Sunday, November 4, 2007


Wouldn't you love to have had a dollar everytime you heard or read the term "alternative fuels?" We are constantly being told by environmentalists, politicians and the media that we need to be less dependent on foreign oil, and how we must wean ourselves off of gasoline. Ethanol has become the poster child for alternative fuels. This bio-fuel derived from corn is touted as the primary panacea for all of our energy problems, but is it really the Holy Grail of alternative fuels that its proponents claim it is?

On closer investigation, you'll find that rather than conserve energy, ethanol represents a tremendous expenditure of energy. It takes 70% more energy to produce than it actually generates. According to research done by David Pimental, Professor of agriculture at Cornell University, processing a single acre of corn requires 140 gallons of fossil fuel at a cost of $347 per acre. On a per gallon basis, ethanol cost $1.74 to produce, compared to $0.95 per gallon for gasoline. There are also environmental costs. Corn production erodes the soil 12 times faster than the soil can renew itself. If we were to replace half of our gasoline consumption with ethanol, it would require that 90% of our farm land be converted to corn growth.

In terms of money, there would be no savings whatsoever for consumers. Ethanol costs more at the pump, and gives the average driver 2 to 5% less gas mileage. The International Institute for Sustainable Development says that government subsidies for ethanol development costs taxpayers 5.5 to 7.3 billion dollars a year. Because corn has become a cash crop bonanza for farmers, they are devoting more acreage to the crop. This has a twofold effect: First, the ethanol production itself, because of the law of supply and demand, drives up the cost of corn, and because growing it has become so lucrative, farmers are planting it in place of other crops, such as soybeans, wheat and tomatoes, thereby driving up the cost of those commodities and creating shortages.

If we truly are serious about acheiving greater energy independence, we have only to look in our own backyard. The Anwr Reserve in Alaska comprises 19 million acres. Geologists tell us there is as much oil beneath it as there is in Saudi Arabia. To extract it would require the use of only 8% of that area, hardly the desecration of nature that environmentalists claim it would be. In addition, there are huge oil reserves in the Gulf off of Florida, but because of pressure from environmentalists, our lawmakers refuse to allow us to extract a single ounce. Meanwhile, Mexico and Russia are busily engaged in sucking out that oil, while we pay more and more at the pump.

A coalition of politicans, farmers and corporations have produced their own personal gusher: our tax dollars that are being used to line pockets in the name of dubious science. Only a reasoned and rational approach to the energy problem will plug that geyser.

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