Photo: Flickr, CC
Madness! And I don't mean the British band...Corn ethanol supporters are probably not very familiar with the concept of opportunity cost. Either that, or the subsidies and high corn prices are just too juicy to give up. Only about 20% of all the corn grown in the U.S. now goes to feed humans directly, and more than half of what remains is now being turned into ethanol fuel while the other half goes to feed livestock. The problem is that life-cycle studies show that corn ethanol ranges from barely better than fossil-fuel gasoline to significantly worse, especially if you take into account land use issues and the impact of higher food prices on the poor. Many would agree that corn ethanol is a net loss for society, yet this industry keeps growing.
Photo: Flickr, CCScientific American writes:
Over the past year, U.S. farmers used 5 billion bushels of corn for animal feed and residual demand. During the time timeframe, the nation used more than 5.05 billion bushels of corn to fill its gas tanks. And, while some of the corn used to produce these biofuels will be returned to the food supply (as animal feed and corn oil), a large proportion of this corn will be solely dedicated to our gas tanks.
When something doesn't make sense, the sooner we stop it, the better
The important thing to understand is that this isn't just about corn and corn prices. There's only so much arable land to grow food on, and if a lot of it is used for corn, that means less of it for other things, meaning that there's an increase not only in corn prices, but in the price of everything else that could be grown on that land.
It also makes the whole system more brittle and sensitive to shocks. The corn ethanol industry will want a certain amount of corn each year as long as they have subsidies and expensive fixed costs. But what happens if there's a big drought somewhere and large crop losses? In the past, all the land that is used to make corn for ethanol would have been available to absorb the shock, but now it isn't, so prices will spike up more and that will hit the poorest of the poor especially all.
And all of this for relatively little environmental benefits, if any. In short: Making fuel with food is madness, and it must stop...
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