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Ethanol Demand Is Boosting Food Prices Worldwide

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the may-sound-corny dept.

Power 599

hereisnowhy writes "The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world, the CBC reports. Increased prices for ethanol have already led to bigger grocery bills for the average American — an increase of $47 US compared to July 2006. In Mexico last year, corn tortillas, a crucial source of calories for 50 million poor people, doubled in price; the increase forced the government to introduce price controls. The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel. Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol — whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops — requires more energy than can be derived from the product."

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599 comments

Monbiot:"People - and the environment - will lose" (5, Interesting)

toby (759) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227769)

George Monbiot wrote [guardian.co.uk] about this 2 months ago in the UK Guardian:

If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels

Oil produced from plants sets up competition for food between cars and people. People - and the environment - will lose

George Monbiot
Tuesday March 27, 2007
The Guardian

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow - it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be "decarbonising" our transport networks.

In the budget last week, Gordon Brown announced that he would extend the tax rebate for biofuels until 2010. From next year all suppliers in the UK will have to ensure that 2.5% of the fuel they sell is made from plants - if not, they must pay a penalty of 15p a litre. The obligation rises to 5% in 2010. By 2050, the government hopes that 33% of our fuel will come from crops. Last month George Bush announced that he would quintuple the US target for biofuels: by 2017 they should be supplying 24% of the nation's transport fuel.

So what's wrong with these programmes? Only that they are a formula for environmental and humanitarian disaster. In 2004 I warned, on these pages, that biofuels would set up a competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are richer than those who are in danger of starvation. It would also lead to the destruction of rainforests and other important habitats. I received more abuse than I've had for any other column - except for when I attacked the 9/11 conspiracists. I was told my claims were ridiculous, laughable, impossible. Well in one respect I was wrong. I thought these effects wouldn't materialise for many years. They are happening already.

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that "if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year". According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from maize and wheat.

Farmers will respond to better prices by planting more, but it is not clear that they can overtake the booming demand for biofuel. Even if they do, they will catch up only by ploughing virgin habitat.

Already we know that biofuel is worse for the planet than petroleum. The UN has just published a report suggesting that 98% of the natural rainforest in Indonesia will be degraded or gone by 2022. Just five years ago, the same agencies predicted that this wouldn't happen until 2032. But they reckoned without the planting of palm oil to turn into biodiesel for the European market. This is now the main cause of deforestation there and it is likely soon to become responsible for the extinction of the orang-utan in the wild.

But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

There are similar impacts all over the world. Sugarcane producers are moving into rare scrubland habitats (the cerrado) in Brazil, and soya farmers are ripping up the Amazon rainforests. As President Bush has just signed a biofuel agreement with President Lula, it's likely to become a lot worse. Indigenous people in South America, Asia and Africa are starting to complain about incursions onto their land by fuel planters. A petition launched by a group called biofuelwatch, begging western governments to stop, has been signed by campaigners from 250 groups.

The British government is well aware that there's a problem. On his blog last year the environment secretary David Miliband noted that palm oil plantations "are destroying 0.7% of the Malaysian rainforest each year, reducing a vital natural resource (and in the process, destroying the natural habitat of the orang-utan). It is all connected." Unlike government policy.

The reason governments are so enthusiastic about biofuels is that they don't upset drivers. They appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It's an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total. The forest clearance in Malaysia doesn't increase our official impact by a gram.

In February the European commission was faced with a straight choice between fuel efficiency and biofuels. It had intended to tell car companies that the average carbon emission from new cars in 2012 would be 120 grams per kilometre. After heavy lobbying by Angela Merkel on behalf of her car manufacturers, it caved in and raised the limit to 130 grams. It announced that it would make up the shortfall by increasing the contribution from biofuel.

The British government says it "will require transport fuel suppliers to report on the carbon saving and sustainability of the biofuels they supply". But it will not require them to do anything. It can't: its consultants have already shown that if it tries to impose wider environmental standards on biofuels, it will fall foul of world trade rules. And even "sustainable" biofuels merely occupy the space that other crops now fill, displacing them into new habitats. It promises that one day there will be a "second generation" of biofuels, made from straw or grass or wood. But there are still major technical obstacles. By the time the new fuels are ready, the damage will have been done.

We need a moratorium on all targets and incentives for biofuels, until a second generation of fuels can be produced for less than it costs to make fuel from palm oil or sugar cane. Even then, the targets should be set low and increased only cautiously. I suggest a five-year freeze.

This would require a huge campaign, tougher than the one which helped to win a five-year freeze on growing genetically modified crops in the UK. That was important - GM crops give big companies unprecedented control over the foodchain. But most of their effects are indirect, while the devastation caused by biofuel is immediate and already visible.

This is why it will be harder to stop: encouraged by government policy, vast investments are now being made by farmers and chemical companies. Stopping them requires one heck of a battle. But it has to be fought.

You can join the campaign at www.biofuelwatch.org.uk, [biofuelwatch.org.uk] www.monbiot.com [monbiot.com]

Re:Monbiot:"People - and the environment - will lo (1, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227933)

First of all, pasting the entirety of the comment is not only rude, but unnecessary, and illegal (the least of the three concerns in my book, but YMMV.) Think before you do these things.

Second, a five year moratorium on biofuels is not what is needed. A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock is what we need.

Re:Monbiot:"People - and the environment - will lo (3, Insightful)

goldspider (445116) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228245)

"A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock is what we need."

And the alternative is....?

Re:Monbiot:"People - and the environment - will lo (2, Informative)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228293)

Fossil fuels until nuke facilities are built and can supply the energy.

Re:Monbiot:"People - and the environment - will lo (2, Interesting)

goldspider (445116) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228331)

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for a nuclear energy source that passes prominent environmentalists' litmus test.

Re:Monbiot:"People - and the environment - will lo (5, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228507)

"A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock is what we need."
And the alternative is....?

One option is hydroponics. The most promising crop is algae. A study done at Sandia said some years ago that growing algae in foot-deep concrete "raceway" ponds (a circular stream) agitated by paddlewheels suggested that it should be economical before diesel fuel hit $3/gallon.

