The April 7th cover story of TIME, “The Clean Energy Scam,” claims that by pushing corn-derived ethanol in the US as an additive to oil, politicians and Big Business are making a bad situation worse. It is causing food prices to rise globally, contributing to global warming, and stealing money out of the public purse.
To some this is old hat. For a while people have been arguing against corn-based ethanol. Mother Jones magazine did a story on it in November 2007 (where I had come across the term “dot corn”). The graphic below from there succinctly makes the case against corn-based ethanol.
Let me start off with the confession that I don’t like milk. It is just a matter of taste, nothing more. For years, I had felt somehow deprived that I didn’t have a taste for something that was clearly so beneficial. But as the evidence against milk mounted, I started feeling a sense of smug satisfaction — I figured that my taste buds had figured out a truth that I had not known. But I am sure that you are not interested in my dietary preferences. I bring this up only because the story of milk illustrates a number of deeper issues.
The first lesson is that it is possible for people to believe something sincerely and yet to totally mistaken. The second lesson: commercial interests motivate many to maintain a falsehood in the face of mounting evidence. Third, the world is connected and therefore even if you don’t directly promote harmful activities, even seemingly innocuous activities can indirectly cause suffering. Fourth, sometimes a proposed cure can aggravate the situation. Fifth, what appears to be a well established ancient practice could well be a relatively recent result of the modern way of living. Sixth, it is not easy but eventually with due diligence, researchers figure out what are the causes of a problem. That is, empirical studies reveal truths that are not analytically tractable. Seventh, the power of advertising and marketing is immense and can brainwash people into believing whatever the commercial interests dictate.
Enough of the editorializing. Here are the relevant articles. The first one is a two-part report in the Guardian: Diary Monsters – part 1, and part 2. A few excerpts below the fold.