Biofuels, politics and feeding the world…

On the surface, one might think that making fuel for internal combustion engines from corn seems like a good idea. We all know that our supply of fossil fuels are are finite — and not renewable; so the more fuel we can make from “renewable” sources like corn, the better, right? Wrong.

Corn-powered automobiles; not such a good idea

In a New York Times Op-Ed by Steven Rattner (6-25-11), he describes what an absolute disaster our Federal government has made out of the corn industry. He summarizes:

Washington has managed simultaneously to help drive up food prices and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit, while arguably increasing energy use and harming the environment.

Let’s back up for a minute and look at the big picture. In doing research for our book, we found that the earth’s surface has roughly 8 billion acres of arable land; and with 7 billion humans, that works out to be just over one acre per person. That sounds okay until you consider that the amount of land required to feed one human being the typical western diet is 3.25 acres. So obviously, that diet is not the answer in terms of feeding it to the entire world. What about the plant eater?

He can survive quite nicely on one-sixth of an acre — about five percent of the amount of land required to feed the omnivore who eats meat and dairy three meals a day.

Now with that in perspective, we know arable land is at a premium now and will be even more so in the future — as more and more of the developing world tries to adopt our highly inefficient typical western diet. Meanwhile, our government is devoting much of that precious (non-renewable land) into the production of “renewable”fuels like ethanol.

Corn fields in Nebraska

Mr. Rattner pointed out some interesting statistics about corn, America’s single largest crop — “dwarfing wheat and soybeans:”

  • 40% of that massive corn crop in the United States is now being used for ethanol. (up from only 10% in 2004)
  • Another 40% goes to feed the “cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens,” key ingredients of our meat & dairy diet.

That leaves only 20% for all direct human consumption — and a huge part of that 20% is the production of high fructose corn sweetener that we now find in practically packaged product on our grocery shelves. As if all of this were not enough, the government now spends $11 billion or our tax dollars each year to provide subsidies for the corn growers. To me, this entire situation is maddening; so what’s the explanation? Politics. From the article:

To some, the contours of the ethanol story may be familiar. Almost since Iowa — our biggest corn-producing state — grabbed the lead position in the presidential sweepstakes four decades ago, support for the biofuel industry has been nearly a prerequisite for politicians seeking the presidency.

Key quote from above, “Support for the biofuel industry has been nearly a prerequisite for politicians seeking the presidency.” I suggest you read the entire article at the link below. It’s just mind-boggling how the politicians have made such a mess out of something that should be so simple.

  • We’re eating the wrong food for our species and using twenty times more land than we would if we all ate our natural diet of whole plants.
  • With the the world running out of land to feed humans, we take a large part of that land (in the USA) and devote it to a highly inefficient process of producing biofuels.
  • This action, of course, drives up the price of food.
  • Further, ethanol production is an environmental disaster. Rattner reports “The Congressional Budget Office found that reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using ethanol costs at least $750 per ton of carbon dioxide, wildly more than other methods. What is more, making corn ethanol consumes vast quantities of water and increases smog.”

My 5-horse Mercury for getting home when the wind dies.

That’s not all. Rattner further explains: “Ethanol packs less punch than gasoline and uses considerable energy in its production process. All told, each gallon of gasoline that is displaced costs the Treasury $1.78 in subsidies and lost tax revenue.

The bottom line.  From the article, “Then there’s energy efficiency. Studies reach widely varying conclusions on that issue. While some show a small saving in fossil fuels, others calculate that ethanol consumes more energy than it produces.”

Not only that, I have found that with ethanol mixed with the gasoline here in CT, my seldom-used outboard motor on my sailboat doesn’t run nearly as well as before. If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at

PS: Occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard. 

Ethanol Production Wastes Corn –

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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