Another option is to only make the fuel out of waste oils and cellulose. Biodiesel can be made out of waste animal fat, but honestly that can only provide a small portion of the demand. Tyson Foods is currently engaging in a trial in Ireland with ConocoPhilips. Cellulosic biodiesel is rapidly approaching as a viable technology.

You could also ignore the possibilities of biodiesel and go straight to butanol. Butanol is made by bacteria in the "ABE" process, in which a specific organism originally isolated as an aid to making TNT can be used to make fuel. ABE stands for Acetone, Butanol, and Ethanol. All three of these things can be burned in an ordinary gasoline engine, but Butanol is the most interesting compound in this regard as it is a direct one-to-one replacement for gasoline. The ABE process can be used on any organic matter.

You could go all-electric, which would require building more nuclear plants, and building breeder reactors to supply them with fuel. Using the proper types of reactors prevents the use of the systems to produce weapons-grade materials; all breeders are not the same (no pun intended.) But this would be in many ways a more major undertaking than the other options because the infrastructure to transport and dispense biodiesel or butanol already exists - precisely the same means used to transport diesel and gasoline, respectively.

Ultimately, the answer can only be a combination of these and other ideas. But it's easy to see that topsoil-based fuels are utterly and completely wrongheaded. They deplete soil, techniques used in mass-farming create hardpan and reduce diversity in soil, killing off the majority of organisms found there, and so on. Everything about modern farming techniques is wrong! It's simply not a sustainable activity on its own. Depending on it for fuel will cause a crisis rapidly. Certain parts of the world cannot feed themselves today because of their agricultural activities in the past. The Amazon is approaching a crisis state in which it can no longer support itself and it collapses entirely - eliminating the source of some 25% of the planet's oxygen.

If we don't get a grip on agriculture now, it will all be a moot point soon, because we won't have oxygen to breathe.

Small Correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228303)

A permanent moratorium on growing plants in soil as a biofuel feedstock^W^W^W^W^Wcorn subsidies is what we need.

Corn-based Ethanol is a Tragedy (4, Informative)

reporter (666905) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228203)

The main culprit is corn-based ethanol. The energy consumed to produce a barrel of corn-based ethanol consumes exceeds the energy offered by that barrel [sfgate.com].

The motivation for corn-based ethanol is political. While Washington advocates "free markets", American politicians of all political persuasions advocate subsidizing the production of corn-based ethanol because American agribusiness nearly owns the government.

Generally speaking, subsidies cost taxpayers dearly but do not pose a hazard. Corn-based ethanol is an exception. It drives up the price of corn and could lead to severe malnutrition in Mexico and other poor countries which cannot afford higher prices for basic food items. Subsidies for corn-based ethanol could indirectly kill people (via starvation) in the 3rd world.

Do American politicians care? No. They care only about making American agribusiness happy.

Duh! (0, Troll)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227785)

Any fucking idiot could have foreseen that. Well, except for the blind idiots.

Re:Duh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228007)

It's not just environmental groups. I've talked to people at ExxonMobil and they know that it takes more energy to run the operation than it produces. Anyone else that says otherwise is leaving something out (like physically getting the corn to the processing plant). Way to screw everything up (especially the poor people) for the monetary interests of corn-producing states/corporations (they may as well be regarded as the same entity).

Corn Syrup (2, Informative)

MankyD (567984) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227797)

I've heard that our heavy dependence on corn as an additive (e.g., corn syrup) is one main contributor to the lack of affordable, healthful food options in grocery stores. Might this work to reverse that trend?

Re:Corn Syrup (5, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227813)

remove the sugar tariff and then you will see big changes.

Re:Corn Syrup (1)

AP2k (991160) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227911)

Very much so.

I cant wait for Coca-Cola with cane sugar.

cane coke (2, Interesting)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228137)

You can get mexican coke (cane sugar, sweeter, less carbonated) easily at any mexican grocery. If you live somewhere without mexican grocery stores, you can buy it online. I've only seen it in small (355ml), tall glass bottles.

Re:Corn Syrup (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228015)

But then they'd have to open trade with Cuba (sugar cane) and that doesn't get you those sweet, sweet (excuse the pun) FL votes.

Re:Corn Syrup (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228411)

It might, but then again what makes you think they'd move from corn to something healthier? I read somewhere (don't remember where) that Coca Cola was indeed looking to other sources of sweetener as corn syrup has become more expensive. However, they were looking into other, more synthetic ways of creating sugar.

Oh how will the hippies respond to this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19227823)

Heh, the conflict...the conflict.

and corn farmers everywhere (4, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227833)

are rejoicing. Not only has the US government mandated the use of corn and corn derived products in just about everything that US consumers use, now their profit margins will soar above whatever they were being subsidized for. Most corn in North America is big business farming, so they are off and running toward all those dollars, no matter how inefficient using corn is for fuels.

All we have to do now is declare corn growers as reducing global warming, and that every stalk of corn planted saves a child to make the headlong rush toward bio-diesel an unrecoverable flop.

Let's not forget... (4, Interesting)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228039)

...that most fertilizers and pesticides applied to corn are derived from petroleum bases. Farming equipment also uses diesel/gasoline during the planting, cultivating and harvesting of corn. Adding to this, natural gas and propane are commonly used to run corn dryers used to reduce the moisture content of the harvested corn. At one point in 2005, the cost of the fuel for these dryers was more than the revenue produced from the corn itself, making it a wash to even bring the corn to market.

Sure, the price of corn is being driven up by its use for ethanol production, but let's not forget that the cost of growing corn has risen sharply as well in recent years, mostly due to the rising price of petroleum based products.

Re:and corn farmers everywhere (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228063)

Those in Iowa certainly are!

Here's an article from the Economist on Iowa's ethanol economy. [economist.com] The effects are obviously positive on the local scale, with higher profits, more jobs, and increasing land prices as more people try to rush in and get a piece of the subsidy. Still, the same subsidizing policy can easily kill off the whole industry, if the government decides tomorrow that another biofuel is more "in".

yeah but i saw this ad on tv (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19227841)

it said 'live green go yellow' and it had lots of like smiling hipster types. i mean, thats what i want to be. a smiling green hipster type. and all that. so i dropped 35 grand on an e85 car. and like. now youre telling me im wrong!?!?!?!

screw it im going back to a Hummer.

