CORN FOR FOOD NOT CARS!
In a rare moment of honesty, George W. Bush recently admitted the U.S. was "addicted to oil." I don't think he made the statement out of any genuine concern for our future. Instead I think he made the statement in order to convince the American people that we need to expand the use of nuclear power and turn to biofuels like corn and soybeans to provide fuel for our auto addicted culture.
Lots of people these days are talking about ethanol production as a key cure to our oil woes. With fossil fuels running out, and becoming more expensive, the idea of fuel from organic products seems to make sense. Right?
Well not so fast. According to David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, "There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel." For every gallon that an ethanol manufacturing plant produces, it uses the equivalent of almost two-fifths of a gallon of fuel (usually natural gas), and that does not count the fuel needed to make fertilizer for the corn, run the farm machinery or truck the ethanol to market. Although Pimentel advocates the use of burning biomass to produce thermal energy (to heat homes, for example), he deplores the use of biomass for liquid fuel.
In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production the facts are that:
- Corn requires 29% more fossil energy than the fuel it produced...
- Switch grass (a favorite of George W. Bush) requires 45% more fossil energy than the fuel produced....
- wood biomass requires 57% more fossil energy than the fuel produced...
- soybean plants requires 27% more fossil energy than the fuel produced...
- sunflower plants requires 118% more fossil energy than the fuel produced....
With this said then, why is everyone talking about ethanol as our savior? You've seen the new Ford truck commercials on TV where these young environmental activists are standing in a corn field, next to the huge new model Ford pick-up truck. They have an ear of corn in their hands saying, "This is it folks...we've got it...the solution to our problems...nature's corn...keep driving and don't worry about it."
The agri-business corporations that control corn and soybean production these days in the Midwest are also behind this new scam. Archer Daniels Midland Co. Chairman and CEO G. Allen Andreas told analysts in February that rising demand for American-grown corn will push corn prices through the roof. Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates has invested $84 million in ethanol production plant expansion.
And the American people, with their big gas hungry trucks and SUV's, love the idea that a new fuel has been found just in time as oil prices keep rising. And it is environmentally pure!!!!!!!
One more thing to think about. As fossil fuels decline in availability, Peak Oil it's called, the cost of farming goes up thus the price of food dramatically rises. The entire agriculture industry is totally dependent on fossil fuels - tilling the soil, planting and harvesting are all oil dependent....trucking products to market also is oil dependent. We won't be able to afford to fly Kiwi fruit in from New Zealand, tomatoes from Mexico, or even avocados from south Florida. We are going to have to grow our food locally.
But there is a problem. I am told by Maine farmer and engineer John Howe who wrote the book called "The End of Fossil Energy," that it will take virtually all available agriculture land in the U.S. to grow enough corn and soybeans to provide the needed ethanol to replace the oil we now use in our cars. And that assumes you can even do it efficiently, which I think I've shown is not possible.
Howe says that we are going to need this available farming land to produce our food because food production, without the heavy use of fossil fuels will become more labor intensive. That means we will need more land and more humans working in the fields just to feed ourselves. If we have the fields committed to growing fuel for cars then we will starve to death.
So once again our very human desire for the easy answer, the magic bullet, proves to be a pipe dream. We are going to have to turn to public mass transit, bicycles, walking and solar cars if we are going to make it. Instead of putting corn in the tank, we are going to need to eat it.