In March of this year President Bush took leave of his circled wagons in the White House to travel to Brazil and to learn from Preisent Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva about the extraordinary strides Brazil has achieved in attaining energy independence through the development and distribution of ethanol throughout a country whose land mass is larger than that of the 48 States. Six years into his presidency that focus was long overdue. But no matter, the deed was done and steps are meant to be taken for Brazil and the United States to cooperate in the promotion of and the production and use of ethanol throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Almost immediately Fidel Castro weighed in from his sickbed writing an article for the Communist Party newspaper 'Gramma', that food stocks for millions of people would be threatened, "...you will see how many people among the hungry masses will no longer consume corn". Forever in lockstep with his mentor, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, the purveyor of OPEC rigged prices of oil, fleecing both the rich and poor throughout the world, echoed Castro's outrage. This, in an effort to embarrass the Brazilian American initiative and to protect his turf as the local pusher to the neighborhood oil addictionados.
In 2005, in the introduction to my book Over a Barrel: Breaking the Middle East Oil Cartel, I hypothesized "Just imagine the firestorm of indignation that would erupt if the public found out that the world's big grain producers (say the United States, Canada Brazil, Argentina and Australia) were conspiring to triple or quadruple the price of such basic commodities as soybeans, corn and wheat". Well here we are just two years later and the indignation has begun. Not because we are colluding to raise prices but because we will be using our own crops, our own land, our own investment and labor to confront issues that are becoming primordial to this and future generations; the air we breathe, the warming of the planet; the risks to our economy and security posed by the malign regimes who control the supply of oil. According to Mr. Chavez it is quite alright for him and his OPEC co-conspirators to extort shameless prices for the oil they deign to sell us, but the prospect of our farmers making a decent profit from the corn they plant, the fields they till, and the grain they harvest, is intolerable.
But of course, oil is a non renewable resource you say (as the oil industry has incessantly whispered into our communal ear). Well. It may come as a surprise, but so too is corn, soybeans and wheat. To meet world demand each of these crops requires substantial inputs of such commodity minerals as phosphates, potash and nitrates/nitrogen (millions upon millions of tons) without which crop yields would collapse and what we understand as the 'green revolution' would end ipso facto with its attendant consequences. Each of these elements, as is oil, is a non renewable resource. And further, our farmers have not the slightest inclination to fund the dissemination of anti American hysteria in South America nor the teaching and support of the anti American and anti Western ideologies now progressively festering in much of the world paid for and sealed by massive oil revenues.
Well Hugo Chavez, sly fox that he is, quickly realized that beating up on ethanol and becoming a cheerleader for fossil fuels in this new age of a world progressively attuned to the dangers and needs of the environment is a non starter and further undermined his already questionable credibility. Thus he broke with his buddy Fidel and intoned just this past week, that "Ethanol is a valid strategy as long as it doesn't affect food production". And then, resuming his mantle of the neighborhood pusher pontificated against the United States' plans to boost corn based ethanol production as it would "take corn away from the food chain to feed automobiles". Meaning, better that we continue using Hugo's oil, and get on with global warming.
But wait. Hugo also called on Washington to end the 54 cent/gallon tariff on imported ethanol (a tariff for whatever benefit it provides to domestic ethanol producers, totally undermines the integrity of our efforts given that there is no such tariff on imported oil and gasoline), a step strongly supported by Brazil's Lula da Silva. Leave it to Hugo to have the last word!