Duh and Duh (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227845)

Of course your not going to find a statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuels. Because those gases make up ONLY A TINY percentage of green house gasses. And as any grade school experiment will show you, it's the water vapor idiots.

How about removing the ... (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227859)

farmer's subsidies and any Government imposed quotas, and then, we will see what the true prices are. Until then, all of the agricultural markets are, well, phony - they're a creation of the host's Government.

Gosh, I wonder .... (0, Redundant)

boyfaceddog (788041) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227861)

Would it really have something to do with the rising gas and oil prices? It seems to me I'm paying about $1 US more at the pumps than last year.

Re:Gosh, I wonder .... (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227897)

No. The bigger factor is the simple fact there is only a finite amount of tillable ground. That doesn't require any further explanation.

Re:Gosh, I wonder .... (1)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228119)

Well, the rising price of petroleum products is certainly having an impact on the costs involved with producing corn, but it really doesn't affect how much corn is produced (i.e. supply of corn), so the price of corn isn't driven too much by this.

Escalating petroleum costs cut into the farmer's profit margin, increasing demand for corn raises the price of corn.

Food is too cheap (3, Interesting)

analog_line (465182) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227885)

Farmers have been unable to support themselves by farming because of the insane cheapness of food, and high fructose corn syrup being so cheap is one of the big parts of the obesity epidemic. Anything that raises the price of food means portions will need to be reduced, and farmers will be more likely to be able to support themselves by growing crops.

I frankly don't give a shit whether the emissions are "cleaner" with ethanol. If it means I'm not forced to shovel money into the pockets of Arab governments, Russia, Venezuela, etc, just to continue to make a living and survive, then I'm all for it.

Re:Food is too cheap (4, Insightful)

TrippTDF (513419) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227975)

Anything that raises the price of food means portions will need to be reduced, and farmers will be more likely to be able to support themselves by growing crops.

In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.

Re:Food is too cheap (3, Insightful)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228487)

In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.

Ask yourself, "Why is the price so high?"

In EVERY case of people starving on this Planet in this day and age is because of failed states. Period. Africa's food problems? Just look at their governments and how they appropriate food for their armies and buddies of the "President" (read Dictator). Sorry, the only food and starvation problems today are Government made. And no, I DO NOT mean some "evil corporation in their corporation offices being all corporaty" causing the problem. That reason is a smokescreen.

Re:Food is too cheap (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228075)

Farmers are also bound more and more in the US to a handful of mega food processors that set the price paid for crops. Here in the northeast dairy farmers get a tiny fraction of the cost of milk (which is very high) because there are only a few milk processors here that they can't avoid.

BTW, you are also "shoveling money" into Nigeria and Norway.

Re:Food is too cheap (1)

analog_line (465182) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228141)

Those were implied in the "etc" but sure. Nigeria isn't exactly a shining beacon of wonderfulness. And Norway is pretty harmless, but I don't particularly like having to give them money so I can get to work/heat my home either.

Re:Food is too cheap (2, Insightful)

MonorailCat (1104823) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228127)

This isn't about the price of food in the first world, its about the stress this will inevitably place on the third world. People will starve and die because of a flawed concept being forced down our throats by politics and greed.

Re:Food is too cheap (1)

Seantotheizzo (1011799) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228359)

And as long as the media chooses to ignore that fact, it doesn't sit on most Americans' consciences the way it ought to.

Re:Food is too cheap (1)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228267)

Yeah, I'm sure the "food is too cheap" argument will go over REAL well with those who barely earn enough to put it on the table for their families. Let alone those who don't earn enough.

Is this a good time to use the "insensitive clod" phrase? :-P

Use Other Foods (4, Funny)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227891)

They should make ethanol from unhealthy foods instead, like Twinkies, eclairs, or Jolly Ranchers. I find my car runs on the watermelon flavor the best.

Re:Use Other Foods (4, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228151)

You're partially correct. Much greater fuel-alcohol production can be realized from Cane Sugar and Sugar Beets than from corn. The only reason why the ethanol crowd is so focused on corn is because America has a lot of it. Hawaii produces a great deal of cane sugar, but it pales in comparison to corn production. And sugar beet production is entirely focused on sugar. Still, both plants are useful for creating butanol [wikipedia.org], an alcohol with properties and energy densities much closer to gasoline than ethanol.

Energy? Huh (2, Insightful)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227905)

But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel. Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops -- requires more energy than can be derived from the product.

Who cares if it requires more energy or not? If the greenhouse emissions are equivalent, then it comes down to which is cheaper. If ethanol is less or the same cost as gasoline at the pump, then I want ethanol. I might even pay a little MORE because it gets OPEC's huge cock out of my ass. The US is one of the largest corn producers in the world. If we can make our own alcohol fuels domestically then we should pursue that.

Re:Energy? Huh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228037)

The thing that I cannot believe is the stupidity of their statement: "producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops -- requires more energy than can be derived from the product"

Of course. Ever heard of Laws of Thermodynamics?

Amen Bro! (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228131)

>I might even pay a little MORE because it gets OPEC's huge cock out of my ass.

I wish I could give you all my mod points for life. :)

Re:Energy? Huh (1)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228221)

It doesn't entirely take OPEC out of the equation. One problem is that the production of corn is tied to the production of petroleum and other fossil fuels. Fertilizer comes from nitrogen and the energy to create the nitrogen comes from petroleum.

This is because the farm is no longer a nice little circle of self perpetuation. There are no livestock eating the vegetation waste, producing manure to fertilize the crops. The livestock has been shipped to a feedlot (where it's manure is basically toxic and unusable for selling to farms), the fertilizer for the farm comes in checmicals.

The Omnivore's Dilema should be required reading for everyone.

Re:Energy? Huh (2, Insightful)

spatley (191233) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228371)

Anybody that thinks the EC study is relevant at all does not understand the first thing about the carbon cycle and the root problems with CO2 and the greenhouse effect.

