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Gallery H
The Ethanol Question
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The Battle Over The Corn Harvest

By James Donahue

As the grim news of a failing corn harvest throughout the Midwest and most other parts of the world grows more and more severe, the politics of who gets whatever harvest is salvaged is already in the works.

A Reuters News report noted that governors from at least four U. S. states may join a growing demand for a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard, signed into law by President George W. Bush, that requires 40 percent of the corn harvest to be diverted for the manufacture of ethanol to be blended into the gasoline used in our cars.

The ethanol alternative energy concept was a popular concept promoted by the corn growers a few years ago as a way to ease the U.S. dependency on the Middle East for crude oil. But this year, as the corn crop withers under a hot dry sun and prospects for a harvest dim, dairy, beef and hog farmers are already selling off their livestock for meat because of a growing shortage of feed. The food processing companies that utilize corn in a wide variety of prepared foods are naturally worried. And nobody wants to see any portion of what little corn that gets harvested sent off to ethanol plants.

Many scientists argue that using corn, an important food crop for both livestock and humans, for the production of ethanol is not a solution to the growing demand for fuel. While ethanol production is currently displacing about three percent of our gasoline use, and is said to produce a slight reduction in the carbon emissions coming out of automobile tailpipes, is remains a carbon fuel. And the use of the fuels needed on the farms to produce enough additional corn, and the energy used in ethanol production, has not been figured in the cost effectiveness of ethanol. Also ethanol blended fuels do not provide as much energy so cars get lower miles per gallon.

Thus, like the attempts to create oil from that Canadian shale and the deep water drilling for new sources of oil along our coasts, these programs are economically inefficient but “politically useful” for candidates seeking voter support.

Brazil, which manufactures its ethanol from its abundant supply of sugar cane, requires that all light vehicles use a fuel mixture of 25 percent ethanol and 75 percent gasoline. The country’s ethanol and sugar are its main exports, which is causing the destruction of more rain forests to make room for increased cane production. And this is environmentally disastrous.

What is desperately needed is a world-wide decision to turn away from carbon fuels and a use of the greener energies like wind, solar, water and natural gas. Instead of producing cars for every household, we need to be following the Asian and European lead in the production of high-speed rail and other forms of public transportation. There are many great proposals on the books for living more efficiently, more comfortably and getting from place to place than the ones we have chosen to use for more than a century.