Blog: Dave Leggett'Castro was right'

Dave Leggett | 10 April 2007

That heading on a leader in this week's Economist caught my attention. As the magazine acknowledged, it's not often that it finds itself in agreement with Cuba's not very well dictator. But in agreement it most certainly is.

Apparently, Mr Castro has criticised America's corn-based ethanol drive which has driven up the price of corn. As more land is used to grow corn rather than other crops, their prices rise too. And because corn is used as animal feed, the price of meat goes up also.

Ethanol production in America, the leader says, is beginning to grow rapidly on the back of government subsidies and penalties applying to ethanol imports.

Growing ethanol has emerged as politically popular too. Farmers love the subsidies. Hawks like the idea of less reliance on Middle Eastern oil. The auto industry likes the green tinge. The oil industry likes it too. Consumers can feel pleased with themselves. Politicians are on the bandwagon. Everyone's a winner.

But the Economist says corn-based ethanol of the sort produced in the US midwest is neither cheap nor green, requiring as much energy to produce as it releases when burned.

It goes on to say that other forms of ethanol - like the stuff made from sugar cane in Brazil - make much more sense and that America should bin its 'silly policy'.

I wonder if this debate has really got properly started in the US yet?

One bright spot: cellulosic ethanol. It can be made from all sorts of stuff and much research is underway to make the process of producing that cheaper (it currently requires expensive enzymes).

Seems that even if you think you are doing the environment a bit of good, you may not be. There's 'good ethanol' and 'bad ethanol' apparently. Blimey. As if we don't have enough to worry about.

Castro was right - link to full text


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