The entire point of biofuels is that they are made from plants which absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Fossil fuels release carbon that has been trapped in oil or coal for millions of years. There is likely no way to tell from tailpipe emissions the difference between ethanol, biodiesel, and petroleum derived gasoline, and those emmisions should not be considered to be any indication on the amount of effect those fuels will have on CO2 and global warming.

Re:Energy? Huh (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228447)

The price of commodity goods is almost entirely correlated with their energy inputs. If corn ethanol costs less than equivalent fuels, large consumers will shift, and prices will equalize. This is a big part of the reason to not use it if it is an energy sink.

Green? Who cares? (2, Interesting)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227907)

Look, I don't give a wet fart how green the fuel that makes my car goes is. The simple fact is, the mere act of existing has negative consequences on something. So I don't really care if my car is "green" or not.

All I want is the cheapest fuel possible. At the very least, I don't want to be tied to a single source for the fuel. Especially the Middle East.

The day oil ceases to be a major fuel source is the day the whole Middle East dries up like a popcorn fart and blows away in the wind of irrelevance.

I hope to not have to buy a car again for another five years. When the time comes, though, I won't consider any car that doesn't get at least 60 MPG. Hopefully it will be electric instead. Give me a SmartCar that is pluggable, does 100 miles at 70 MPH between overnight charges, and I'm there.

Re:Green? Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228171)

What? You never heard of public transit? You started talking about cost; least cost and least emission per person is usually mass transit.

Re:Green? Who cares? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228281)

What? You never heard of public transit? You started talking about cost; least cost and least emission per person is usually mass transit.

Try living in the U.S. somewhere other than downtown metropolis. Public transportation is only a functional solution above a certain population density.

Re:Green? Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228291)

"The day oil ceases to be a major fuel source is the day the whole Middle East dries up like a popcorn fart and blows away in the wind of irrelevance."

You realize of course that the Middle East was relevant long before oil wells existed, right? So it probably will continue to be. The US will just find another boogy man to entertain our hawks and distract the masses.

Re:Green? Who cares? (1)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228339)

Save some on fuel, spend more on groceries. Great deal if all you're concerned about is OPEC's "cock" but some people can't afford to spend more on groceries and use public transportation. You and I might live in an area with a car:person ratio of 1, but cities like NYC have A LOT (millions) of people who don't.

Re:Green? Who cares? (1)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228391)

Oops I replied to you by quoting something from a post above yours. Oh well, the two of you share sentiments so it's all good. You might be less concerned about the cock than the other guy, I'll give you that much.

Re:Green? Who cares? (1)

EddydaSquige (552178) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228351)

It needs to go at least 300 miles or else it's irrelevant for anything but commuting, and I gave up on commuting by car a long time ago.

Wrong people to blame (0)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227947)

If the oil companies would reduce what they are charging for oil, then this wouldn't be happening in the first place.

But no, record profits isnt enough for them.

Re:Wrong people to blame (2, Insightful)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228135)

I assume you don't drive a gas guzzler then or take lots of long flights. They are only meeting a demand just like drug dealers.

Re:Wrong people to blame (1)

moseman (190361) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228241)

Go take an econ class. If I remember things properly, we (oil users) need the stuff they (oil producers) sell. Unfortunitly, a lot of the producers formed this thing called a cartel which has artificially set the price high.

Re:Wrong people to blame (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228377)

I do fully understand the concept of supply and demand.

The problem is that oil has become less of a commodity and more of a staple due modern life. It shifts the balance somewhat away from traditional economic concepts. There are also virtual monopolies in play here and *unoffical* price fixing going on. ( i say unoffical as i dont subscribe to the paranoids that think its all a conspiracy. Well, not beyond the basic 'lets screw them for as much $ as we can' that is )

People that dont understand this and try to apply traditional supply/demand concepts to expain what is going on are somewhat misguided.

Classic (3, Insightful)

ErikTheRed (162431) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227949)

Well, that's what we get for letting hysteria and politics shout down environmental science. And many of the more strident environmental groups have no one but themselves to blame - they embraced the politics and hysteria because (in the short term) it furthered their agendas. Politicians and the corporations (including big agriculture) that bribe^H^H^H^H^H contribute heavily to their campaigns are far from stupid, however, and will twist things to their advantage. The corporations make money and "be green", and the politicians can sucker voters by "being green" and both laugh all the way to the bank. My favorite one was how DuPont got all green over Freon - because they owned the patents on non-CFC-based refrigerants that would replace it. Nice of "t3h world is going to end!!!1!!" crowd to get the government to force everyone to replace their patent-expired Freon with something much more profitable [dupont.com], never mind that this raised the cost of refrigeration and decreased the quality of food supplies in poorer countries.

In the long run, the most outspoken members cause the rest of the environmentalist community lose credibility (because the world doesn't end), and the politicians will just look for the next sucker cause to exploit. Too bad for the environment.

A common misperception (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228167)

The big donors to US political parties are not corporations. They are unions. Auto workers, trial lawyers, and teacher unions all contribute more than big oil, big pharma, or all of your other bogey men. Even more damning to your argument is the fact that corporate contributions are actually fairly evenly split among the two parties, while union donations favor one party at around 10:1 a ratio (I am sure you can guess which party this is, and now understand why they are beholden to special interests).

Re:A common misperception (4, Funny)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228417)

The big donors to US political parties are not corporations. They are unions.

The US is controlled by UNIONS! Unions demanded the war in Iraq in order to produce more jobs with living wages! Unions required that we borrow trillions from China as a display of worker solidarity! Those in unions want to see jobs outsourced to India so we can have time to spend with our family during the week!

That's right folks, our country is run by a bunch of unions.

Few Clarifications & Corrections (5, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227957)

A study released in May from Iowa State University shows increased prices for ethanol have already led to bigger grocery bills for the average American -- an increase of $47 US compared to July 2006.

If I'm not mistaken, that means $47 per year. Which really isn't that bad when you notice the price of gasoline lately.

