Sep 042008
Authors: Alex Stephens

So often in America we forget that our actions have consequences that are not immediately apparent.

However, our current good intentions aimed at going green and reducing global carbon dioxide emissions has trapped us in a similar situation of ignorant evil.

In an effort to help curb global CO2 emissions, and to satisfy those fed up with high gas prices, ethanol fuels have become popular.

They look promising. They are a renewable energy source, produce zero carbon emissions and aren’t reliant on imports. It’s the perfect inventive, green solution to our problems.

We have run blindly into the night with our ethanol solution, empowered by our sense of righteousness and oblivious to whose feet we tread on. But ethanol fuel saves the environment — right? How can that be wrong?

As gas prices began to rise in the past decade, the fuel industry started searching for alternatives.

Our government thought foreign dependence on oil was a bad thing — it is — and offered tax credit incentives and subsidies to companies that produced ethanol fuel. In America, corn is the cheapest crop to make ethanol fuel from.

And so the story goes that ethanol fuels became inexpensive and relatively more popular.

Farmers began converting more of their crops to corn for the purpose of fuel and reaped the benefit of their corn and land spiking in value. Big biofuel business was aided by senatorial earmarking, and even the President hopped on board and challenged the nation to exceed renewable fuel production from its current level, 11.4 billion gallons per year, to 35 billion within the next decade.

The rising demand for corn crops to meet the demand for ethanol raised food prices worldwide. Mexico suffered so harshly from price increases that many families were unable to afford to eat their most basic foods. Mexico’s government eventually capped the price of corn to help avert rising prices related to fuel production.

Because more land is being used to grow fuel, less land is being used to grow normal grains, which lowers the supply and causes prices to rise. Worst hit are the poor making $2 or less a day whose incomes are almost entirely devoted to food expenditures. All over the world, land that was once used to grow food for people now grows food for ethanol production.

China has its own version of biofuel which is made from a food called manioc (cassava). But they don’t grow much manioc themselves.

Instead, China imports manioc from poor African and Asian countries. It has long been the last-ditch food for the starving of those countries, when they can afford nothing else. Manioc is now being turned into fuel while the hungry starve to death.

Brazil has its own story with sugarcane, and Europe again with corn.

In every case, the diversion of food product to fuel causes world food prices to rise, which means the poor must spend all their money on food.

Can we, as Americans, imagine starving to death while people elsewhere grow so much food that they power cars with it?

Part of the United Nations Millennium Challenge was to reduce to number of starving worldwide. Thanks to biofuels, that number is expected to grow dramatically.

In addition, there’s debate as to whether the process of growing, shipping, and processing biofuel has a net CO2 emission lower than that of burning gasoline. If it does, scientists say it’s minimal.

Somewhere along the line, it became acceptable to feed machines instead of feeding human beings.

Maybe you’ll start to see food-based ethanol in a different way now. Maybe you’ll start to get angry about it. I hope you do.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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