George W. Bush, the U.S. President who has notoriously ignored environmental pleas for sustainability, has finally admitted that global climate change is a reality in his State of the Union speech. More importantly, Bush plans to do something about the American contribution to climate change by encouraging ethanol production.
In typical Bush style, however, the President fails to account for the impact increased ethanol production will have on world market prices, agricultural production and the poor.
Ethanol is made from corn, the same corn that billions of people and animals rely on for nutrition.
The paradox of using corn to fuel cars instead of feeding the people and creatures of the world is not being lost on the part of all members of the U.S. government, however.
“The U.S. Agriculture Department said ethanol plants and foreign buyers are gobbling U.S. corn supplies,” according to an Associated Press report published in the Chicago Tribune. “Tortilla prices have jumped nearly 14 per cent over the past year,” according to the report, and the production of ethanol to lessen America’s reliance on costly oil is to blame.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has taken steps to prevent businesses from using rising international corn prices to gouge the Mexican poor. It is unclear, however, what affect this will have on the retail price of tortillas which experienced a 14 per cent price increase in 2006, more than triple the inflation rate.
However, Bush, and increasingly Canada, would rather use ethanol for cars, skyrocketing the market price of corn and squandering the staple food source for millions of Mexicans.
CNN.com cites Bush as saying that: “Over the next decade … the U.S. should reduce gasoline consumption by 20 per cent by tightening fuel economy standards and producing 35 billion gallons of renewable fuel such as ethanol by 2017.”
Such an expansion of ethanol production will place a lot of pressure on the corn industry to produce higher yields (more genetically modified corn, fertilizer application and pesticides). Alternatively, corn manufacturers would have to clear more land or redistribute current agricultural lands to produce the upwards of 139-million tons of corn needed to meet projected fuel demands, according to the President of Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown.
On his blog on The Huffington Post website, Brown says that “the rush to invest in crop-based ethanol is pitting the world’s poorest against the world’s wealthy motorists.”
Indeed, one can just imagine the millions of Mexicans dying of starvation just to afford Americans the luxury of motorized transportation. And need I mention the countless square miles of natural landscape and agricultural land that will be devoted to producing fuel for this endless habit of driving people can’t seem to quit?
Many might think Bush’s State of the Union speech is a big step forward for Bush, and they would be right. The fact that the current President has finally admitted that the U.S. will have “to confront the serious challenge of global climate change,” is a breakthrough in and of itself.
However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that with high levels of ethanol production comes high demands on the production of corn. Corn that will not feed people, but cars.