BRIEF ESSAY: Positive & Negative Aspects of Corn-Based Ethanol In Fuel

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The purpose of the Sustainable Blacksburg website is to advance and promote our LOCAL SUSTAINABILITY, with major emphasis on Environmental, Social, and Economic aspects.  But occasionally, topics come to our attention that have  regional or even national significance and warrant our attention, because they involve policies that are established by our elected representatives and influence legislation on farm policy or the operational activities of the Federal or State EPA.

Such is the case with a recent e-mail from active member Javad Torabinejad, who called our attention to a recent investigation by the Associated Press on the hidden costs of ethanol for vehicular fuels.  Their study, published online is available in five parts:

corn on cobI was born and raised in our country’s corn belt (Iowa) and received all of my formal education there.  So it will come as no surprise that I have been very interested in this subject.  As I have traveled back to the State of my birth during the last 50 years, I have watched the decline of economically viable small farms and the development of ginormous factory farms growing genetically modified corn and soybeans in uninterrupted fields as far as the eye can see.  I have watched ethanol-production facilities being built and operated, and I have conversed with farm owners of HUGE tracts of land who have invested wisely and now spend most of the winter touring the southern gulf states in bus sized motor homes after reaping the benefits from formerly conserved land, continually thinning soil, placing heavy chemical applications on genetically modified plants that make no contribution to the food needs of poor people on our out-of-ballanced planet.

I am there now — in Iowa — contemplating what we have greedly done to our home planet, and wondering if our species will ever learn to live in balance with it, taking no more than what we need, and not messing up what we have been given.  But I digress.

I strongly recommend that you skim this intensive AP study on the use of corn- and soybean-based ethanol production as a good, green, and desirable intermediate step in the race toward the development of other better alternative forms of transportation energy.  Skim them all if you can, but if you can only closely observe one, I recommend that it be the article entitled The secret environmental cost of US ethanol policy.  It appears to me to be a very comprehensive treatment of the pros and cons of using corn-based ethanol as a green fuel additive.

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