Outrun Change

We need to learn quickly to keep up with the massive change around us so we don't get run over. We need to outrun change.

Is this really wise? We feed our cars almost as much grain as we feed our livestock.

We are diverting increasing amounts of corn into ethanol which goes into our gasoline. That is driving up grain prices. That in turn is driving up food prices here in the U.S. and around the world.

And that at a time when our domestic oil production is going through the roof.

Carpe Diem reminds us of two older articles in More on the lunacy of turning corn into demon ethanol.

The first is from Slate, in July 2012 – Food as Fuel. The second is from far left economist Paul Krugman from April 2008 – Grains Gone Wild.

In the Carpe Diem post, Prof. Perry says that anytime you have Paul Krugman agreeing with fifteen named sources (including commentators from both left and right) that ethanol is a lousy policy …

… you know that ethanol has to be one of the most misguided public policies in U.S. history.

The Slate article reminds us the U.S. Congress created the requirement for 10% ethanol content. The EPA has conceded to pressure from the ethanol lobby to allow an increase to 15%. That’s not just my opinion. Check out the source of the underlying requirements:

And yet the ethanol scam continues. Indeed, thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is allowing retailers to increase the percentage of ethanol that can be mixed into gasoline, the biofuel disaster now extends from the grocery store to the service station. That could mean bad news for your lawn mower and weed whacker, which aren’t designed to run on fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol.

And

By dramatically increasing the volume of ethanol that must be blended into our gasoline supplies, Congress has, in just seven years, nearly tripled the amount of corn being diverted from food production to fuel production.

Look at the portion of our tremendous corn production going into our gas tanks:

This year, about 4.3 billion bushels of corn will be converted into motor fuel, according to Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions, an Omaha-based commodity consulting firm. That means that nearly 37 percent of this year’s corn crop, which Lapp estimates to amount to about 11.6 billion bushels, will be diverted into ethanol production.

Consider these comparisons to put those raw numbers into perspective:

America’s corn ethanol sector now consumes about as much grain as all of this country’s livestock. Lapp estimates that this year, 4.6 billion bushels of corn will be used for livestock feed. That’s approximately equal to the 4.3 billion bushels that will be used for corn ethanol production. Thus, American motorists are now burning about as much corn in their cars as is fed to all of the country’s chickens, turkeys, cattle, pigs, and fish combined.

Need another comparison? This year, the American automobile fleet will consume about twice as much corn as is grown in the entire European Union. Put another way, the U.S. ethanol sector will burn almost as much corn as is produced by Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and India combined.

Even at the left end of the commentariat, there are those who agree this is foolishness. From the 2008 column, Mr. Krugman says:

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.”

Here is the crux of the problem. Putting corn in our cars increases the price of staple foods around the world:

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.

That impact has continued since 2008.

Check that out that last sentence again:

… people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.

The purported reason for burning our grain is to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Now that U.S. production is soaring, perhaps it is time to stop putting corn into our gas tanks and reduce the serious world-wide price pressure on corn.

Oh. I’ve not mentioned any of the large number of discussions on the issue, but U.S. output of emissions is dropping fast. 

Why?

I was hoping you would ask. We are rapidly increasing use of natural gas, substituting cleaner natural gas for much dirtier coal.

People for whom buying corn to eat today is a struggle are paying more to stay alive just because the U.S. Congress and the ethanol lobby want to burn corn in cars. Can someone explain the morality of that concept?

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