Sunday, January 22, 2006

A dangerous trend

In order to meet increasing energy demands, ethanol production is now in competition with food production for the world’s farming resources. As a result, the cost of the crops used to produce ethanol, such as sugar and corn, as well as the prices of crops unrelated to ethanol production, are becoming increasingly linked with escalating energy costs.

Ethanol production and industrial agriculture are both extremely energy-intensive processes that require fixed amounts of oil and natural gas – amounts that will no longer be affordable as world oil production goes into decline. If the current unsustainable trend in food production, and now ethanol production, continues, energy and food prices will most-likely be locked together until famine forces a systematic change.

On January 22, 2005, Bloomberg reported:

Sugar prices surged to a 24-year high as more supplies are used for fuel because of soaring energy costs. ...

Sugar has jumped 92 percent in the past year as Brazil, the world's biggest producer and exporter, converted more of its crop into ethanol fuel to cope with record gasoline prices. ...

"Sugar is going ballistic because of the oil price," Sam Tilley, head of research at London-based commodities brokers Sucden (U.K.) Ltd., said.

On January 16, 2005, The New York Times reported:

Early every winter here [in Sioux, Iowa], farmers make their best guesses about how much food the world will demand in the coming year, and then decide how many acres of corn to plant, and how many of soybeans.

But this year is different. Now it is not just the demand for food that is driving the decision, it is also the demand for ethanol, which is made from corn. ...

High oil prices are dragging corn prices up with them, as the value of ethanol is pushed up by the value of the fuel it replaces. ...

"We're putting the supermarket in competition with the corner filling station for the output of the farm," said Lester Brown, an agriculture expert in Washington and president of the Earth Policy Institute. Farms cannot feed all the world's people and its motor vehicles as well, he said, and the result is that more people will go hungry.

The Times' article concluded with a satirically ignorant quote from Joe Jobe, executive director of the National Biodiesel Board:

"I think there's a historical shift under way, not to grow more crops for energy and less for food, but to grow more for both,"

He sounds just like "W":

"...we can't conserve our way to energy independence; nor can we conserve our way to having enough energy available. So we've got to do both."

It might be funny if it wasn't so scary.

There is no alternative, or combination of alternatives, that can match the efficiency and former abundance of fossil-fuel energy. Therefore, the only way to effectively reduce oil-dependency is to reduce overall energy-dependency. Alone, supply-side solutions, only offer more problems. Growing ethanol to feed trucks instead of growing food to feed people is just one example.


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