The Morality of Biofuels

When the cropland to power an SUV can feed a person for a year, attempts to wean America off of oil through biofuels raises some serious moral questions.

2 minute read

March 5, 2007, 1:32 PM PST

By Michael Dudley


"Last September, Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that the amount of grain needed to make enough ethanol to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank 'would feed one person for a full year. If the United States converted its entire grain harvest into ethanol, it would satisfy less than 16 percent of its automotive needs.' Brown said the ongoing ethanol boom in the U.S. was 'setting the stage for an epic competition. In a narrow sense, it is one between the world's supermarkets and its service stations.' More broadly, 'it is a battle between the world's 800 million automobile owners, who want to maintain their mobility, and the world's two billion poorest people, who simply want to survive.'

Using food to make fuel bothers many analysts, and whether their affiliation is liberal or conservative doesn't seem to matter. Dennis Avery, director of global food issues at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C., has concerns that are remarkably similar to Brown's. A few days after Brown's piece appeared in the Post, Avery published a paper showing that ethanol simply cannot provide enough motor fuel to make a significant difference in America's fuel consumption.

And like Brown, he laid bare the essential question: food or fuel?

Avery says that even if the U.S. adopted biofuels as the antidote for imported crude oil, 'It would take more than 546 million acres of U.S. farmland to replace all of our current gasoline use with corn ethanol.'

That's a huge area, especially considering that the total amount of American cropland covers about 440 million acres."

Monday, March 5, 2007 in AlterNet

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