Friday, May 2, 2008

The corn conundrum

For decades now we have been trying to create renewable fuels to run our cars and generate electricity. The theory is that oil is a finite commodity but if we can grow our own gasoline we will never run out.

So, Yankee ingenuity and the politicians got together and came up with things like bio-fuels and 85% ethanol. Uncle Sam handed out cash for research and promotional programs. And people started buying flex-fuel cars. And there is steady growth in the use of biofuels. Bio-diesel in particular has done rather well in the last year or two.

We’re hearing these days about the high price of corn, brought about they say by the new demand for it in biofuel production.

Now, corn isn’t just a dinner table veggie. It is used as a sweetener in all sorts of products we buy. Huge amounts of it are fed to cattle. And Orval Reddenbacker can’t get along without it.

Well, these days the corn is high, and I don’t mean in the field. Market prices are up.

Al Gore and his bunch have complained that stealing grain out of the mouths of starving children in Africa was not what they had in mind when they advised us to go green.

But that complaint needs some translation. Here it is: “You guys have taken this alternative fuels thing and made it into a viable energy source. But in the process you bypassed our plan to redistribute wealth to other countries. This will not do. We therefore must attack your efforts with our liberal logic.”

At least one spokesman in Washington made sense of the issue this week. He told Congress that the higher food prices we are seeing has more to do with $4 a gallon diesel fuel than with a portion of the corn crop being used for alternative fuels.

Here’s a quote from the Christian Science Monitor:
"We're not downplaying the fact that there are folks having a tough time buying groceries, but to scare those folks to death [by saying it's] because we're making ethanol is an injustice," says Jon Doggett, vice president of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association in Washington. Just a couple years ago, he notes, he was taking calls from people angry that the low price of corn was feeding America's obesity. "Now they're accusing us of intentionally starving people to death around the world."

Meanwhile, Bush is sending more of our money overseas to feed the hungry. As long as he uses his UN budget, I say go ahead. When he runs out of funds and has to vacate the UN building in New York, then we’ve accomplished something.

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