Beyond Economics

The End of Growth and Time for a New Era

Using Corn for Ethanol

Mazed and Confused, Economist, 8/10/09

From what I can gather the connection goes something like this (much simplified, of course):

All-important Iowa presidential caucus -> support for corn for ethanol -> U.S. soybean crop displaced -> Brazilian soy crop displaced -> arable grazing land for cattle (for hamburgers, etc.) displaced -> rain forest burned and seeded for cattle grazing -> global warming (burning + loss of trees) -> offsets benefits of using ethanol…not to mention the increased cost of corn for other uses (sweeteners, cattle feed, etc.)

The article points out other, better ways to produce ethanol (also see comment below).

This is a fairly balanced article that, together with the comments, shows how the truth is not clear cut and how both data and theory can be used to support one’s point of view or agenda. The article also points out that there are not just two opposing sides to the corn ethanol issue (e.g. big oil is not happy either).

Many public issues involve similar complexity, if not more (e.g. health care). If you read the article and then the comments (starting from the bottom), you will quickly see that much this is well beyond the average voter’s desire or ability to follow. So what is the Average Joe to do? He relies on media sound bites and the simple, black and white, us vs. them world view from his favorite trusted source, like Fox News or MSNBC. These sources may originally get selected based on a single issue over which he feels passionate. The chosen source or sources’ perspective then becomes his own on all other issues. The sources themselves need to maintain their perspective to keep their audience. A self-reinfocing, echo chamber results.

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One response to “Using Corn for Ethanol

  1. Cliff August 17, 2009 at 12:39 am

    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Simple law of science.

    The balance between energy, food, and the environment is ever-changing. The only way to stop “change” is to return to life in caves. We rely, however, on relatively unbiased scientists to lead the way.

    I don’t believe we have that today. Everyone has there own interests that are driving these issues.

    I too have a set of interests. I believe, for instance, that man is the one creature God created that can adapt. I also believe that the constant draining of non-renewable energy sources will ultimately impact future generations and we are not entitled to cripple future generations.

    For the short term, I believe our nation’s interest lie in finding renewable sources of energy that are within our control to develop.

    Hence, ethanol is one of those avenues available to us. Ethanol need not only be produced from corn. It can be produced from any living organism composed of starch. Extended this further, one must understand that energy sources can be developed from anything composed of Carbon and Hydrogen. Let’s not forget that the Germans during WWII produced gasoline from coal.

    The issue is NOT how to make renewable fuels. The issue is how to make renewable fuels that are COST EFFECTIVE.

    I would suggest that we presently purchase fuel at too low a price. An increase in the cost will both reduce demand AND spur alternative sources.

    I am not suggesting a RAPID increase in cost similar to what happened in 2008. In order to limit the pain we must slowly increase the cost and drive the economy to find alternative means.

    Unfortunately, if we depend on the Government to manage this effort, they will simply tax us, and then get so used to the additional income, they will forget the PURPOSE of the tax.

    No answers but… ethanol or any other renewable fuel has benefits that far outweigh the costs.

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