Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When Knowledge Obviously Was Not Wisdom

Today, the US is facing both a food and an energy crisis.

Many scientists and politicians once thought that bio-fuels was the answer to the ever increasing demand for oil and its rising costs. However, now that food crops like corn are being diverted to the production of ethanol, costs for everything from meat to milk to eggs is skyrocketing. In addition, scientists and environmentalists are now realizing that the ethanol production process is harmful to the environmental and actually adding to the problem of global warming.

Now some politicians are ready to limit ethanol production and expand drilling in protected areas of the environment in order to meet America's energy needs. However there is already a great deal of evidence showing this to be an impractical solution. One, because of the irreparable damage that he will due to the environment. And two, because, in the case of the Alaska Pipeline, the ground no longer stays frozen solid enough months of the year, in order to move the oil tankers in and out of the area.

In some circles voices are demanding that OPEC lower prices. Ironically, this cry is often coming from those that believe in letting "the market" drive the economy. Many of these voices are suggesting the Kuwait and Iraq should remember their "friends"? Are they saying that "it was really all about the oil"? Meanwhile oil companies like BP & Shell are reporting record profits.

While addressing Congress today, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) succinctly pointed out that the money from most American's stimulus checks will end up in Saudi Arabia. He suggested that the passage of the Saudi Arms Deal be blocked if they do not increase oil production. It seems that so many events over the last seven years have come down to ARMS & OIL.

Some politicians and business interests are trying to sell the idea of clean coal. Ask the people in Appalachia, whose air and drinking water is being poisoned by mountaintop mining, if there is anything "clean" about coal.

And of course there are the proponents of nuclear energy -- a process for which there is no viable way to dispose of the waste product.

As bleak as this conundrum of food, energy and environmental problems sounds, I am sure that the world's scientists and business community will find the answers. But will they learn the real lessons?.

Will world leaders finally learn that :
  • just because we have the knowledge to do something it might not always be wise to do it
  • just because an idea has a short-term benefit that he should also be evaluated for its long term consequences.
  • we have always lived in a global community

In an article for the Washington Post, Stephen Mufson painted a very clear picture of the ties between food and oil. Here's an excerpt from his article, " Siphoning Off Corn to Fuel Our Cars".

Across the country, ethanol plants are swallowing more and more of the nation's corn crop. This year, about a quarter of U.S. corn will go to feeding ethanol plants instead of poultry or livestock. That has helped farmers like Johnson, but it has boosted demand -- and prices -- for corn at the same time global grain demand is growing.

And it has linked food and fuel prices just as oil is rising to new records, pulling up the price of anything that can be poured into a gasoline tank. "The price of grain is now directly tied to the price of oil," says Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, a Washington research group. "We used to have a grain economy and a fuel economy. But now they're beginning to fuse."

Not everyone thinks it's fantastic. People who use corn to feed cattle, hogs and chickens are being squeezed by high corn prices. On Monday, Tyson Foods reported its first loss in six quarters and said that its corn and soybean costs would increase by $600 million this year. Those who are able, such as egg producers, are passing those high corn costs along to consumers. The wholesale price of eggs in the first quarter soared 40 percent from a year earlier, according to the Agriculture Department. Meanwhile, retail prices of countless food items, from cereal to sodas to salad dressing, are being nudged upward by more expensive ingredients such as corn syrup and cornstarch.

Rising food prices have given Congress and the White House a sudden case of legislative indigestion. In 2005, the Republican-led Congress and President Bush backed a bill that required widespread ethanol use in motor fuels. Just four months ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed and Bush signed energy legislation that boosted the mandate for minimum corn-based ethanol use to 15 billion gallons, about 10 percent of motor fuel, by 2015. It was one of the most popular parts of the bill, appealing to farm-state lawmakers and to those worried about energy security and eager to substitute a home-grown energy source for a portion of U.S. petroleum imports. To help things along, motor-fuel blenders receive a 51 cent subsidy for every gallon of corn-based ethanol used through the end of 2010; this year, production could reach 8 billion gallons.

Now, however, the legislation is being criticized for making food more expensive while gasoline prices continue to climb. Rick Perry, a Republican who succeeded Bush as Texas governor, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive half of the "misguided" ethanol requirements because of rising food costs; every penny increase in per-bushel corn prices costs his state's livestock industry $6 million a year, he said.

Hopefully, US leadership will get serious about finding longterm sustainable solutions to today's food, energy and environmental issues and the American public will get serious and realize and any solution will involve a little sacrifice.

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