Ethanol is the new bad boy, but who’s to blame?

Why is this corn smiling?

Why is this corn smiling?

Ethanol, once the golden fuel of the sustainability/global warmists, ethanol has fallen out of favor of late. It’s expensive, has assorted negative ecological and human welfare impact, and even its “greenhouse gas” cred is dubious. So environmentalists, who were original proponents of ethanol-as-fuel, now must find a boogeyman for a little prophylactic blameshifting.

Up against the wall, Big Farm.

“Agribusiness,” or what’s otherwise known as factory farms, or simply large business in the agricultural production, is the new whipping boy of the green movement. Well, not a new whipping boy. Big Farm, like Big Oil and Big Pharm, are businesses they love to hate. But the new line is that Big Farm has been in the shadowy background of ethanol-for-fuel, promoting something that’s bad for Mother Earth after all. If it weren’t for Big Farm, we wouldn’t be in the clutches of ethanol-as-fuel.

Critics of ethanol used as a motor fuel, have long cited its negative economic and ecological impact, even when it was just another “synfuel,” or synthetic fuel. Starting back in the ’70s as a response to the OPEC oil embargoes, synfuels included more than just ethanol. The EPA defined synfuel as “coal, natural gas or biomass feedstocks,” and after processing–sometimes quite intensive and not necessarily eco-friendly—in many cases a replica of petroleum. Combining alcohol to gasoline had the now quaint-sounding name “gasohol.”

Even as early as 1981 a Popular Science was citing potential consequences of gasahol, which it listed that while not contributing a significant portion of our fuel needs, “accelerating the destruction of American crop lands” while simultaneously putting the small farmer out of business and “diverting “foodstuffs from the hungry to the automobile.”

Another factor was the dollar cost of alcohol. It was expected that the price of corn-based product would go down as new production plants came on line, but even then it wasn’t happening as quickly as expected, and OPEC’s ability to control gasoline prices by producing more oil would also affect the gasoline/alcohol price disparity. The need for subsidies was forecasted, at least for the near term, a near term has since continued for more almost 35 years, with no expectation of any change.

The irony is that rising oil prices was expected to narrow the gap or even give alcohol the advantage. With the recent opening of new oilfields extracting shale oil in the United States and oil sands in Canada, that’s seems less even less likely to happen.

It’s also making production of liquid fuel from coal, even waste coal, less likely, even though South Africa has used coal and , because as we know, it was made from a fossil fuel, and fossil fuels are bad.. And it’s “renewable.” Once out of the ground, it’s gone.

Gee, if we could only find something that was a bio-fuel.

The internet expert now want to blame Big Farm: “it appears our corporate friends at ADM are the main culprits. More of the good ol’ political corruption and crony capitalism at work, it seems. Lobbying efforts, and in return some nice donations to the proper political parties. ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ at the expense of the consumer/taxpayer, again.”

If there was a lobby for ethanol, no doubt ADM was behind part of it, but anti-global warming crowd was behind it–when global warming replaced the coming ice age as a threat to mankind. Using “sustainable” bio-stocks was better than the petroleum, which incidentally was only five years—or some other brief period—away…and had been since about 1910. The eco-proponents praised Brazil for using E100 as a motor fuel…although the green crowd also complained about destruction of the rain forest in order to grow sugar cane used to make ethanol. As an aside, we’re subsidizing Brazil’s experimentation in deep water offshore drilling while blocking it in U.S. waters. Brazil has doubts about ethanol.

But how unpopular has ethanol in motor fuel use become? Even Al Gore has come out against “first generation” ethanol…which is another way of saying ethanol from corn. “One of the reasons I made that mistake, “ said Gore in in describing his epiphany, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for President.”

Somehow cynical political opportunism is an excuse.

Of course, it’s only ethanol from corn that’s on the hit list. Subsidies for ethanol from corn may end—if the financial addiction to growing and processing corn in Iowa can be blunted in the Iowa presidential caucuses by a right/left coalition…though the first to break resolve on the issue may be the big winner. And no doubt everyone in both parties is all too aware of that possibility.

Subsidies for ethanol likely haven’t ended, however, as “advanced ethanol”—from switchgrass of some such—are still on the table. But maybe the boondoggle of ethanol from corn can cease