The move is based in part on wide-spread belief that ethanol-blended fuel produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline.

Ethanol is not really chosen for its environmental friendliness. The environmental models I know of are based on the fact that the increased crop production produces a greater number of carbon sinks. Increases in carbon sinks won't show up in the EPA testing.

The real reason for choosing ethanol is its availability. It's easy to come by and is currently cheaper than gasoline. The US also has a great deal of surplus farming capacity from which to draw greater yields. (Though folks generally argue about how much surplus capacity there is, and how much can be brought online before food production is seriously impacted.)

Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat or other crops -- takes more energy than is derived from the product.

Actually, that comes from the US Government's ethanol studies done in the 1970s. Dr. David Pimentel headed up those original studies. Since then, technology has improved and the US Government's studies have shown it to be energy positive. However, Dr. Pimentel has continued to rely on the outdated figures in attempts to discredit the newer findings. So the ethanol community is in a bit of a flux, with Pimentel rallying his forces against the idea that ethanol is a sustainable energy source.

Oh, come on! (3, Informative)

PHAEDRU5 (213667) | more than 6 years ago | (#19227981)

The second and thord paragraphs of the article:

Food prices rose 10 per cent in 2006, "driven mainly by surging prices of corn, wheat and soybean oil in the second part of the year," the International Monetary Fund said in a report.

"Looking ahead, rising demand for biofuels will likely cause the prices of corn and soybean oil to rise further," the authors wrote in the report released last month.
Food prices rose in 2006, for basic reasons left unspecified. The prices may continue to rise, for a reason that is pure speculation.

But yeah, it's all about biofuels.

A Few Thoughts (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228013)

In Mexico last year, corn tortillas, a crucial source of calories for 50 million poor people, doubled in price; the increase forced the government to introduce price controls.

Price controls, while always a popular move, seldom work. Mexico, for a place with so much promise, is such a disaster economically that millions of people risk their lives to leave for completely non-war related reasons. I wouldn't use them as an example of anything that applies to the rest of the world.

The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.

Does this take into account the air that is "cleaned" by the growing of the plants used in the first place, minus any downside effects in the refining process as compared to gasoline? I suspect not. The conclusions are too simplistic for a true model here.

requires more energy than can be derived from the product.

This is something that can be fixed with more efficient cultivation and conversion. Also, it doesn't address what forms of "energy" are used in the process. For example, it may require more energy than it releases, but if that energy was solar, you'd still be coming out ahead.

It also doesn't address what we'll use when we run out of gasoline. Whenever that day arrives, best to be prepared with alternatives well ahead of time.

Re:A Few Thoughts (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228347)

Does this take into account the air that is "cleaned" by the growing of the plants used in the first place, minus any downside effects in the refining process as compared to gasoline? I suspect not. The conclusions are too simplistic for a true model here.

I don't know about that study, but biofuel advocates do make that argument. The problem is that it breaks down if you clear, for example, Amazon rainforest to grow sugar cane for ethanol. Which is usually the case, since productive sites for agriculture are usually growing something else (either another crop or wild plants) already.

As you say, it's complicated.

Wakeup call (1, Troll)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228025)

Energy payback of biomass ethanol is negative [cornell.edu] meaning more energy from fossil fuels are consumed in the production of biomass ethanol than energy provided by the ethanol.

The same is true of virtually all other sources of biomass fuels.

Basically companies like ADM have, after clearing the people off their farm lands, decided that it is unnecessary to feed people so long as they can get government subsidies.

As far as I can see, the only potential biomass replacement for fossil fuels is oil from algae -- but even that has severe problems, as is pointed out by the head of the algae pond experiments for NREL [theoildrum.com].

Some sort of combined use system [nyud.net] is necessary in order to pay for the infrastructure costs, but if the engineering challenges can be overcome the payoff can be enormous: a reduction of ecological footprint of a factor of 1000 for developed (and soon to be developed) nations.

Re:Wakeup call (5, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228461)

Energy payback of biomass ethanol [cornell.edu] is negative meaning more energy from fossil fuels are consumed in the production of biomass ethanol than energy provided by the ethanol.

Cornell, Cornell. That sounds familiar. Oh yeah! Isn't that where Pimentel works? i.e. The same guy who's been trying to discredit ethanol for the past 30 years?

Studies that have been done independent of Pimentel's research have shown the exact opposite to be true:

List of studies [journeytoforever.org]

* "Estimating the Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol" - "We show that corn ethanol is energy efficient as indicated by an energy ratio of 1.24."

* "The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update" - "For every BTU dedicated to producing ethanol there is a 34% energy gain."

* "How Much Energy Does It Take to Make a Gallon of Ethanol?" - "Using the best farming and production methods, the amount of energy contained in a gallon of ethanol is more than twice the energy used to grow the corn and convert it to ethanol."

* "New study confronts old thinking on ethanol's net energy value" - "Ethanol generates 35% more energy than it takes to produce, according to a recent study by Argonne National Laboratory conducted by Michael Wang."

Why is it that every study that shows ethanol as net negative has Pimentel's name on it somewhere, while independent studies are quickly showing the exact opposite to be true?

Pimentel's numbers were probably correct in the 1970s. It's not the 1970s anymore, and that guy is becoming a serious pain in the posterior.

Also using fuel as food raises fuel prices (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228047)

Gee, what a shock. To me, this is just an example of how we can't use biofuel stupidly, specifically we should not be using corn oil. Corn is a food staple, it is foolish to tie that together with transportation, at least at this level. If we can't just take the excess corn that our government pays farmers to make and then leave to rot in piles, then it isn't worth it.

Now the thing about emissions, that's kinda not the point. Burning the fuel may not be particularly cleaner (get it, particle... n/m) but the thing is we aren't releasing carbon that's been stored in the ground for millions of years. Releasing carbon that was absorbed from the atmosphere the previous year to grow the corn to make the fuel that we burn isn't bad, because then we have a self-sustaining cycle. Releasing carbon that wasn't in the atmosphere recently is what is bad.

