The Case For and Against Ethanol

Ever since commercial production of corn-based ethanol first began – in 2004 in Canada and about 2008 in the United States – there have been highly vocal proponents and opponents. The first cite ethanol’s cleaner burn and a reduction of greenhouse gases and particulates. The latter argue that taking corn from the food supply and turning it into vehicle fuel is enforcing even more starvation on a hungry world.

642773_ohio_cornfieldThis faction also argues that corn-based ethanol is simply a “feel good” endeavor that allows liberals to pat themselves on the back. That position, in conjunction with historic drought across two-thirds of the U.S., is forcing a confrontation between the two groups and a challenge to the federal government’s ethanol mandates, which would take almost half of the U.S. corn crop for fuel. This, in a year when drought has decimated most of the Great Plains states, where the lion’s share of corn is grown.

In spite of that, industry proponents like the National Corn Growers Association say that suspending the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, is premature, and a mistake. On the other side of the equation, farmers who raise cows for milk and meat (and chicken and pig farmers) say that any withdrawal for ethanol will deplete animal feed, forcing them into bankruptcy and joblessness in America that much greater.

The RFS mandates, put in place in 2005 and expanded in 2007 – both initiatives under former President George W. Bush, is a stepped plan, requiring 7.5 billion of renewable fuel to be added to gasoline by 2012.

In late July, the Agriculture Department put another 218 counties in the disaster area register, bringing the total to half of the U.S., which is now suffering under what has become one of the worst dry spells in history, in terms of geographic area and lack of moisture. Some say it is worse than 1956; others go out on a limb to compare it to the Dust Bowl era. Only time will tell how bad it is, but in the short term the effect is corn prices skyrocketing by almost 50 percent, to a record $8.20 per bushel as compared to $2 per bushel in 2005.

These fuel mandates have, according to about 16 reports (from the National Turkey Federation, National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Purdue University and the World Bank, to name a few), driven up corn-based food (meat, poultry, eggs, baked goods and cereals, for example) at twice the rate of overall inflation. And the rise in corn prices spills over into other grains like wheat, rice and soybeans, which must take up the slack. The result is a vicious cycle of spiking prices that guarantee greater poverty in the U.S. and certain starvation in developing nations.

What can you do to use less fuel (and less energy, some of which relies on oil-burning power plants)? Drive less; shop once a week instead of daily. Car pool to work and, if you can arrange it, to the grocery store or shopping center. Use less energy; Stay cool. If you can’t afford air conditioning, or want to try being a little greener, fill a tub with cool water and take the plunge several times per day, in the hottest part of the day (noon to 6 p.m.). If you’re really adventurous, put on a light cotton shirt and cotton shorts and take a bath clothed. Dry off with an [glossary]organic[/glossary] cotton towel and let your damp clothing keep you cool under a fan for several hours – your kids will love this one! You can also place a damp hand towel wrapped around ice cube fragments inside a plastic bag on the back of your neck, the top of your head or across your feet. Or dig out the foot bath you use in the winter to warm feet and fill it with cool water. Sleep on a futon with an organic mattress; use wheat pillows.

Keep cooking to a minimum; use a convection oven, which uses less electricity than a conventional oven. Cook at night and refrigerate until needed; or eat later in the evening, sticking to what the Chinese call “cool” food – a regimen based on seasonal summer food and a person’s metabolism, or chi. Eat melons, fruits, vegetables (especially cucumbers and lettuce), bean-sprouts, cabbage, carrots, crab, cucumber, duck and tofu.

Use fans and solar power to cool your home instead of standard electricity. Either a solar-powered attic fan or a solar exhaust kit will lower inside temperatures by an average of five degrees. Both will be twice as cooling.

Returning to the subject of corn ethanol, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to re-examine the RFS. And on a truly dystopic note, an American pork producer has cited high U.S. corn prices as its reason for starting to import corn from South America. Meanwhile, the U.S. ethanol industry is making ethanol from domestic corn and sending the ethanol to South America.

Could it get any crazier? Never mind NAFTA, CAFTA and GATT. Just call it DUMB.

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