Ethanol is an addiction we can do without…

I am reading with increasing dismay about the steady march of Ethanol into the North American psyche as an alternative to buying fuel in the form of light, sweet crude oil from those mean, nasty Arabs. On the surface the idea behind biodiesel and ethanol is appealing and touches all of the perceived pain points of the modern, SUV-driving, suburbanite nuclear family: we can be energy-independent in North America, since the one commodity we have plenty of is space. Canola and Corn, the prime sources for biodiesel and ethanol, are hearty plants that can grow with less effort than potatoes, lettuce, or other food sources, too; theoretically in places where growing those latter crops can be tough. The promise, therefore, of guilt-free living is a simple one with universal appeal: we can have our gas-guzzlers, and eat it, too!

Indeed, this whole Ethanol fuel thing would be all hunky-dory if only it didn’t take dozens of gallons of oil derivatives per acre on a seasonal basis to grow it. The ONLY reason why Ethanol is a “cheaper” source of fuel is because of all of the government subsidies which exist in the US and Canada to nurture the growth of canola and corn instead of real crops that could end up on our dinner table, not to mention subsidies at the pump in the form of tax breaks for the oil companies. Those subsidies of course find their way into the coffers of companies like Monsanto, BASF, and Bayer CropScience, who market genetically-modified crops and integrated pesticides, controls, fertilizers to cash-strapped farmers. But here’s the hitch: we still need to import oil to grow our gasoline in an Ethanol scenario. Without oil-based fertilizers and pesticides, and diesel for tractors and farm equipment, we would have no corn.

Our fields should be used to grow food, not gasoline. Show me a country that doesn’t subsidize corn as a crop, and I’ll show you a country that thinks that Ethanol is a big fat joke.

A Harper’s Article recommended a few years ago that we simply follow the money. As we know, that path usually leads us to politicians.

BUSH is of course a big Ethanol supporter because it suits the short-sighted needs of his constituents: namely, red-state farmers and their enslavers: biotech companies like Monsanto who collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year lobbying in Washington and suing farmers for such inanities as “breach of patent”. For Bush, it’s also a way to show the voting public that the oh-so-progressive Republicans are taking direct action to avoid the perceived impending oil crisis.

North America in particular is addicted to corn, and it’s affecting us around every corner:


  • Our obesity epidemic is in large part the result of the overuse of High Fructose Corn Syrup as a replacement for sugar,
  • The evolution of new species of control-resistant weeds and insect is due to the corruptive influence of Genetically-Modified Corn and Canola,
  • And now, we’re hooking ourselves up to the Ethanol addiction. Yippee!

Soon enough every square inch of arable land will be occupied by canola and corn destined for soft drinks, junk food, and gas tanks. We’ll be paying less at the fuel pump but exponentially more for imported wheat, vegetables, and other food stuffs. And the intricate system of subsidies which allows people to declare that HFCS is cheaper than sugar, and ethanol is cheaper than crude oil, will continue to skew the economic system so that these crops look viable, until someone has the cojones to stand up and declare how ridiculous the whole circle jerk has become.

Politicians frequently meddle in the economics of our food supply with dramatic, though unintended, consequences. That’s how we ended up with corn subsidies in the first place. Of course, no politician wants to confront the reality here, which is that North American farming practises have become so poor that hearty weed-like plants such as Corn and Canola are just about the only remaining crop that can grow in the increasingly depleted soil table of our farmlands, a problem which Europeans confronted centuries ago — by changing (gasp!) their behaviour.

Like Hydrogen, Ethanol is a storage medium for fuel. It’s not a source.

-Ian.

2 thoughts on “Ethanol is an addiction we can do without…

  1. BusinessWeek has a quick blog article about an Ethanol Bubble. The subsidies and political support are sparking a massive overbuild of Ethanol production facilities in the MidWest.

    Sadly, when this all implodes, it’ll be the AgriBusiness-enslaved farmers left holding the bag.

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