As far as more energy put in than we get out, well that's not unusual, even with the help of the sun for an outside source of energy. Especially since much of the corn is grown in the midwest where the land is less viable than it used to be and petrochemical-derived fertilizers must be used. Which means we are still releasing long-sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, partially defeating the whole point.

Brazil seems to be doing better with their sugar cane based ethanol program. Now I don't think of sugar as a food staple, though I could be wrong. I'm just thinking it's a matter of the whole economic situation being different.

greenhouse gas emissions are not the point (4, Informative)

stu42j (304634) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228051)

Ethanol is added to gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide emissions and ground-level ozone as an alternative to MTBE. Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) have nothing to do with it.

Carbon cycle... (1)

katorga (623930) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228053)

The reality is that the radical environmentalists are right: the worlds population needs to be reduced to 1 billion souls. The remaining 5 billion along with the livestock and industrial infrastructure needed to keep them going need to vanish.

IMO, biofuels are just one way that environmentalists want to cull the herd.

Now that I have gotten that conspiracy theory off my chest, green friends have told me that bio-fuels are carbon neutral because they do not add any net new carbon to the cycle, but they do accelerate the cycle. Fossil fuels are bad because they add net new carbon, sequestered millions of years ago, to the cycle. Ironically, due to the industrial infrastructure & processes, materials and transportation required to build a Toyota Prius, the vehicle is actually very bad for the environment.

My experience (1)

Mr Jazzizle (896331) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228065)

In the midwest, it's impossible to find a gas station that DOESN'T have 10% ethanol blend. Even if it did burn cleaner, I've heard that my car, specifically, gets 2-3mpg more when filled up at stations without ethanol. But I don't have a choice to go with the more effecient burning fuel, because farmers had legislation to encourage the sale of ethanol. As an above commenter pointed out, farmers are rejoicing. Demand is up, profits are up, everybody's happy. Except everyone else. The people who have to pay for everything. Frankly, I hadn't thought about people starving because of increased prices. I find it disgusting, and don't know how companies rationalize starving people for increased profit margin. Are companies not run by people? People who know what's going on in the world, people who know that their policies are killing people? /rant.

Good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228077)

If food costs more, farmers (which is what most of the world does for a living) will make more money. More people with more money will spend more money on other things, improving the economy. It's a win win.

Hydrgone and Oxygen /w Stainless-306 electrolysis (0)

NRAdude (166969) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228089)

without prejudice,
M. Gregory Thomas(tm), Network Redundancy Administrator;
Mundt Administration of Network Redundancy:

Look up information derivative on the Joe Cell. They found that a homebrew cell that simply charged water as an electrolyte does induct energy from the "ether", and with the charged electrolyte put under the vacuum of a combustion engine would draw an unknown combustible power source with infinite energy efficiency. Stemming from the Joe Cell experimentation were results of greater potention, Electrolysis of water; nothing more than 12-volts DC at less than 500 mili-amperes would efficiently split water into HHO, whereby its combustion yielded more energy than that which was collected to split the molecule.

Stainless Steel alloy 304 and 316 were commonly used, and not as efficient as when Stainless Steel alloy 306 was used to construct the cylinders and chamber. It costs no more than USD 30 to build one, and I've bought some stainless on eBay for less than that; look for someone that owns prefereably the SS-306 and it is more cost effective to build more than one chamber and that the seller cuts the tube or rod to the length needed (just for practicality of their having the tools and cutting-discs on hand).

There are many more projects claiming for the 50-cent Joe Cell that used Aluminium. Any projects that claim the production of Hydrogen is too expensive or requires more than USD 50 of parts is a champertain or trying to derive money or a Servicable function out of an inexpensive matter that should return to daily life cheaper than a solar panel system: inexpensive energy from free sources, not the "free energy" that we would think it to be.

I call BS! (5, Interesting)

ElForesto (763160) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228107)

Corn shortage my eye. The reason corn is a prime target for ethanol production is because, nationally, we grow far more corn than we need. You can thank farm subsidies for that little gem. Because it's all subsidized, corn is dirt cheap compared to a lot of other crops which is a major factor in using corn syrup instead of cane sugar in a lot of foodstuffs. The NY Times recently had an article [nytimes.com] (registration or BugMeNot required) on the egregious farm subsidies and how they make junk food artificially cheap to buy. Some highlights:
  • The cost of fresh produce increased in price in terms of real dollars by over 40% between 1985 and 2000 whereas soft drinks using corn syrup declined in cost by 23%.
  • A dollar buys you 1200 calories of cookies or chips but just 250 calories worth of carrots.
  • The top subsidies are for corn, rice, wheat, soybeans and cotton. There often translate into cheap meats and dairy as most of this gets reused as animal foodstuffs.
  • Most estimates are that subsidized US corn has displaced over 2 million Mexican farmers who move north to get jobs.
Blaming ethanol production for these ills is just plain stupid. Follow the money of the farm bills for real answers.

Re:I call BS! (1)

massysett (910130) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228439)

I see what you are saying regarding corn subsidies and agree. But your conclusion does not make sense. If a lot of corn is being used for ethanol, that still drives the price of corn up, even if production of corn is subsidized. If ethanol production ceased, the price of corn would drop.

Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels BAD?? (1, Flamebait)

goldspider (445116) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228139)

Weren't these the same environmentalists that have been telling us for years to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels? Were they right then? Or are they right now?

Or are most prominent environmentalists simply argumentative to the point where they will contradict themselves for the sake of opposing the inexorable progress of technology and industry?

I've long since dismissed the environmentalist movement for exactly this kind of thing. No matter what we to do try to placate them, we will be wrong. Giving them any consideration anymore is an exercise in futility.

Re:Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels BAD?? (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228469)

Just because you stop doing something foolish, it doesn't mean that the thing you've done to replace it is any less foolish.

I could create a dozen examples and metaphors, but it would just belabor an obvious point. You shouldn't worry about placating environmentalists: you should worry about effects on the environment. Physics votes last.

Food (1)

jrsumm (466914) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228149)

I've always found the concept of growing food to pump into our cars instead of eating kind of disturbing.

