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Letters to the Editor

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

January 22, 2008



The role of biofuels in the environment and economy

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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."

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.

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