As candidate Obama, our next president never missed an opportunity to tout that he was going to be an agent of “change,” transforming forever the old ways of governance. If you have been keeping score at home, the candidate who would be messiah has fallen far short of what he proposed, if his appointments are any indication of what’s in store for the first 100 days, and beyond.
The recent appointment of Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, and friend of Big Corn, as Ag Czar, is just another example of Barry being Barry.
Vilsack has a reputation as being a schill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. In fact, Vilsack regularly flew on the Monsanto jet, while governor. Because of his ties to Monsanto, and Cargill, proponents of sustainable agriculture are none too pleased by Obama’s appointment.
Both Obama and Vilsack are supporters of corn-based ethanol, which Robert Bryce, in Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Indepence," condemns as a scam. Other critics of ethanol, like Lester Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, recognize that corn as fuel guarantees severe hardship to 2 billion of the world’s poorest people, who depend on corn as a food staple.
It’s not just environmentalists that have concerns about corn-based ethanol. 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. Avery, like Brown, breaks the issue down to its most basic element—food or fuel?
From a paper that Avery published, he lays out the issue as such:
"The real conflict over cropland in the 21st century," wrote Avery, "will set people's desire for biofuels against their altruistic desire that all the children on the planet be well-nourished." He continued, "The world's total cropland resources seem totally inadequate to the vast size of the energy challenge. We would effectively be burning food as auto fuel in a world that is not fully well-fed now, and whose food demand will more than double in the next 40 years." 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 significant amount of acreage, particularly when you consider that the total amount of American cropland covers about 440 million acres.
Michael Pollan was recently interviewed on NPR and spoke to the Obama appointment of Vilsack.
Pollan’s issues with Vilsack run to his embrace of corn-based ethanol. Pollan is concerned that corn-based ethanol production for fuel will continue to drive up food prices.
He indicates that the key in developing a national biofuels initiative is utilizing crop waste, trees, and grasses that don’t compete with the food supply. Pollan made the point that Stephen Chu, the former Nobel Prize winner, and new Secretary of Energy, is a “fierce critic of corn ethanol.” Actually, Chu is far from being a “fierce critic” of corn as a fuel, as Tom Philpott points out at Grist.
Chu apparently views corn as a “transitional crop” to cellulosic ethanol, which is 5-10 years away from viability.
Given Obama’s appointment of Vilsack, you can be sure that we’ll continue being forced to fuel our cars with gasoline tainted with ethanol, which robs me and others of about 5-10 percent of our fuel efficiency.