Illegal aliens.. by the gallon? (1)

Anonymous Meoward (665631) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228169)

One of the consequences of diverting corn production to biofuels, and of the subsidies reaped by American farmers, is that the price of corn is skyrocketing in Mexico. And it's driving a lot of starving Mexicans to sneak into the States to eke out a living.

Can't blame them; they're only starving, ferchrissakes. In the meantime, we also have sugar tariffs and subsidies that prohibit a far more efficient crop for use in biofuels.

So, the next time some idiot farmer in Iowa spouts about illegal aliens to a presidential candidate, you may want to remind him that his livelihood is part of the problem.

Re:Illegal aliens.. by the gallon? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228299)

dumping by the U.S. of corn into the Mexican market was the main source of contention in the past by Mexican peasants. Mexico's demand has outpaced its own internal supply. if U.S. corn is too expensive for them, let them grow their own

Re:Illegal aliens.. by the gallon? (2, Funny)

Distan (122159) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228423)

Are you saying there is some way to use illegal aliens as fuel? Please elaborate.

I was well aware of using them as tires, but they keep puncturing a lung and going flat.

Time to cease the hysteria (2, Insightful)

w.p.richardson (218394) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228193)

I am afraid that this is but one of many problems that the "solutions" to so called man made global warming will spawn. It's surprising to me that anyone is surprised at this outcome. Price controls will only exacerbate the problem.

These "solutions" will make a grand total of zero impact on anything, aside from providing an excuse for everyone to meddle in everyone else's business. I can't wait for the CFL inspector to come knocking on my door to make sure that I don't harbor any illegal standard light bulbs. Never you mind that CFLs contain toxic levels of mercury, so that whey they are tossed in a dump, the mercury can contaminate the soil and groundwater.

Even if global warming is frighteningly real (perhaps) and man made (doubtful), the only thing we should be doing about it is learning to cope. Return to a nativist lifestyle is not an option, and these solutions cause more problems (mass starvation anyone?) than they solve.

How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228219)

I can understand this being an issue if every or most cars were running off ethanol. But face it how many of these cars do you see in a day? Month? Where is this demand for ethanol coming from?

What's really scary (0)

Moryath (553296) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228227)

...is that corn ethanol is such snake oil and yet the corn lobby keeps managing to buy off those traitors we call Congress.

Facts on Ethanol:
#1 - It rots fuel lines. Ethanol - aka Ethyl Alcohol, aka Grain Alcohol, aka drinking alchohol - is one of the few substances that actually reacts with the rubber that fuel lines are made of.

Well, what did you fucking expect? It's corn alcohol. All you're doing is pouring whiskey into your gas tank. It's not that good for you either, but you at least have a liver to process it in. Your poor car doesn't.

#2 - It clogs injectors. Ethanol, as well as the residue from the aforementioned degradation of fuel lines, builds up and gets stuck in the injectors and decreases their performance. Been in a gas station and seen all the bottles of injector cleaner that are stocked there these days? Ethanol is your reason why.

#3 - it takes 1.8 units of energy to produce and distribute 1 energy-unit of Ethanol to the consumer.

You're paying extra in grocery bills, and extra $$$ at the gas pump, so that your gas can be polluted with a product that gives no environmental benefit whatsoever and reduces your gas mileage, causing you to buy more gas.

And the corn lobby/gas companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

Where to begin. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228519)

#1 Any car made past 81 can take 10% Ethanol without rotting fuel lines, chances are you're running E10 in your car right now. Newer cars can handle the Ethanol without a problem. "Rubber" isn't really used in fuel lines any more anyway.

#2 - Dead wrong. It cleans injectors, it clogs fuel filters and after running 2-3 tanks through your car, your tank, your injectors and everything else will be squeeky clean. Sure, during the transition you may go through 2-3 filters, but your car will be better off.

#3 - Source please? I've seen quotes of .7 to 1. And this isn't a constant. New bacterias and yeasts are bringing this number down. Purdue has a GMO bacteria that can breakdown celluose, thus drastically reducing the costs of materials and energy. It can take wasted sawdust and turn it into fuel.

#4 - It doesn't need to be corn. Ethanol could be produced from sugar, the most overproduced crop in the world. It can now be produced from waste paper.

If you had an argument, it would be that ethanol doesn't produce as much energy per gallon as gas. But that can be overcome with higher compression engines...

How dumb are these guys ? (2, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228237)

The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.



Do they need to buy a fscking clue ? Of course there's no difference. The combustion products of ethanol are pretty much the same as those of gasoline. Why do they need to do a fscking study about something that's covered in Organic Chemistry 101 ?

Obvious (1)

KermodeBear (738243) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228253)

I hope that nobody is surprised by this. It is simple supply and demand. Since the ethanol craze is creating a huge demand the price is going to go up. Corn farmers can demand a much higher price in return and they are getting it.

This was predicted years ago on the basis of simple economics. It is going to put a larger gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', as those without money are going to have a much harder time finding food.

This isn't going to affect just tortillas. Corn is used to feed livestock as well; expect a jump in meat prices. Also, corn syrup, which is found in almost every carbonated beverage and candy, is going to be more expensive, driving those prices up as well.

Aside from food being more expensive, what about over-farming soil?

Whoever decided that corn-based ethanol - especially government mandated amounts thereof - was the Best Idea Ever didn't think it through very much. I think it is going to do much more harm than good in the long term.

We do need alternative energy sources, but this is not one that we should pursue in its current state.

Oil production has consequences too (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228259)

Ruined ecosystem, oxygen-blocking tanker spills, infusing US dollars into countries that support terrorists. In principal, ethanol and other biofuel can be produced using bull-mounted plows and manure as fertilizers, from plants that are not viable as food crops and are hardier and easier on the land than regular agriculture. We don't have to replace all fuel with ethanol to reduce net CO2 emissions. Just because agriculture can not supply ALL our energy or because a particular implementation is flawed doesn't mean that we should abandon the whole concept.

3.8% isn't much over CPI (1)

KillerCow (213458) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228261)

The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world


Really, are you sure that it isn't due to the rising cost of energy? It costs money to run farm equipment, and to transport the stuff. Or is it just due to inflation?

