Mar 19, 2007
Ethanol is suddenly being touted as a way to save the environment. If we run cars on ethanol instead of gasoline, global warming will be solved. At least, that’s what we’re told by the Bush administration, by big business in general – and by agribusinesses in particular.
What is ethanol? It’s an alcohol that can be burned like gas – and it’s made from corn. That certainly sounds “green” enough! Wouldn’t corn alcohol be a lot less polluting than dirty old gasoline?
Well, no. As usual, the publicity spin is one thing, but reality is much different. An article in Scientific American summed up several studies. They concluded that compared to the energy from a gallon of gasoline, a comparable amount of energy from ethanol would create just as much global-warming pollution. In fact, probably a little more! It’s because of all the extra energy burned while farming the corn, refining it into ethanol, and distributing it.
So if ethanol’s net gain for the environment is zero, or even minus, what is behind this sudden enthusiasm?
The price of corn already jumped up, and it will only go higher as the ethanol programs – with their 51 cents per gallon federal subsidy! – gear up. Every business that deals in corn and corn-related products will make a killing. Very large agribusinesses such as Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill, and Monsanto control most of the market and will profit accordingly.
For workers, however, not only will pollution continue unchecked, but the cost of living will continue to rise. The ethanol subsidy will be paid by higher taxes, and higher prices at the gas pump. Everything involving corn will be more expensive. For example, foods and soft drinks are sweetened with, surprisingly, corn syrup.
And in countries where corn is the staple food, the poor will only get poorer and hungrier. In Mexico, protests already happened against the rising price of corn tortillas.
In the end, the only thing “green” about the ethanol craze will be the amount of “long green” pumped from workers’ pockets into corporate vaults.