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The Fuel on the Hill — The Corn Supremacy

I have an article in Salon on the insanity that is America’s ethanol policy. The new energy bill sets this country on a path to finish the assault on the world food supply begun by the (even lamer) 2005 energy bill. As I explain, our ethanol policy does not help fight global warming, but it does threaten food supplies:

In just the past two years, food prices have jumped 75 percent in real terms…. The Economist points out the amazing statistic that “the demands of America’s ethanol program alone account for over half the world’s unmet need for cereals.”

By law (the 2005 energy bill) we are going to increase corn ethanol production at least 50% over the next few years. And the new energy bill will probably require corn ethanol to triple from current levels!! But current levels are already bringing havoc down on the global food market.

The International Herald Tribune reported Monday:

In an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created “a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food,” particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Now here is where everything gets as frighteningly ironic as a Twilight Zone episode. The cause of this catastrophe:

Diouf blamed a confluence of recent supply and demand factors for the crisis, and he predicted that those factors were here to stay. On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

Yes, two of the main drivers of high fuel prices are global warming and America’s biofuels policy, which was created in part as an effort to fight global warming (though it doesn’t as I explain in the Salon article).

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You can’t make this stuff up — and yet the President and Congress keep making it up as they go, oblivious to our impact on the world and the planet.