Statistics Canada says consumers in the country paid 3.8 per cent more for food in April 2007, compared to the same month last year.


I believe that core inflation (excluding energy) in Canada [bankofcanada.ca] is 2.5%. The price of energy is rising much faster than that. (I believe that the cost of fuel is up 10 - 20%, though I cannot find year-over-year numbers).

You should also note that inflation in Alberta (where lots of grains come from) was 5.5%.

3.8% more for food doesn't seem much out of line.

Article is incomplete or misleading (4, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228295)

But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.

No shit. Ethanol releases carbon dioxide while it burns, too. However, its carbon dioxide was already in the atmosphere, absorbed by the plants, then released again when burnt. That makes it carbon neutral*, even though the emissions are the same.

Or, did they mean to take that into account? Who knows, the article is incomplete or misleading.

* I'm talking about the carbon in the plant, not carbon used in production. That's next.

Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat or other crops -- takes more energy than is derived from the product.

No shit. Unless it violates certain laws of thermodynamics, of course the energy derived is less than the energy required to produce. But they don't talk about where that energy comes from. Maybe it's all from the sun, or from other renewal resources. Do they mean that the same amount of net fossil-fuel based carbon is released? Who knows, the article is incomplete or misleading.

Re: Food prices

The US subsidizes farmers who grow corn, because corn prices have been historically too low to support production. Now, corn prices are higher, and we're complaining about what it does to food costs? How about we take away the subsidies - clearly no longer needed - and give the money to food programs. Then, we look into the side effects of corn being the majority of all American's diets. See some of the repercussions in the recent documentary King Corn. [kingcorn.net] Maybe we could find something else that could substitute for corn in some foods. Like, say, sugar, if we'd remove our tariffs. (Hey, if folks from other countries could sell their sugar to the US for food, they'd have more money to buy our more-expensive corn.) Then, maybe we could find something better than corn to use for ethanol. Like, say, hemp or switchgrass. I'm sure if corn gets too expensive, some entrepreneur out there will start looking for alternatives.

But all of that would be constructive work toward making our planet a better place. It's far better to rant and rave and use single points of change as excuses to throw up our hands and give up.

I call bullshit (1)

guspasho (941623) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228307)

Environmental groups are complaining about ethanol use? Corn prices have doubled? This article is as absurdly FUDdy as it gets.

Arguably, this article has it backwards. (1)

Distan (122159) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228361)

I believe that food demand is artificially keeping prices for Ethanol high.

If we could eliminate 90% of the demand for food, wouldn't ethanol prices fall?

Can anyone produce an economically sound argument to the contrary?

don't forget the forests (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19228383)

Yeah, deer corn is up, too. We feed year 'round.

Another bad thing is that forests (rain forests, too) are being cleared to make way for more corn production.

Tortillas (1)

doombob (717921) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228405)

I've been told that corn tortillas are made from white corn, while ethanol is made from yellow corn. The shortage does not have anything to do with ethanol production unless farmers in Mexico have decided to plant different crops (for which they get the same amount of money). Please enlighten me if I have been misguided.

farmers (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228431)

the poorest people i know have been the farmers that grow corn.
i don't mind if they make a little money off of me.
there are worse places the money can go.

What is the purpose? (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228441)

Foreign Affairs [foreignaffairs.org] had a relatively in depth write up on this, basically a one of their occasional scare pieces. Corn ethanol is no better than fossil fuel, the west is greedy because it is using a prime food source for it own greedy purposes. These are not neccesarily false statements. Of course, none of this takes into account that ethanol is just one product of the manufacturing of ethanol, or that as renewable resource, corn ethanol is nuetral to the non renewable fossil fuel. I am sure that someone will say fossil fuel is formed by abiogenic processes, and thereby might be renewable in a human time scale.

Nor does it take into account agricultural surpluses that likely still exist, and the food destruction. I have no idea what state the world is in now, but I know that even 10 years ago the issue was not food, but getting food to the poor. Nor does it take into account the corn is only one means of ethanol production, an inefficient form that in fact exist only because it is promoted by the famously independent and conservative farmers who are used to suckling at the government teat, and there are other sources, such as prairie grass, that might work just as well.

One interesting thing is that the US has a corn economy, and corn ethanol, though not perfect, is a good fit as it requires minimal effort, since we have so much corn infrastructure to begin with. As a transitional step away from fossil fuels, it is quite rational. As a effort to continue burning hydrocarbons, it is not rational. But such burning, if we are in fact concerned with the poor people that cannot even afford corn, is not justified. The death toll to get the hydrocarbons is not small. The subjugation of the Nigerian people, the deals made with the Saudi monarchy, the tens of thousands dead in Iraq. Really, how can we compare such real and present destruction with a theoretical problem that, at it's most practical level, is meant as method to help reduce the level of the comprimises we must make for energy.

One last thing. Oil is a commodity. It does not matter where the oil that one uses came from. If any oil field shuts down, even if it not an oil field that supplies the local pump, all prices increase.

Biodynamic farming? (1)

lmpeters (892805) | more than 6 years ago | (#19228467)

Three things:

First, corn is NOT the only way to make biofuel. Sugar cane has already been used successfully elsewhere (it just doesn't grow well in the U.S.). It looks like switchgrass [wikipedia.org] may be another. Corn is not strictly necessary; it just happens to be plentiful in the U.S.

Second, I have to wonder if changing our farming practices might allow for a high enough sustainable yield to feed people AND power vehicles. The Native Americans of Peru were able to build farms that remained fertile for over 4,000 years, WITHOUT industrial farming tools, and they were able to adequately feed their ENTIRE population (at least until the Spaniards showed up). We know how they did it (we call it "biodynamic" farming), and it's clearly superior to our current practices, but nobody's doing it. Why not?

Third, it seems like everyone who detracts biofuel is stuck in a "central supplier" mindset. Oil only exists in certain parts of the world, but anyone with some land can grow some sort of crop that can be turned into biofuel. So why do we need centralized production? Wouldn't it be more efficient to have lots of small, independent biofuel producers that each serve a small geographic area, instead of a few large producers that have to transport their stuff over thousands of miles?

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