The local paper has yet another article pondering the wisdom of using corn and similar foodstuffs as a fuel source. Today’s article cites research from two University of Minnesota economists who state once again that we will have an ethical as well as an economic choice to make in the coming decades. We keep on striving to find new ways to keep the current game going as long as possible without taking a step back and wondering if that’s really the smartest thing to do. If we manage to keep the motoring society going for another twenty years, what does that gain us? Another generation of an expanding global population, more environmental devastation, and what else? To my mind, kicking the problems down the road via biofuels or some other techno-fix is just going to make the fallout from the eventual unwinding of the system that much worse, since there will be more people and less resources to fall back on.
It’s interesting to read in the article that the pro-ethanol spokepeople are doing their best to deny any relationship between increased ethanol production and food shortages around the world, yet American animal farming industry groups are already sounding the alarm about rising feed prices having a detrimental effect on conumer prices for many animal products. It also cites the problems in Mexico with rising prices for corn tortillas, which is prompting the goverment to look at fixing prices to avoid social unrest. So, who’s full of crap, and who isn’t?
The chart attached to the story gives a sobering outlook for future food prices. They estimate corn prices to be 41% higher than today’s price by 2020 (not accounting for inflation, of course, so it will likely be higher than that). Americans have gotten used to spending a small portion of their pay on food. If food prices suddenly doubled or tripled, it would be interesting to see how fast people would drop their internet, cable or wireless services.
Cellusloic ethanol production is often touted as a cost-effective alternative to corn production, yet it has it’s own problems. There are no easy solutions the problems we are facing with regards to our energy use that don’t address conservation as a major component. That’s a not a pro-business outlook, I know, so we’ll continue to keep firing off magic bullet after magic bullet until we run out of ammo.