22 August 2007

More corn: In which I issue a challenge

Corn is just absolutely fascinating. No, really. I couldn't tell you how I became so weirdly obsessed with corn (perhaps you've noticed?), but it probably helps to live such that seeing any at all is a rare event. I'm not exactly surrounded by miles upon miles of the stuff, you know.

And yet corn singularly defines most of Illinois--and indeed the entire midwest--in the popular imagination. Corn is being razed in some places and sprouting up like mad in others. Corn is supposed to save the world by being turned into ethanol. Corn is destroying the world because it's cheaper than the dirt it grows in. And sometimes it's even delicious.

From Gristmill:
Big Ethanol
"Of all the arguments in favor of government backing for corn-based ethanol, only one seems even remotely reasonable to me: that it could lead to real economic development in depressed areas of the Midwest.

"The theory goes like this: When farmers pool resources and build their own ethanol plants, they'll capture much higher profits than by merely selling corn to big buyers like ADM and Cargill. According to an article in today's Wisconsin State Journal, that rationale for corn-based ethanol may be about to unravel.
"If the ethanol industry does consolidate and fall into corporate hands, farmers in the Midwest will be right back where they started from: selling cheap grain to a few big corporate buyers, and watching them turn it into fat profits for their shareholders. I can't say I'll be surprised. (Full disclosure: I first predicted such a fate back in April 2005.)"

Yeah, it's by Tom Philpott. I'm a fan. Can you tell?

Anyway, I keep trying to convince people that what we really need is a completely different approach to transportation, and I keep getting the same old laundry list of tired excuses in response. But in the future--the actual future, not The Future!(TM)--private automobiles are just not going to cut it. Go ahead, dismiss that as crazy quasi-hippie liberal nonsense. I dare you. Name one resource, natural or otherwise, that could realistically be used to power most cars and that does not have a litany of environmental/social/economic problems associated with it. Convince me that you've found one and you'll convince me that yes, this crusade of mine really is quite crazy. I'm waiting...


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