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The Looming Choice: Fuel or Food?

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View Tom Turner's blog posts
22 May 2008, 3:41 PM

I've never been quite sure what 'a perfect storm' means (didn't see the movie), but it seems to mean a situation where everything gangs up on you. If so, we seem to be already in perfect storm territory in the building competition between hungry people and thirsty vehicles for corn and other grains.

Just the other day Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B, which is just out in its third incarnation and gets more valuable with each iteration, was saying that the amount of corn necessary to make enough fuel to fill the tank of a good-sized SUV once could feed a person for a year. Putting aside the side that you'd get awfully tired of Fritos and polenta, I find this is a shocking statistic. And it's not only SUVs, of course, most of our vehicles are now in direct competition with people for nourishment and the price of food is going through the roof, especially in countries where people can't afford enough food anyway.

The perfect storm reference came to me this morning when Morning Edition broadcast a story from China about how competition for corn between pig farmers and ethanol distillers has raised the price of pork. Clearly cutting down on human consumption of meat is a good idea from very many angles, but we'll still be left with a bidding war between grain for direct consumption and for vehicle fuel. Not a pretty picture.

Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago I suggested that people spend their 'stimulus package' checks on green items. I did an audio version for KQED you can hear here.

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