Food For Biofuel? Wrong.

 While President Bush and the biofuel industry are happy with the growth of biofuel, Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs is not. Neither, it seems, are millions in the world currently starving who weren’t starving prior to the push for biofuel. The food riots in at least eight countries over skyrocketing food prices may have been our first clue.

A full third of U.S. corn is now being used not for food but for fuels like ethanol. This is not about classic capitalism, the free market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The U.S. government subsidizes the growth of that corn.

President Bush and the biofuel industry deny a cause-effect relationship between subsidizing vast amounts of food crops to make fuels like ethanol and sharply increasing worldwide food prices. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has determined there is a cause-effect relationship between food-based biofuel, rising food prices and starvation.

Who is more objective in their assessment: a highly profitable industry and the politician subsidizing it, or a world-renowned economist and expert on poverty — a person not being subsidized, elected or paid by special interests to say or do anything in particular?

Sustainability has a triple bottom line: environment, economy and equity, as in social equity. Growing food for biofuel violates social equity altogether (and isn’t good for the environment or economy, either). In my view, growing and using food for fuel is wasteful, greedy and plain wrong.

Note that I said both growing and using. The greed is just as much on the part of consumers as producers — and we can climb out of our greed and consume fuels with more integrity and more joy. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, remember that biodiesel made from recycled restaurant vegetable oil is a different animal from the biofuel discussed here. See Heating Our House With Biodiesel.

Also coming up soon: our final decision on which hybrid car we’re buying.

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3 Responses to “Food For Biofuel? Wrong.”


  1. 1 Ewan O'Leary May 9, 2008 at 12:28 am

    On NPR the other day, I heard a senator from the cornbelt demonstrate rather elaborately how corn for ethanol was not fit for human consumption, and so was definitely not a major factor in the current price spike for corn.

    Um. So I guess the fact that the land used is the same doesn’t register?

    I guess you dont get re-elected unless you protect the gravy train in your constituency, despite its impact on the planet. I really hope that the next administration doesn’t employ the same short-sighted and cynical policy tools as this one has.

  2. 2 Matt Rust May 9, 2008 at 1:00 am

    Note that in the last 3 years world food prices have gone up by 80 percent, and now 27 countries are considered in starvation classification regarding food supply status. While in the US we don’t necessarily notice the price of bread going up by 30 cents, we’re too concerned with gas, others go without because of this rise.

  3. 3 Crafty Green Poet May 9, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    good post, I think at least ots hopeful that the opposition to agrofuels is already quite well publicised and the UK and Europe at least are reconsidering their ill thought out targets for agrofuels. Its also very encouraging to see major bus companies in the UK experimenting with reusing waste oils in their tanks. I believe MacDonalds are recycling their cooking oils in their vehicles too?


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