It is good that doom mongers like Paul Ehrlich have been so thoroughly discredited. But could anyone have imagined that not only are we not facing "Population Bomb" style famines, but we are in fact spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money to promote burning food in cars?
I am not sure how anyone thought this was a good idea, since
- Every scientific study in the world not conducted by an institution in Iowa have shown that corn-based ethanol uses more energy than it produces, does not reduce CO2, and creates new environmental problems in terms of land and water use.
- Sixty seconds of math would have shown that even diverting ALL of US corn production to ethanol would only replace a fraction of our transportation fuel use.
With three new plants
added in November, annual corn demand for ethanol production in
Nebraska passed the 500-million-bushel mark for the first time, using
37% of Nebraska's corn.
How much fuel has this produced?
"Today, that ambitious
directive has become a reality." Sneller says "At current rates,
Nebraska plants will use 514 million bushels of corn annually to
produce 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol. By the end of 2008, Nebraska
plants will process 860 million bushels into 2.3 billion gallons of
ethanol. Distillers grain, a co-product of ethanol production, is
widely accepted and marketed as a superior livestock feed."
This is enough ethanol to replace about a billion gallons of gasoline (since ethanol has less energy content than gasoline). This represents about 0.7% of US gasoline usage. The cost? Well, I don't know how many billions of subsidy dollars have flowed to Nebraska, but there is also this:
Corn prices have
remained virtually unchanged since World War II. Increased demand from
ethanol production has raised average corn prices by 70% and is driving
an economic resurgence in rural Nebraska, according to Todd Sneller,
administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.
So we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars, have diverted about 40% of Nebraska's corn output, and we've raised prices on corn 70% all to replace less than a percent of US gasoline usage. If we could really do the fuel balance on the whole system, we would likely find that total fossil fuel usage actually went up rather than down through these actions.
Never have I seen an issue where so many thoughtful people on both sides of the political aisle united in agreement that a program makes no sense since... well, since farm subsidies. Which, illustratively, have not gone away despite 80 years of trying. As I wrote here:
Companies are currently building massive
biofuel plants. Once these investments are in place, there is going to
be a huge entrenched base of investors and workers who are going to
wield every bit of political power they can to retain subsidies forever
to protect their jobs and their investment. Biofuel subsidies will be
as intractable as peanut and sugar subsidies and protections.