Ethanol's Ugly Side

December 15, 2009
By Anonymous

Need for environmental change has become a reality in our lives. Augmented by the constant presence of global warming, calls for energy independence and reduced importation of foreign oils have been echoing throughout the nation well before the recent elections. More recently, economic recession has exposed the necessity to find homegrown alternative fuels. President Barack Obama has called for these changes during his campaign and in his presidency. "So we have a choice to make. We can remain one of the world's leading importers of foreign oil, or we can make the investments that would allow us to become the world's leading exporter of renewable energy. We can let climate change continue to go unchecked, or we can help stop it. We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity." (Obama). Obviously, solutions are needed fast.

Of the alternative fuels that our nation can potentially use, none has gained as much attention as ethanol, and more specifically, corn-based ethanol. Flex-fuel cars, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, are vehicles that use a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% ethanol, and are produced by several manufacturers. According to, both Ford and GM pledge that by 2012 50% of their output will be Flex-fuels vehicles. There are around 2,000 gas stations that supply “E85,” and also according to the Department, “E85” is produced domestically and gives off lower emissions.

In today’s world, one might wonder “What’s there to lose with ethanol?” It gives off less pollution than oil, rids the country of our dependence on foreign nations, and gives our country new industries and jobs in a time in which economic innovation is sorely needed.

Well, corn-based ethanol enthusiasts seem to forget one thing. To live, people need to eat. People eat corn. Lots of people. Ethanol enthusiasts forget the oldest conflict of them all in their support for this alternative fuel, world hunger.

Further diverting corn resources from food to fuel could have a devastating affect on the world’s poor. According to Lester Brown of “The Globalist,” world grain stocks in 2006 were the lowest they have been in 34 years, caused by a rapidly-expanding population. New land to grow on is also becoming scarce. For the two billion of the world’s poorest people, who spend around half of their income on food, any rise in price or decrease in supply could be fatal. Raised corn prices also affect livestock prices, since corn is also used to feed livestock. Also according to Brown, 25 gallons of corn-based ethanol, or one SUV gas tank, has enough corn to feed one person for an entire year. You make the choice. Only a little over a year ago, we were in the midst of a global food crisis. According to Laurie Goering of the Chicago Tribune, in April 2008 33 countries around the world were experiencing riots and threats of political upheaval because of soaring food and energy prices. Yes, we need to find cheaper, cleaner energy, but taking it from our food supply is not right.

Corn-based ethanol is obviously not the solution we are looking for. But, there are other types of ethanol out there, ones not made out of plants that feed the world. According to Chris Kraul of the L.A. Times, sugar-based ethanol is “greener” and takes less away from the global food supply. Cellulosic ethanol, or ethanol made from wood chips, forest waste, algae, is not too far away, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, and advancements in agricultural science are making this alternative possible domestically. With these “second generation” biofuels, we can avoid choosing between human beings and vehicles all together. Yes, climate change is a menacing problem, but we can’t fight it with unethical solutions. Corn should be food. That’s all.

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This article has 1 comment.

junonia SILVER said...
on Dec. 11 2014 at 12:01 pm
junonia SILVER, Waukee, Iowa
5 articles 2 photos 5 comments
Ethanol also increases the demand to destroy our natural areas to grow unnecessary corn.  Nice article.

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