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Unintended Consequences?

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 ( was signed into law by George W. Bush that year – the year that ended with global peak oil having been realized, as luck would have it. What a coincidence. One of its primary stipulations was that greater quantities of biofuels be added to gasoline, thereby (so it was hoped) reducing American dependence upon foreign countries for oil. This line of reasoning was based largely upon Brazil’s success in utilizing ethanol derived from sugar cane ( The Act incorporates policy determined by politicians, not scientists.
Fast forward six years. Let’s see how things are going:
“The Russian drought [of 2010] simply sparked this latest speculative bubble. Russia did lose 33 percent of its wheat harvest, but it had plenty of wheat stocks on hand to make up the difference. Instead of using those stocks, the Russian government was persuaded by multinational grain companies to ban wheat exports.

That enabled those companies to break their low-price export contracts with Egypt, Bangladesh and other countries and sell their grain on the inflated domestic wheat market, says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN (, a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers.” (
Did your heart skip a beat when you read the words “speculative bubble?” In other words, multinational grain companies are betting whether children in poor countries get to eat or not. We’re not running out of food; it “just” costs too much. Do you know how fathers behave when they can’t provide for their children? It’s agony, pure and simple. Nature has programmed fathers to provide for, and protect, their families.
I can only paraphrase, but I remember reading an absolutely lacerating story a long time ago, during the 80’s. The Nicaraguan people were suffering terribly, except for those with low friends in high places. They had enough to eat. A man who worked for such an individual explained what it meant, feeding meat and milk to his boss’s dogs, when he could not provide such necessities to his children. He said that it did violence to his soul.
That is how all men feel, when they cannot take care of their families.
Bush decided he could keep everybody happy by manufacturing ethanol: tree huggers, farmers, oil companies. Within days of his announcement, the nay-sayers insisted upon pointing out just how very much corn we would need to grow to cut down on pollution caused by fossil fuel-burning automobiles. Just how much energy would be required to make the ethanol; it was almost a one-off. Corn, it turned out, was not sugar.( But Bush’s constituency bought the idea, and that was that.
“When the United States attempted to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into ethanol, the growth in world grain demand, traditionally around 20 million tons per year, suddenly jumped to over 50 million tons in 2007. Roughly 119 million tons of the 2009 U.S. grain harvest of 416 million tons went to ethanol distilleries, an amount that exceeds the grain harvests of Canada and Australia combined. This massive ethanol distillery investment in the United States launched an epic competition between cars and people for grain (
On the supply side of the food equation, several trends are making it more difficult to expand production rapidly enough to keep up with demand. These include soil erosion, aquifer depletion, more frequent crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets, melting mountain glaciers, and the diversion of irrigation water to cities.” (Les Brown, Grist)
A “competition between cars and people for grain.” The mind boggles. No self-respecting farmer grows food in order for it to be consumed by machines, not when there are hungry children waiting to be fed. Those who farm derive their humanity, and pride in their humanity, from growing food for others to eat. Farming and parenting: the world’s two most important jobs.
Respect for the natural order of things, recognition of our place in the world, celebration and gladness at harvesttime: these are some of the hallmarks of humanity. When humankind, in concert with nature’s ebb and flow, can enjoy the fruits of its labors as a reward for cooperation, rather than competition.
If it is true that we are competing with cars for our daily bread, it can only be a situation attributable to mental illness, for it implies that human beings no longer care about the continuation of their own species. Only creatures whose lives are lived in stark contrast to the rest of us could concoct such a scheme. (What a ghastly thought: it bears a direct resemblance to Russian roulette.) Corporate agriculture, born of hubris, greed, and instant gratification, but which wears the disguise of efficiency, chemistry as magic bullet, and infinite growth. We recognized their personhood, then mistook it for humanity. Is it any surprise these moral mongrels choose to do business with a country that has utterly lost its ethical bearings?
"A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance." As usual, Wendell Berry says it best. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was written in order to benefit corporate entities, not people. Piles of money don’t eat. People do.


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