Saturday, June 30, 2007

This Ethanol madness must stop

We are a nation that can be easily swayed in one way by Oreilly Factor at 8:00 PM and in exact opposite direction by John Stewart at 11:00 PM. In some instances we take longer to change our mind. We believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction when we invaded Iraq. But not any more. We believed organic food was better few years ago. Now local food is the fashion. We believed that driving solo in Hummer is the coolest thing to do. Then it changed to alien looking European sized hybrids. Now the madness is ethanol fuel E85. Some people call it flip flop but some call it brilliant Harvard material course correction.

We all believe the infallibility of our belief when we believe in some thing. Then we go to war, line up at whole foods, hang out at farmers market to get local food, buy Lexus hybrids and send the corn harvest straight into ethanol refineries instead of Kellogg. At this point in time, we decided to take side with 800 million people who own automobiles against 2 billion low income people, many of whom already spend more than half their income on food.

Engel's law (for Ernst Engel, a 19th century statistician) states that as you get rich, you spend proportionately less to eat. So for the rich folks in the the US, 10% of the total expenditure goes towards buying food where as people in Thailand spends 29% for food. If you go to a village in Etawah district in Northern India, that percentage might shoot up beyond 50%. So sky rocketing prices for food grain is not really our problem. Our problem is to reduce the cost of automobile ownership against the billions of people who survive on US food aid. Good people like Bono and Angelina will continue to fight the raw hunger prevailing among the poorest of poor of the world. We no longer will have surplus corn to send to distressed part of the world. Soon we will see bumper stickers in Los Angeles that reads 'I skipped cereal to buy ethanol' or 'I would rather not eat Tortilla'.

I have no shame in admitting that I was bread on US food aid in the late seventies. Star and stripe paper bags full of corn, soy and wheat distributed in elementary schools. Big cans of Corn oil to make the lunch meal. Not that we were starving like other unfortunate kids in other parts of the country, but I went to a rural village where there were still some kids who would have dropped out of school lacking free meal. By later seventies, we were beginning to be self sufficient in food and no longer needed US food aid as much as it needed in the fifties.

But poverty and malnutrition is still an evil among mankind. We are reminded of that only when Angelina adopt a girl from Africa or Bono appears on the cover of TIME. Rest of the time, we are busy crushing corn and soy into something that we can use to fill up our dream machines. Alas, E85 days ahead of us!

Two necessities, fuel and food, create spiral of rising prices

My previous post on Organic and Local food

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