Letters to the Editor

Readers write about food inflation and the implications of India's Tata Nano.

The role of biofuels in the environment and economy

Regarding your Jan. 18 editorial "The global grain bubble": Biofuel production is a disaster for all of us because we all have to eat.

Biofuel production causes food prices to skyrocket, and those who are already poor may die of starvation because of unthinking American politicians who voted for government-enforced biofuel mandates. Jean Ziegler, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has denounced biofuels as "a crime against humanity."

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Biofuel manufacture takes more energy to produce ethanol and biodiesel from corn, beans, and seeds than the energy value of the biofuel itself. Using oil from Saudi Arabia or Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be much better for the environment than producing biofuels. Biofuel farming using synthetic nitrogen fertilizers releases huge amounts of nitrous oxide, which is many times more effective at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide.

Hopes of growing switchgrass for biofuel on "marginal prairie land" will turn that marginal land into a dust bowl, as global warming will dry out and heat up the Midwest and Southwest, turning much of our good land into desert. Of course, the worst issue with biofuel production is that it raises food prices for low-income people in the world. That is immoral.

Christopher Calder
Eugene, Ore.

In response to your Jan. 18 editorial on rising grain prices: Naming ethanol as the main driver of rising food costs is misinformed.

Multiple studies have shown that a number of factors affect the cost of food, most notably labor, fuels, transportation, packaging, and other nonfarm costs.

A study released in December of 2007 by a Memphis-based research firm shows that corn prices have minimal impact on the US Consumer Price Index for food, based on 20 years of price data.

Additionally, studies by the federal government have shown that one-third of the grain used in the ethanol process is maintained and goes back into the feeding cycle. Increases in corn yields will allow the US not only to meet fuel needs but also to increase both exports and reserves.

The new US energy bill does require the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels within the next 15 years. However, the majority of that must come from nonfood sources including wood chips, switchgrass, and other inexpensive and readily available biomass.

These second-generation biofuels will provide a host of financial, environmental, and energy benefits in contrast to environmentally costly and increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

Doug Durante
Executive Director, Clean Fuels Development Coalition
Bethesda, Md.

Regarding your Jan. 18 editorial "The global grain bubble": You correctly connected the dots between global unrest and the insatiable appetite for energy by Europe and America. Clearly, the need to explore solar, hydrogen, and other new technologies – despite their initial modest impact on our energy consumption – is the key to breaking out of the box that our fossil-fuel economy has created.

Whether it is food riots or further global warming, we will continue to see far-reaching consequences undeniably connected to such shortsighted strategies as corn-based ethanol.

By now, time is precious in the much-needed struggle to change how we think of our lives and our world.

David E. Morse
Newcastle, Maine

What it means to mobilize the masses

Regarding the Jan. 18 article, "Could the 'Nano' put India's masses behind the wheel?": India's Tata Motors unveiled the world's cheapest car, the $2,500 Nano. Nothing prevented American companies from doing something similar. The fact is, they didn't. And we wonder why so many of our companies are in freefall.

Tata Motors is likely to break into American front pages again some time this year, when they are rumored to show off their hydrogen car. They are reported to be working with the Indian Space Research Organization to produce the engine for a hydrogen car. That's like GM or Ford collaborating with NASA to leverage their expertise.

We can only hope and pray that such collaborative work happens. That's a great bet for generating shareholder value and jobs in the next decade.

Nagananda Kumar
Los Angeles

In response the the Jan. 18 article on the Tata Nano: The super-inexpensive car is touted as bringing mobility to the masses of India, and the article focused on the miracle of making such an inexpensive car and the lust with which Indian car-show attendees viewed it. There was not a single word about the global warming impact of such a development.

Most climatologists and the National Academy of Sciences agree that controlling our greenhouse gas emissions is perhaps the single most daunting challenge of the human species. It is an issue that, finally, is making it to the forefront of people's consciousness.

It seems fairly important to me to report on the amount of new greenhouse gas we can expect from this development, how that compares with other emerging or established economies, and the view of the Indian government regarding this issue.

Jeffrey Beeman
El Sobrante, Calif.

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