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Food vs. Fuel January 2, 2008

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, Enviroment, Politics.
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Robert J. Samuelson – Food vs. Fuel – washingtonpost.com
Since 1961, world population has increased 112 percent; meanwhile, global production is up 164 percent for grains and almost 700 percent for meats. We owe this mainly to better seed varieties, more fertilizer, more mechanization and better farm practices. Food in most developed countries is so plentiful and inexpensive that obesity — partly caused by overeating — is a major social problem.

Biofuels became politically fashionable because they combined benefits for farmers with popular causes: increasing energy “security”; curbing global warming. Unfortunately, the marriage is contrived. Not only are fuel savings meager, so are the environmental benefits. Substituting corn-based ethanol for gasoline results in little reduction in greenhouse gases. Indeed, the demand for biofuels encourages deforestation in developing countries; the New York Times recently reported the clearing of Indonesian forests to increase palm oil production for biofuel. Forests absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

This is not a case of unintended consequences. A new generation of “cellulosic” fuels (made from grasses, crop residue or wood chips) might deliver benefits, but the adverse effects of corn-based ethanol were widely anticipated. Government subsidies reflect the careless and cynical manipulation of worthy public goals for selfish ends. That the new farm bill may expand the ethanol mandates confirms an old lesson: Having embraced a giveaway, politicians cannot stop it, no matter how dubious.

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