To push America towards a greener future, President Obama plans to subsidize the production of corn-based ethanol fuel.
The new fuel is supposed to stop our dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs in the Midwest. Those claims are, at best, ambitious.
For starters, to produce corn-based ethanol, one must first cultivate, harvest, ferment, and distill corn, which requires burning fossil fuels.
Bio-fuels are fossil fuel alternatives that use naturally-occurring substances to make combustible material. High-grade ethanol is the most effective alternative to gasoline for its high combustibility and reduced greenhouse gas emission. The environmental problems with using ethanol are almost as great as those of gasoline.
An Oct. 7 New York Times article cites a United Nations study that concluded that corn-based ethanol has already contributed to the rising cost of food and growing hunger in poor countries. The study stated that the subsidies on bio-fuel make growing corn for ethanol more profitable to farmers, which has made food shortages worse.
Simon Upton, director of the Global Subsidies Initiative, says in an article on the GSI web page that bio-fuel subsidies are often poorly constructed and include no consideration of possible environmental impacts.
The article quotes Upton saying, “All indications are that subsidies are being piled on top of one another without policy makers having a clear idea of their potential impact on the environment and the economy. Yet the potential for waste on a grand scale and some spectacularly perverse environmental outcomes is large.”
To make enough ethanol to quench the gas crisis, you would need a whole lot of fossil fuels, which negates the entire reason to make ethanol in the first place. According to environmental website mongabay.com using data from a survey by the Swiss, bio-fuels may indeed be worse for the planet than traditional fossil fuels.
The website cites a study by the Swiss government that found that the cultivation of crops used in the production of bio-fuels is horrible for the environment.
Not only do the fuels themselves still release trace amounts of greenhouse gasses, they contribute to deforestation to build fuel plantations, and require enormous amounts of water and fertilizer.
The logistical and environmental troubles, however, are not the only negative aspects of corn-based ethanol production. Production of the fuel would drive the price of food through the roof. With a planet full of starving people already, the planned bio-fuel becomes sinister.
As president, Obama will try to include corn-based ethanol into our nation’s fuel supply as soon as possible. Coupled to that, he will try to expand locally-owned growers and refiners of bio-fuels to bolster small farms.
Instead of focusing on subsidizing the use of food crops for fuel, we should stop and re-evaluate the situation. Corn is not the only way to make bio-fuels a viable option for the future.
The Swiss study suggests the use of plants like algae and fast-growing weeds as better options for bio-fuel manufacturing. These plants are more easily cultivated, require far less energy to produce, and would not contribute to global hunger.
Obama’s goals are noble, but his suggested methods are misguided. Curtailing a fuel crisis in America at the cost of the rest of the world and our corn supply is not the correct answer. If America is going to look like anything but a consumerist monster to the rest of the world, it needs to re-think the bio-fuel answer. As a country, we need to stop and smell the algae.