We are all familiar with the outrage over the price of gas. We have all felt it to some extent or another. We have even been told about how the increase in the price of gas trickles throughout the economy in the form of price increases for any good that is transported using some gas-burning vehicle. None of this is untrue. Gasoline is something that touches pretty much anything. Even the service sector has people that commute to work and need more money to cover the cost of doing so. Ostensibly, that is why the politicians are so interested in reducing the cost of gas - and the trendy suggestion is to pimp the ethanol industry. I won't go into how ridiculously impossible this solution is - it is well documented. However, one thing should have been obvious to even the non-scientists out there (i.e. politicians). Despite being touted as a "renewable" fuel, there is a caveat. At any one point in time, there is only so much that we can have available to us.
Take water, for example. Every child who has seen studied the water cycle in school has seen the diagrams that show how water is a recyclable material. It goes down, moves around a bit, gets evaporated up, moves around some more and comes back down. However, despite that, we can still have "water shortages" such as what is plaguing some of the southeast US right now. How can this be? The same school children learn that a vast majority of the surface of the earth is covered with water... so how can we have a shortage?
The answer is not that there is a "shortage", but that there is a "temporary supply problem". There is not a shortage of water - it's just that we are demanding more than is reasonably available at the time. We ignored our observations about how much water is available in a certain location over a certain period of time - and decided we wanted more than that. Demand for that time period exceed supply for that time period. No matter how badly we want it or any act of Congress or Executive Order, there is only so much to be had. We have to decide what uses are important to consume the temporally finite resource. If you want to add a use, that supply doesn't change - so another use needs to go away. If you get too many people making claims to the finite resource with each insisting that their usage is more important, the price per share will go up. Economics 101.
Corn, and in a more general sense, arable land, is a temporally finite resource. Sure, if you wait long enough, the ground will keep kicking out the corn that we plant in it. However, there is only so much that we can have at a time. It varies from year to year depending on the conditions, but we can make a guess as to how much we can expect to get out of a specific number of acres.
What has happened is, just like the drought areas of the southeast, we have ignored for too long the amount of the resource we can reasonably expect to receive in a period of time. Instead, we decided we wanted more than that. Of course, not many in a position of power or influence bothered to do the math. They were more interested in an agenda. It sounded good. It felt good. Never mind that man behind the curtain.
Of course, it didn't seem to occur to anyone to question why that corn was sitting in the field in the first place. One can imagine some politician either driving through or flying over the Midwest and plains states and thinking "Wow. That sure is a lot of corn out there! Someone should do something with all of that corn. It would be a shame for it to go to waste." Is it so far fetched to think that a career politician would have no idea about what cows eat? Of the fact that when he is eating a steak (privately so as not to upset his PETA contributors) he is actually eating processed corn?
Well, as we know (with a little education on the subject), cows do eat corn. There is a direct demand chain there. We demand milk and meat, cows demand corn (in a bovine sort of way), corn demands land and water resources... OOPS! That is finite, isn't it? And now there is competition for that corn. For those resources. And that competition is heavily subsidized by those who are blinded by their agenda. The competition ratchets up the price of the corn, which feeds back up the chain. The cows charge us more for their services (via their rancher agents) and we have to pay more for their products. Wow, my ground beef that was $2/lb three years ago is now $4/lb! How did this happen?!
The relatively amusing end-note to all of this is to watch the same politicians that decry the price of gasoline as hurting their less fortunate constituents are now moaning with scripted sympathy about how the cost of food is taking meat from the mouths of those same less fortunate voters and their progeny. The realization that they themselves are the cause of this issue seems to escape them - or they simply don't care. Or... and this is not really a stretch, they will propose that more people need the social programs such as welfare in order to pay for the skyrocketing cost of fuel. (On a similar note, the Federal Government makes far more in taxes on fuel than the oil companies make in profits. If they were that concerned about pinching people in times of gasoline crisis, they would suspend their taxes.)
So... the question is, if we are insistent on pushing corn stalks into our cars as a form of inefficient fuel, are we willing to pay the cost of the results? After all, we cant pour gasoline down our throats in place of the now prohibitively expensive food. None of this is really hard to see... as long as you are being objective about the totality of the situation rather than dealing specifically with a monolithic ideal. But do our politicians ever really look at the whole situation? The lobby-driven economy in D.C. does not allow for that. That is unfortunate. All we are asking our (alleged) representatives to do is...
... think between the lines.