Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Ethanol Fuels International Debate

Ethanol has become a celebrity. You must have heard the widest spectrum of people referring to it. Farmers and agrobusinesses who started to be subsidized by the US Ethanol Program in order that they produce more grain destined to manufacture ethanol as fuel accompany car manufacturers whose vehicles will use a mixture of ethanol with gasoline.
But has anyone besides the hungry of this world started to worry about what will become of the corn and soy to feed people and livestock when it is converted into fuel?
David Pimentel, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has proved Cuban president Fidel Castro right in his denounce of using food to make ethanol, as he calculated that to power all cars in the United States with ethanol would require the whole territory of the US to be planted with corn.

The Economist of the UK and The New York Times have also warned like the Cuban president that converting food into fuel and planning on using ethanol instead of gasoline in a wasteful lifestyle will be equal to genocide, as it will demand increasing extensions of corn and other foods in detriment of land to feed people and livestock.

On the other hand, subsidized corn results in higher prices for meat, milk and eggs because about 70 percent of corn grain is fed to livestock and poultry in the United States.
Increasing ethanol production would further inflate corn prices, Pimentel says, noting: "In addition to paying tax dollars for ethanol subsidies, consumers would be paying significantly higher food prices in the marketplace".
As soon as corn-based ethanol began to gain momentum, so did the international prices of corn and other cereals, of which over a hundred poor nations are net importers. Dairy economists in the US said higher demand for ethanol has spiked corn prices up to nearly $4 a bushel.
Only in the US consumers had to pay last week a lot more for their eggs due to the surge in demand for corn to make ethanol, says The Ithaca Journal. A dozen large eggs ran on average for $1.51, about 43 cents higher than a year ago, the second-biggest price since the American Farm Bureau Federation began collecting data in 1989.
Rising corn and soybean prices have led to increased costs for feed. Prices were up 119 percent in February, versus the same period a year ago, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

The same source informed that the area planted with corn this year is the largest since 1944, but the demand of grain to produce ethanol is equally bigger, so that will not translate into lower prices for corn destined to human or animal feed.
Fortunately there are other more rational forces in the quest for an alternative fuel.
More than 200 people gathered April 4 at South Dakota State University for the two-hour field hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee's energy subcommittee.

Much of the prepared testimony at Wednesday's hearing focused on the possibility of the industry's transition from corn-based to cellulosic ethanol.

Making ethanol from cellulose or biomass sources such as switchgrass and wheat straw isn't yet profitable, and such efforts need governmental help to develop, he said. Another expert doubted that corn-based ethanol would eventually deliver the grandiose promise of biofuel in quantities big enough to meet demand.

Ray Wallace, retired from publishing, investment-banking research, and landmarks preservation, says in an article posted April 6, it's more than animals, plants, the food chain, news, truth, and citizens that our country abuses nonstop.
"It's also our land, water, and the very air we breathe. Not to mention the fact that ethanol is perhaps the most expensive and energy-wasting fuel ever envisioned."
"We're more than our own worst enemies. We're marketing to the entire world - and imposing our costly, suicidal savagery on it as well," concludes Wallace.
Now, Venezuela and Cuba have signed collaboration agreements to make ethanol out of crop waste, specially bagasse from sugar cane, when most nutrients have been already extracted. Together with efforts to develop other renewable energy sources like the sun, the wind and the tides is the way to independence from fossil fuels.
In spite of higher oil and gas prices, these efforts would be null if they are not accompanied by other energy-saving measures like changing incandescent lightbulbs for fluorescent ones, keeping energy consumption in every household and workplace under control and driving cars that are more fuel-efficient.
So next time you see ethanol mentioned, look deeper into the matter and think if future generations will join the already unsustainable amount of hungry people of the planet.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Cuba and Religious Tolerance

Thousands of believers took part in Holy Week processions in Cuba organized by Catholic Church parishes throughout the country. For one, in my parish the march over six blocks was filled almost to that extension and many more neighbors stood supportingly from their porches.
When I read the news of how many people had died during the commemoration of this week in Central America and also in Spain, I said to myself that they were not protected like they were in my parish, where policemen stood to stop cars from interrupting the march and there was an ambulance tailing behind to pick up anyone who felt sick.
It is that time of the year when millions of people in the world, regardless of their religious or political beliefs make their very personal conscience exam. Holy Week promotes this behavior. It has become obvious, however, that a globalized world has not brought us any closer to the better human beings we should be.
The Pope Benedict XVI for one, has announced the publishing of his book "Jesus of Nazareth" with very surprising harsh criticisms of the wealthy of the world who have plundered and looted the poor as those in Africa and Latin America, harming them not only physically but also spiritually, trying to deprive them of their traditions and autoctonous culture.
In the first ten chapters that will see the light in Germany, Italy and Poland on April 16, date of the Pope´s 80th birthday. he meditates on the parable of the Good Samaritan that takes care of a stranger who was assaulted by robbers. At this point he proved right what Karl Marx had said about the alienation of the human being. Although he finds Marx too harsh in his consideration of the issue, he says that is exactly what has happened, as rich countries are trying to impose their godless society on the poor people of the world.
It may come to be that Benedict XVI will make a mark in his mandate as Pope. Let´s hope so.

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