The Corner

More on biofuels

Since it’s after midnight, I’m going to the personal grievance department.

I know that I have found someone special because it is not every day that I am called a shameless, sanctimonious, dishonest, hypocritical warmonger by someone who doesn’t know me or my position on the war, all because I care about people who are forced to starve for the sake of biofuel subsidies. My new friend from Left Field admits that she is “not particularly knowledgeable about biofuels and their effect on food availability.” She proves it by blaming the decades-old phenomenon of Global Warming for the sudden tripling of food prices in just three years.

Here’s the question she should ask: why has the price of food followed the price of oil, upward and rapidly so? A small portion of that is transportation and farming, but most of it is due to the the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandated that we use an incredible amount of the food we produce to create biofuels — for 4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2006, gradually increasing to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. This year, it means that 28 percent of our grain crop will be used for energy and not eaten.

And that’s not all. If we simply set all that grain on fire and watched it burn, such a major decrease in supply would already cause a significant price increase. But our policy of subsidizing food-to-fuel conversion further exacerbates the problem by creating a nexus between grain and oil prices. It is elegantly described by Lester R. Brown, an influential environmentalist who has been writing about this for years:

Historically the food and energy economies have been largely separate, but now with the construction of so many fuel ethanol distilleries, they are merging. If the food value of grain is less than its fuel value, the market will move the grain into the energy economy. Thus as the price of oil rises, the price of grain follows it.

As goes oil, so goes corn. As goes corn, so goes the price of meat from animals that eat corn, the price of their milk, and the price of the crops that are displaced by corn and other biofuel plants — even the price of dietary alternatives to corn (Brown mentions rice).

Not too hard to understand, and no derogatory adjectives had to be expended in the writing of this post.