Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Corn.

gawilli (Back in the Day) commented on my April 6 post about the growing demise of songbirds:

"Thanks for this post, and the links. The article also says that natural habitats are being ploughed under for corn to be used in production of ethanol/bio-fuel. The balance of nature is very delicate. What a mess we are making of things."
I try not to think about corn. I mean, I like it, on the cob, popped and with butter, straight out of the can. And of course I like to make cast glass corn, to add to my collection of glass strawberries, pears, pretzels, waffles, and anything else I can get to sit still long enough. But I don't like corn to be in the stomachs of cows where it doesn't belong, nor do I like it, subsidized or not, causing the ruination of family farms and the stripping of the farmland as it proliferates across America, with its chemical fertilizers and pesticides that find their way into the Gulf of Mexico in an ever-growing algae bloom. And now we have Ethanol. It's pros and cons abound.

Paul Krugman wrote in the April 7, 2008 NY Times Op Ed piece "Grains Gone Wild",
Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels.

The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a “scam.” This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly “good” biofuel policies, like Brazil’s use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.

And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.
In the Business Week, March 19, 2007 article, by Moira Herbst, "Ethanol's Growing List of Enemies"
As demand for the alternative fuel drives corn prices up, an unlikely assortment of groups are uniting with the hopes of cutting government support - The ethanol movement is sprouting a vocal crop of critics. While politicians including President George W. Bush and farmers across the Midwest hope that the U.S. can win its energy independence by turning corn into fuel, Hitch and an unlikely assortment of allies are raising their voices in opposition. The effort is uniting ranchers and environmentalists, hog farmers and hippies, solar-power idealists and free-market pragmatists (see BW Online, 02/2/07, " Ethanol: Too Much Hype—and Corn").

They have different reasons for opposing ethanol. But their common contentions are that the focus on corn-based ethanol has been too hasty, and the government's active involvement—through subsidies for ethanol refiners and high tariffs to keep out alternatives like ethanol made from sugar—is likely to lead to chaos in other sectors of the economy.

"The government thinks it can pick a winner, but they should allow consumers to pick their own," says Demian Moore, senior analyst for the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Corn ethanol has failed to prove itself as a reliable alternative that can exist without huge subsidies.". . . snip . . .

If the government is going to play a role in energy markets, there are other players who would like more attention. Supporters of solar and wind energy make the case that if the government is going to hand out subsidies and mandate use, in the name of energy independence, they should get the same kind of treatment as ethanol.

"Why are we supporting ethanol with a mandate, but not wind and solar?" says Randy Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Assn. "There's a lack of consistency in policy."
Then one can consult Michaels Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (sometimes known as Judy's bible) by way of a fabulous (duh) article in the March 15, 2006 New Yorker, Paradise Sold: What are you buying when you buy organic? by Steven Shapin - -
"Pollan's first meal is fast food, and he follows a burger back to vast monocultural industrial blocs of Iowan corn, planted by G.P.S.-guided tractors and dosed with tons of synthetic fertilizer, whose massive runoff into the Mississippi River--as much as 1.5 million tons of nitrogen a year--winds up feeding algal blooms and depleting the oxygen needed by other forms of life in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollan then follows the corn to enormous feedlots in Kansas, where a heifer that he bought in South Dakota is speed-fattened--fourteen pounds of corn for each pound of edible beef--for which its naturally grass-processing rumen was not designed, requiring it to be dosed with antibiotics, which breed resistant strains of bacteria. Pollan would have liked to follow his heifer through the industrial slaughterhouse, but the giant beef-packing company was too canny to let him in, and so we are spared the stomach-churning details, which, in any case, were minutely related a few years ago in Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation." Pollan also follows the American mountains of industrial corn into factories, where the wonders of food technology transform it into the now ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup, which sweetens the soda that, consumed in super-sized quantities across the nation, contributes to the current epidemic of type 2 diabetes. All very bad things."
So here is the only good news in this as I see it - if corn is used for Ethanol then there will be less to put in the stomachs of cows.

Phew. Corn. It is yummy. If only it were just corn.

2 comments:

sharryb said...

Yeah, it's disheartening to see the whole bio-fuels scam. But anything rather than drive less, have fuel efficient cars, or reduce subsidies to agribusiness. Do I sound jaded? I'm reading a great book, Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken. It is supposed to be uplifting and otimistic. So far he has spent a lot of pages (well written pages) exposing the costs of "globalization", the WTO version. So, so sad.

But I have a yard full of daffoldills. That's cheering.

Alice said...

You sure were right when you said we're making a real mess of things! I worry about the grandchildren and what things will be like for them when they're grown. Something's gotta give somewhere! Wish I were smart enough to come up with some answers.