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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Four Horsemen

Burning our food to redistribute energy has caused food shortages, at least in part, around the world (for a few of many articles click here, here, here, here, and here).

The global warming that was supposed to be lessened by the burning of ethanol has been absent this winter and spring so that planting of crops has been delayed according to this Strib article. An abnormally late spring means delayed planting which equals a reduced crop which will affect food shortages.

It should be obvious to anyone with intelligence that there is something seriously wrong with burning food to create fuel. Yet our political leaders have compulsively lit the matches, by requiring a certain percentage of ethanol in gasoline. Knowing full well that the ethanol complex would not begin or survive on its own, they approved subsidies to support it and import taxes on foreign ethanol.

In doing so, our political leaders have demonstrated a great lack of wisdom. Economic foolishness governs the day when they cannot understand that subsidies for ethanol will increase the price of corn which increases the price of food. Tax based subsidies create market place price increases which are taxes in the final analysis.

Environmental foolishness reigns when they cannot understand that there is an energy loss and pollutant gain when creating ethanol from food stocks.

Nutrient foolishness abounds when these politicians cannot recognize that burning food is not good public policy.

This foolishness is just the tip of the iceberg of stupidity found in government that determines to control every aspect of our lives. Ronald Reagan astutely observed, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Sadly, foolishness does not avoid Chisago County. Rep. Jeremy Kalin (D-17B) wrote a year ago:

"Senator Rick Olseen and I worked with landowners, farmers, and our County Board to secure a $200,000 state grant to study building a prairie-grass cellulosic ethanol plant in Chisago County. This could bring dozens or even hundreds of new jobs to our community and provide economic opportunity for local farmers, without sacrificing our food sources."
Cellulosic ethanol is untested and undeveloped, but our Representative and Senator itch to spend our tax dollars on it. Kalin thinks it can be developed ". . . without sacrificing our food sources." I doubt Kalin thought that one through. Prairie grass can grow on more marginal acres than corn or soybeans, but that percentage of increase is small.

Then too, if prairie grass is successful, farmers would try to increase production by adding fertilizer, which is an addition of energy. And who is to say that acreage for food crops will not be diminished by prairie grass production? If the straw and stalks of wheat, oats, barley, etc. are used to produce ethanol, then that eliminates the vegetation that is returned to the soil for the next harvest of food crops. That requires more fertilizer (and energy) to replace the waste vegetation.

While the state’s cellulosic ethanol program is young, it won’t be long before it too will be subsidized just like corn ethanol is.

Instead of locking us into looking for the elusive perpetual motion machine, legislators need to encourage nuclear generation (which is illegal in Minnesota) and drilling in known American oil reserves. Government needs to get out of the way, let the generous supply of known energy resources be used and let the private sector develop new energy sources. The "help" of politicians is rarely help. It usually creates drastic unintended consequences and costs billions of dollars.

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