FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Ethanol Scam

The ethanol scam just keeps getting more and more absurd. In January, three U.S. senators ­ two Democrats, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barack Obama of Illinois, along with Indiana Republican Richard Lugar ­ introduced a bill that would promote the use of ethanol. It also mandates the use of more biodiesel and creates tax credits for the production of cellulosic ethanol. They called their bill the “American Fuels Act of 2007.”

The most amazing part of the press release trumpeting the legislation is its fourth paragraph, in which Lugar declares that “U.S. policies should be targeted to replace hydrocarbons with carbohydrates.”

Let’s consider that for a moment. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the U.S. economy was primarily based on carbohydrates. For most people, horses were the main mode of transportation. They were also a primary work source for plowing and planting. Aside from coal, which was used by the railroads and in some factories, the U.S. economy depended largely on the ability of draft animals to turn grass and forage into usable toil. America’s farmers were solely focused on producing food and fiber. And while the U.S. was moderately prosperous, it was not a world leader.

Oil changed all that. After the discovery of vast quantities of oil in Texas, Oklahoma, and other locales, America was able to create a modern transportation system, with cars, buses, and airplanes. That oil helped the U.S. become a dominant military power. Humans were freed from the limitations of the carbohydrate economy, which was constrained by the amount of arable land.

Thus while Lugar and his ilk promote ethanol, they are ignoring a pivotal question: should our farms produce food or fuel?

Last September, Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute (a group that promotes “an environmentally sustainable economy”) wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that the amount of grain needed to make enough ethanol to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank “would feed one person for a full year. If the United States converted its entire grain harvest into ethanol, it would satisfy less than 16 percent of its automotive needs.” Brown said the ongoing ethanol boom in the U.S. was “setting the stage for an epic competition. In a narrow sense, it is one between the world’s supermarkets and its service stations.” More broadly, “it is a battle between the world’s 800 million automobile owners, who want to maintain their mobility, and the world’s 2 billion poorest people, who simply want to survive.”

Using food to make fuel bothers many analysts, and whether their affiliation is liberal or conservative doesn’t seem to matter. Dennis Avery, director of global food issues at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C., has concerns that are remarkably similar to Brown’s. A few days after Brown’s piece appeared in the Post, Avery published a paper showing that ethanol simply cannot provide enough motor fuel to make a significant difference in America’s fuel consumption. And like Brown, he laid bare the essential question: food or fuel?

“The real conflict over cropland in the 21st century,” wrote Avery, “will set people’s desire for biofuels against their altruistic desire that all the children on the planet be well-nourished.” He continued, “The world’s total cropland resources seem totally inadequate to the vast size of the energy challenge. We would effectively be burning food as auto fuel in a world that is not fully well-fed now, and whose food demand will more than double in the next 40 years.” Avery says that even if the U.S. adopted biofuels as the antidote for imported crude oil, “It would take more than 546 million acres of U.S. farmland to replace all of our current gasoline use with corn ethanol.”

That’s a huge area, especially considering that the total amount of American cropland covers about 440 million acres.

But the constraints imposed by the amount of arable land in the U.S. are not important to the politicos on both the Left and the Right who insist that America must be “energy independent.” For the apparatchiks who worship at the altar of ethanol, no subsidy is too great, no corn field is too big, as they push their bilge about the perils of foreign oil. None of them bother with pesky facts, like this one: the U.S. was a net crude oil importer way back in 1913. In fact, since 1913, the U.S. has been a net crude oil importer in all but nine of those years.

Thus, while farmers, politicos, and Big Agriculture insist on casting the ethanol scam in terms of national security, the evils of foreign oil, and the benefits of ethanol to rural communities, the larger issue is a moral one: are we going to use our precious farmland to grow food, or are we going to subsidize the growth of an industry that turns food into a commodity, motor fuel, of which we already have an abundant supply?

The answer should be obvious.

ROBERT BRYCE lives in Austin, Texas and managing editor of Energy Tribune. He is the author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate. He can be reached at: robert@robertbryce.com

 

 

More articles by:

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail