Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Last week, Michael Davis walked into Reminder Publications in classic 21st century fashion as he met this reporter with a huge grin, dark, product-ridden hair and squarely framed glasses, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. He's the classic representation of a 20-something college graduate in 2008.
However, Davis is far from ordinary. He has recently been named as a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, one of the most prestigious honors in the country.
The Fulbright Scholar Program was the brainchild of United States Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1945 and was signed into law by President Harry Truman the following year. Since its inception, only 279,500 grants have been awarded by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) to students, educators and professionals dedicated to scholars seeking answers to worldwide issues in a wide variety of fields. Each year, the U.S. Congress and other foreign governments fund the program with appropriations to the Department of State totaling over $180 million.
A small town native of Feeding Hills and a Fairfield University graduate with two bachelor of arts degrees, one in International Studies and the second in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Davis said he never thought he had a chance of being awarded a Fulbright scholarship.
He explained that he began thinking about applying for the scholarship while studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during his junior year of college. Davis said while there he became intrigued by the country's mass production of sugar-ethanol to achieve energy independence.
"Will and sweeping government action got it done [in Brazil]," Davis said.
He explained that in November 1975, the Brazilian government established the Programa Brasileiro do Alcool Combustivel in response to the spike in worldwide oil prices. The task of this organization was to find a "fuel alternative." The government ordered a dramatic increase in alcohol production and the manufacturing of alcohol cars.
In his International Studies Capstone, Davis explained, "The Brazilian Biofuel Program has rendered the country petroleum self-sufficient. They are able to sustain the energy demands of their vast country by supplementing petroleum needs with a combination of sugar-based ethanol and biodiesel. By doing this, Brazil achieves independence from oil-producing cartels effectively democratizing their source of energy, as well as providing close to a million jobs in the sugar-alcohol sector."
This March, Davis will continue his study of this technology and its correlation to sustainable practices as a Fulbright scholar at the Luis de Queiroz College of Agriculture at the University of Sao Paulo, the largest sugar-cane producing region in Brazil.
Davis said he hopes that by conducting hundreds of interviews from the cane cutters to the industry's CEOs he will be able to acquire a better understanding of how the United States may be able to adopt such practices in order to achieve energy independence and sustainability. Davis plans to conduct the interviews in Portuguese as he is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
"It has been over twenty years since the world first heard the phrase sustainable development," he wrote in his capstone. "Since then, various environmental groups and former politicians, such as Al Gore, have campaigned for a fundamental change in global culture to reduce our impact on the environment. Capitalism has consistently trumped environmentalism; a narrow-focused economic strategy on the part of the world powers has allowed 'business as usual' to continue. The idea that the Earth will sustain human life indefinitely is benighted."
Davis said he will also be researching the effects that this particular industry has on the labor forces, particularly laborers. Law 11.241 enacted on Sept. 19, 2002, requires that "the collection process be totally mechanized by 2021 in the state of Sao Paulo, effectively eliminating the use of manual labor in the collection process," according to Davis' capstone.
"By leaving your country and taking part in another person's culture, you're disrupting stereotypes and seeing people as they really are, which really encompasses the mission of the Fulbright," Davis said.
He noted that conducting such research comes at a very important time in human history, when sustainable practices are needed now more than ever to curb the effects of global warming.
"I want to be a part of a larger solution," he said. "Hopefully [as a Fulbright scholar] I'll be in a position where I can say something and people will listen."
Upon his return in December, Davis said he will begin law school. He explained that he hopes to be able to lobby legislators to implement change.
"Through the Brazilian experience, we see that anhydrous alcohol displaced gasoline equally, so there is no loss of power or efficiency. The United States government's heavy subsidies to corn farmers, a 54 cent tax on Brazilian Ethanol, and the obsession with high output engine sports cars and oversized SUV's provide significant roadblocks to the wide-scale introduction of biofuels in the United States," Davis wrote in his capstone. "Brazil's success in this area is based primarily on the collective interest and desire of their people converging with decisive government action. Brazil continues to be the world leader in ethanol production and biofuel use. The program is constantly improving and will continue to provide the people of Brazil with something to be proud of."
For more information about the Fulbright Scholarship Program go to www. cies.org.