Rome, NY Sucks

But At Least We're Not Utica

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Freacology Part 1: What About Corn?

I was thinking about writing this for about a week, but 20/20's special about the book "Freakonomics" nudged me into typing it up. The book deals with certain econimc situations that are somewhat counter-intuitive. One example would be that DVD players in the back seat are a better safety device than child seats. Kids who watch DVDs sit there with seat belts on and are more likely to be in crash position, unlike the 80% of improperly installed car seats that have little positive impact of injury statistics.

I decided to look at some counter-intuition in the ecological movement. I've mentioned the waste of money and resources involved in the recycling movement last Earth Day, so this week I thought I'd take on the freacology (my word) of ethanol.

A number of anti-environmentalists have criticized the production of ethanol from corn because it uses more energy to produce than it creates. This slowly threw the green community into a downward spiral about the need for sources of biofuel with greater energy content, like Brazil's sugar cane solution or switchgrqass (that stuff Bush talked about in the State of the union). Of course, Brazil ran low on ethanol in the 90s and still subsudizes the fuel after 30 years.

But lets come back to corn. While E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gas) is funded by governement grants, the wholesale price is pretty close to that of gasloine now. The corn growing infrastructure is already in place, so is the lobbying and the influence of ADM. Why reinvent the wheel when we have an alternative fuel?

The next argument is that a huge amount of land would be needed to grow corn. Maybe, but it would be a huge cash crop. It would revitalize the economy of upstate New York, where farms lay empty. In fact, farming could become a good paying job. It could also make farming profiable in other countries when our supply of land runs low. Brazil is ready to sell sugar based ethanol to us. What if a cornfield made more money than a coca crop? Plus, the corn syrup that permeates junk food in this country would be too expensive to waste on candy.

A biofuel would also change the balence of power in the world. Desert countries with huge oil fields would be unable to grow the volume of crops that our hemisphere can. France would have to cozy up to us instead of Iran and Iraq.


  • At April 15, 2006 1:42 PM, Blogger Roman Hokie said…

    True... however, our farmers are already getting subsidies for leaving a good chunk of their land dormant. It's called price-control by supply and demand. Uncle Sam pays them to NOT work. Probably not the same amount as if they DID (I have a farmer colleague who explained this) work the land. However, given the choice of sitting on my duff and getting paid a little or busting his butt to get not much more, John Q. would take sitting on his duff.

    Also, figuring the desire of most people to get out of 'dodge' (Upstate NY) and not look back, are we going to look to the aged ag community to start revving up production of corn again? Doubtful - most of them are wondering how they'll pay their income and property taxes and not lose everything...

  • At April 15, 2006 3:46 PM, Blogger RomeHater said…

    We'd need a LOT of corn for this, and the price will go up accordingly. And they government won't be paying people to not grow it.


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