Monday, April 21, 2008

Ethanol: Enough to Make Me Throw Things At My Treadmill

Let me start this blog entry by saying I really don't understand the American fascination with big cars, luxury cars, "sporty cars" or trucks. I really don't get it. Talk about temporal. A car loses value faster than most any big thing you can purchase, will inevitably break down, and, deep down, everyone knows that the more expensive the car you drive, the lower your self-esteem. We know that because it is the God-honest truth. People who are secure in who they are have no problem driving a simple vehicle that will get you safely from point A to point B. Yet, as a nation, we just can't shake this big car thing.

Or the driving to the moon and back each day, thing, either. It's a really telling issue.

And, now, we're paying for all our stupid driving, our big useless vehicles, and we're making innocent people pay as well.

About a year ago, I read an article on the use of ethanol. When I first heard the idea, I thought it was a great idea. One that could potentially keep us from being so dependent upon foreign oil. That's because I was buying into the consumer idea that we can have lots of something without SOMEBODY having to pay for it at some point. The Walmart Nation Way: Get lots of Stuff Cheap (and don't concern yourself with what the actual cost is to the people who produced it, the environment or our sense of morality). That article quoted agriculture experts who warned that the cost of using ethanol was too great to justify.

Why? Because you are talking about tapping into a nation's food supply in order to fuel vehicles. Corn, of course, is the plant from which ethanol is derived. Corn is also the plant from which about 85% percent of our food is derived -- even foods such as baloney and applesauce have some trace amounts of corn (via syrup) in it! Pigs, Cows, Chickens and all other meat animals are feed corn before being slaughtered.

So, if you tap into a nations corn supply to use it to make gas for your car, what happens to the supply? It diminishes, and therefore becomes more expensive. Voila! You have rising food prices across the board.

Of course, food prices are also rising because of the recent natural disasters and the increase in oil prices. However, why would we, as a culture, continue to even consider using ethanol when we've already had a taste of the potential problem?

Then, this morning, while innocently walking the treadmill at our Y, I became incited to the point where I was nearly throwing my water bottle at my neat little personal TV attached to the front of my treadmill. It was pictures of women in Cameroon physically fighting over a bag of corn that started my protest, then pictures of mothers holding their starving children that rose the ire even more. The food crisis in developing countries has escalated to the point where food is so scarce people are fighting over it! Where food is available, the prices have escalated so high that people are spending 80% of their income on what little food they can get.

Humanitarian aid agencies are simply not getting the amount of donations that they used to get, and the number of needy people has increased. What are they attributing this problem to?

1) Natural disasters wiping out crops
2) Increases in oil costs causing increases in food costs (at that point I was lifting my water bottle)
3) Weakening of the U.S. dollar, so therefore less donations from the U.S. (now I'm aiming the water bottle)
4) Use of corn for ethanol production (ready- aim- fire)

Okay, I didn't throw the water bottle, but I was pretty close. What really saddens me is that the U.S. did once have a reputation for donating generously to humanitarian aid, but apparently we've become a nation that would rather drive around a lot in bigger cars than we need, go home and play on $500 gaming systems, and send our kids to circus camp than to share our blessings with people in need.

In addition to all the other problems, from an agricultural stand point just about the last thing our nation needs is to grow more corn. The number of monoculture farms across the nation are already creating soil problems, and creating problems with animal waste (which was once a natural fertilizer for polyculture farms) soiling ground water.

But, I guess we still get to drive a lot, and all the other people who go to the Y between 6:30 and 7:30 will continue to get a little entertainment from me when I see the news reports.


Jennifer Elizabeth said...

Actually, the whole corn for food issue is a subject for a whole other soapbox (mine)...we really shouldn't be eating so much corn, and the animals we eat aren't supposed to be eating makes everything a lot less nutritious. The reason we have corn and corn oil in so many things is that food conglomerates got together and decided to do things this way and pushed out the farmers who didn't go along. This is, of course, its own tragedy all about money and production as well, so it goes along with your theme, I just thought I would throw in my understanding of the evil of corn prevalence in our food culture.

Deb said...

ugghh..... I agree on the corn in all the food thing as well. The use of corn and soy in everything is raping our nation's soil AND making everything less nutritious. Rob told me the other day that he read an apple grown now has 40% less nutrients than an apple grown 50 years ago.

Have you ever read "Omnivore's Dilemma"?

Of course, now that the major agriculture corporations have gotten control of farming practices, we've got a nation that's currently dependent upon corn.

Did you hear about the farm who was sued by Montsano for his corn cross pollinating with Montsano's corn (via the wind) -- he was sued for copyright infringement by the company and lost.

It's really really crazy.
Really really really crazy.