Crude, Corn & Climate – Three C’s That Spell Castastrophe?

With the possible exception of the whole Iraq war, there can scarcely be a better example of the inability of this American administration to think things through before making decisions, than the case for bio-fuel from corn. Not only was the idea not adequately considered, but it indicates the extent to which this government is controlled by so-called “big business”.

The idea, as publicized by George Bush, was to produce ethanol from corn to supplement imported oil. Ethanol burns more cleanly than gasoline, making it – theoretically – more environmentally friendly.

In practice, that is not necessarily the case. As George Monbiot points out the use of biofuels may have a disastrous effect on the planet, accelerating global warming rather than mitigating it.

Using corn to produce automobile fuel has even more immediate effects than catalyzing global warming. We are experiencing them right now, and it’s going to get much worse. The US normally has a healthy corn surplus each year, driving prices down and keeping animal feeds at a realistic level, but analysts back in May 2006 were suggesting the surplus will vanish in 2007/8 and predicting a deficit of around one billion bushels.

The effect on prices is obvious, as not only animal feed costs will rise. Almost everything Americans eat and drink contains corn in one form or another.

As though determined to add insult to injury, this administration’s fiasco in the Middle East has ensured oil prices will remain artificially high for the foreseeable future. The effect of high oil prices is to raise the cost of everything else. So, not only is our government intent on forcing more money from the pockets of its citizens by raising corn prices, but it’s also delivering a “quick one-two” to the nation’s solar plexus by artificially inflating crude oil costs.

Still, it can be argued one or two mistakes hardly constitute a disaster. The catastrophe results from cock-up number three.

Last year, the American president trumpeted the advantages of ethanol over petroleum, but also suggested hydrogen, a truly clean motor fuel, could very well replace ethanol in the not-to-distant future. That now seems unlikely to happen. According to

“Ethanol is only one clean energy solution that has been discussed recently. Oil is out, and all ideas are welcome. But in the light of cold, hard reality, the dreams of hydrogen are fading fast. There are very few distribution systems for hydrogen, making mass production almost impossible, and it’s hard to market a product as expensive as hydrogen. Right now, it’s just not a viable solution……….”

As George Bush throws all his eggs into the single basket of ethanol production from corn, he neglects to note the hazard of climate change on America’s ability to produce adequate amounts for the purpose. Already, we have noted, the grain surplus in this country has been eroded to nothing by the thirst for ethanol. Over the next few years the U.S. will become dryer, crop production stunted. Corn prices will skyrocket.

Farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change in the west of the nation. It’s just a matter of time before the rich cornfields of the Mid-West fall prey to the consequences of global warming, and the irresponsibility of this country’s government.

Meanwhile, Americans are already in the grip of spiraling food and fuel prices. Traditionally, the result will be many more falling beneath the poverty threshold.

The wealthy will, of course, get richer as they cream off the profits from oil and corn. Even they may eventually suffer if, as seems more and more likely, the planet eventually warms to levels that create unbearable living conditions, but for the relative few, immense wealth will enable them to live far more tolerably than most of the population. Short-term greed, the refusal to look beyond their profit margins, and a total indifference to the fate of their fellows, may prove the undoing of all us.

Meanwhile, the vast bulk of this country’s people are going to find life harder and harder, the family budget stretched way beyond breaking point.

Some may continue to believe their government really cares.

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4 Replies to “Crude, Corn & Climate – Three C’s That Spell Castastrophe?”

  1. I was reading a BBC article on the use of hemp instead of corn. Hemp does not deplete the land and can be grown to enrich the land for corn. Sadly, the U.S. has outlawed hemp crops – even the industrial hemp. They are so afraid we will use a little maryjane.

  2. Another great essay and once again, I couldn’t agree with you more!

    I would like to add, that there are already a lot better, cheaper and easier sources from which bio-fuel could be obtained. One of your Universities, the name escapes me, has developed a synthesis where by a particular type of a grass can be broken down on a molecular level to produce sugars which in turn can be easily converted into Methanol. Grass, and this one in particular, is easy to grow, needs hardly any fertilizers or irrigation. There might be some angry goats around with this development, but they propably will not torpedo it. Neither will the people South of the U.S. border who will be looking steeply increasing prices of their main staple, the corn.

    This came is not played, as you pointed out, for any other concievable reason than to make some filthy rich even richer. And, please, forget about triggle downs! Don’t worry, that it doesn’t make any sense either!

  3. PM – there is no logic in the way US legislation is framed. It’s all based on emotion and political gain. I think we could all do with a little maryjane!

    Pekka – yes, interesting isn’t it that Bush & Co are presently avoiding all question of alternatives to corn. Monopoly corn processor, Archer Daniel Midland (ADM) controls ethanol production in the US, along with most other corn-based manufacturing processes. The US government has being paying them subsidies for years and is continuing to do so to “support” their increased ethanol production. This despite ADM making a mere $10.98 billion profit in 2006.

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