Fuel vs. Food or Fuel vs. Forests: Both Eco-Alarmists and Eco-Skeptics Are Worried About Ethanol From Corn


On the left , perennial predictor of imminent global famine Lester Brown at the Earth Policy Institute warns "Exploding U.S. Grain Demand for Automotive Fuel Threatens World Food Security and Political Stability."  On the right, Dennis Avery at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues is also worried about the food vs. fuel issue, noting in a recent report:

There are significant trade-offs, however, involved in the massive expansion of the production of corn and other crops for fuel.  Chief among these would be a shift of major amounts of the world's food supply to fuel use when significant elements of the human population remains ill-fed.

But that's not all:

Even without ethanol, the world is facing a clash between food and forests…. Ethanol mandates may force the local loss of many wildlife species, and perhaps trigger some species extinctions. Soil erosion will increase radically as large quantities of low-quality land are put into fuel crops on steep slopes and in drought-prone regions.

However, there is a telling difference between Brown and Avery. Brown wants more government mandates to "solve" the problem, specifically an automotive fuel efficiecy mandate. Avery, on the other hand, argues that "if markets are allowed to discover the winners and losers in future alternative energy sources without government intervention through subsidies and fuel mandates, and with a clear assessment of the trade-offs that may be involved."  As I've asked before, if ethanol makes such economic sense, why does it need federal subsidies or even worse, a California initiative to subsidize venture capitalists?

Disclosure: As far as I know, I own no stocks in any ethanol producing companies. But I do ocassionally drink immoderate amounts of ethanol in the form of Lagavulin.