistry Quiz

  1. What is the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry?
  2. What is this molecule?

                           CH4

3.  What is this molecule?

                           CH3-CH2-OH

Answers:

1.  The difference between organic and inorganic chemistry is carbon. Carbon (C) is the basic building block of life, thus “organic chemistry”. Everything that lives or has ever lived contains it.  Carbon dioxide (CO2), considered a “greenhouse gas” in today’s parlance, is part of the natural life cycle, exhaled by human beings and animals, used by plants for growth.  The earth’s atmosphere is composed of 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen.  The remaining one percent consists chiefly of argon, with extremely small amounts of other gases.  Carbon dioxide, then, constitutes significantly less than one percent of the earth’s atmosphere.

Green plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen in “photosynthesis,” a process involving chemical reactions, using the sun as an energy source.

Life is an organizing force which defies “entropy.” “Entropy” has several definitions, but it is generally perceived as the ultimate degradation of matter and energy in the universe toward patternless conformity, degradation, disorder, and death.  However, the organizing force of life concentrates the energy in the living or dead organism.  Wood, coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of stored energy sources derived from living or formerly living organisms.

2.  If you answered that CH4 is methane, you would be right. Methane is another so-called “greenhouse gas.” It is produced by all living and decaying organisms.  It is the simplest molecule in organic chemistry, consisting of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms.  Everything from marshlands to landfill, from animal waste to human farts, add methane to the atmosphere.

If you answered that CH4 is natural gas, you would also be right.  This is why natural gas is considered the cleanest fuel of all, because it produces no toxic by-products.  The chemical reaction for natural gas when used for energy production is:

CH4 + 2O2 + flame = CO2 + 2H2O

Translated, this means that one methane molecule plus two oxygen molecules plus heat of combustion generates one carbon dioxide molecule and two water molecules. Thus, burning natural gas generates twice as much water as carbon dioxide.

If you are considering “greenhouse gases,” you must recognize that water (steam) is a potent one. The cloud cover of the earth has the effect of trapping heat inside the atmosphere.

You will note that “climate change scientists” want to reduce CH4 levels, but oil and gas companies want to capture and sell CH4 in the “global economy.” They are using “fracking” and other techniques to extract CH4 from trapped deposits in the earth.

3.  If you answer that CH3-CH2-OH is whiskey, you would be right. Whiskey is a distilled alcohol, usually from grain, such as rye and maize or corn. It is also distilled from barley.  Corn liquor was an early American product and used in bartering by cash-strapped farmers to pay bills.  George Washington was a large-scale whiskey distiller.  In his later years, he made most of his money from the distilling business.  Distilleries are examples of “economic narrows” that operate as toll gates between producer and retail purchaser.  Washington and Alexander Hamilton conspired to enact the “Whiskey Tax” in 1791 to undermine the bartering system and replace it with a cash-based system that could be more easily taxed. (Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, 2007) This led to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion, in which Washington betrayed the farmers who had fought in the Revolution (thereby neglecting their farms) and were going bankrupt because of debt, taxes, and the devaluation of the Continental dollar, after the new United States currency was introduced.

If you answer that CH3-CH2-OH is ethanol (or ethyl alcohol), you would also be right.  The 2007 Congressional mandate to blend gasoline with at least 10% ethanol proved a boon for Archer Daniels Midland and other corporate giants, which benefitted mightily from the mandate, through tax breaks, other ethanol subsidies, and price supports.

It must be remembered that “farmers” and the “farming industry” are not the same. In fact, “farmers,” as we perceive them, are being displaced in large numbers by corporate mega-farms.  The corporate “farming industry” has significant political clout through donations to both major parties.  They also have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and friends in federal and state regulatory agencies like the USDA and EPA.  They are the major beneficiaries of federal and state mandates, subsidies, and price supports.  They have their fingers in every point of the farm to table (or vehicle) distribution chain, including storage, distilleries, commodities futures markets, transportation (ADM Trucking is a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland), and global sales.

In this election year, while the media and public are focusing on the presidential candidates, let us not forget that the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate are up for grabs. Whatever anyone thinks of Donald Trump, we must admit he is a game-changer.  His grass roots appeal is showing the power of the people to make a significant difference in how the game is played.  We may be moving closer to a true democracy, by default, as the “ruling elite” of the two-party system desperately tries to recapture its “market share” of public trust and acceptance.

Yes, the individual can make a difference, whether at the national or local level. If that individual is informed well enough ask the right questions of all candidates, from local to national levels, and to demand informed answers, we might wrest a revolution in consciousness from this circus of political psychodrama.

So far, Ted Cruz is the only presidential candidate who has come out against the ethanol mandate, but he has begun to waffle under political pressure from the “farm lobby” and others. Hillary Clinton does not seem to know the difference between natural gas and methane.  She is not alone.  It is frightening to think that so many people with zero knowledge of science are in positions to write and pass legislation mandating, regulating, and subsidizing industries that affect us all and to such a great extent.

It probably doesn’t matter much who becomes president. The real power is in Congress, which has the power to repeal stupid legislation, like the ethanol mandate.  Especially now that there’s a worldwide oil glut—one of the premiere reasons for passing the mandate—it’s especially good timing to revisit that law and its consequences.