Wednesday, April 16, 2008

High cost of fallout

During the past few years, I have written a couple of times about biofuels – making diesel or gasoline out of stuff other than oil. Most anything that contains hydrogen, oxygen and carbon can be turned into fuel – including old tires, and even diapers.

Recently, we’ve seen an upsurge in ethanol production, fueled by a strong push from the Bush administration and strong lobbying by companies that had been struggling to make their ethanol units prosper. Corn’s a great crop for making ethanol, and corn growers and processors have been harvesting the benefits of growing demand (as well as tax breaks, subsidies, etc.).

Never mind that ethanol doesn’t contain the same energy as an equal amount of gasoline, say, or that it takes so much energy to produce that the net saving for the planet is dubious. Nor that farmers are plowing under other crops to grow corn.

Never mind until now, that is. The international news has been reporting for weeks that the mad dash toward biofuels is cutting into food production and raising food prices not just here – bought a gallon of milk lately? – but around the world.

Many of those experiencing the fallout can least afford it. (Maybe some of those are you?)

Or not. But in an interconnected world, we have to at least wonder how what we do affects our neighbors (if we can’t love them as we love ourselves).

In 2007, for instance, the skyrocketing price of corn put the bite on Mexican wallets because corn is a major staple of Mexican diets. Small family farms in Mexico that grew corn found that increasing American production had driven the price down below their subsistence level. Farmers went under – or went north to look for work. Some likely wound up helping harvest some of that U.S.-grown corn that had put them on the road to begin with.

Other factors played into this – bad weather, political instability, the lure of a better overall life. But corn, like tobacco and cotton in another era and another place, is a crop of potential trouble.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore every avenue to alternative energy. We SHOULD explore EVERY avenue and also consider the impact of it on ourselves and the rest of the world.

Wonder if you can turn kudzu into biodiesel?


  1. Kudzu? Hah hah! You must live in the Deep South, Bill!

  2. There is too much money going into the pockets of the ones that have control over the oil prices, therefore, they do not want to find an alternative cheaper fuel or even one that would benefit us all in other areas. It's all about the almighty dollar and us little guys don't have enough of that to fight the system.

  3. Way back in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used the phrase, ”I know it when I see it, to describe pornography. Today, I use the same phrase to describe the downside of CORN ETHANOL: It's CORNOGRAPHY!

  4. So, why are we paying farmers to not grow corn? So the oil companies can stay in Control?
    And the price of fuel...could it not have something to do with CONTROL!!!! Want to control the world? Bankrupt it. Create total chaos, hunger, etc., and you have a world of slaves.

  5. A follow-up:

    Interesting that Britain should think about cutting back on biofuel crops. Won't happen here until we get a change in administration, and maybe not then. Lots of pressure to underwrite the biofuel industry.


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