Now that the Iowa Caucuses are over, the rest of the country might want to know about the Renewable Fuel Standard, that healthy-sounding thing that almost all the candidates from both parties swore to enforce (while campaigning in Iowa, of course). Here it is in terms you can read to your kids. It was written in 2011, and some things have changed since then. But the basic story line is as true as ever:
In a faraway country called Cornlandia, there lived a dog named Farmer Dog. Farmer Dog was a free dog. He depended on nobody, and he liked it that way. He drove his tractor when he wanted to, and he plowed his ground when he wanted to. He was a free dog.
One day, his neighbor told Farmer Dog that he wasn’t as free as he thought. The gasoline that he used to fill his tractor was bought from a bad duck named Qadaffy, who lived in a foreign land. Qadaffy Duck pumped oil from deep beneath his ground, and put it on a ship that sailed to Cornlandia. Recently, Qadaffy Duck had been charging more and more and more for his oil.
Qadaffy Duck had the oil that Farmer Dog needed, so he wasn’t really free. This made Farmer Dog mad.
But Farmer Dog was a resourceful dog. So he decided to make his own gasoline out of something that he could grow in Cornlandia – CORN. It wasn’t really gasoline. It was called Ethanol. But Farmer Dog could make plenty of Ethanol. All he had to do was grow plenty of corn.
So Farmer Dog climbed onto his tractor to plow the ground and plant the corn. But there was a problem: he had no gas in the tank! Farmer Dog was a resourceful dog. Even though he was mad, Farmer Dog asked Qadaffy Duck for ten buckets of oil for his tractor. It took one bucket of oil to run the pump, and Farmer Dog went away with nine buckets. But crude oil isn’t gasoline, so Farmer Dog went to a neighbor who could turn the remaining oil into gasoline. It took another bucket of crude to run the refining machine, and Farmer Dog went back home with eight buckets of gasoline.
He poured four of those buckets into his tractor, and it roared to life, plowing the soil, planting the seeds, cultivating the ground, and harvesting the mature corn. When he was done, his wagon was full of bright yellow corn, but the four buckets of gasoline were used up.
He took the corn to the distiller and asked him to make it into Ethanol, so he could be free from the evil Qadaffy Duck. The distiller needed Farmer Dog’s last four buckets of gasoline to run the distilling machine. Now the last of the gasoline was all gone. Farmer Dog watched as the distiller worked. Ethanol poured from his machine, bucket after bucket! When the distilling was finished, there were eighteen buckets of Ethanol, which Farmer Dog happily took home.
But there was a problem. The Ethanol didn’t provide as much power as Qadaffy Duck’s gasoline. It was about one-third weaker! Farmer Dog was not happy. All this work to be free from Qadaffy Duck’s oil, and only enough Ethanol to equal about 12 buckets of gasoline: only two more buckets than the ten he had bought from Qadaffy Duck to start with!
All that work and all that cost to gain only two buckets of fuel!
Farmer Dog was not happy, but he was a resourceful dog. He had an idea: What if he could get the people of Cornlandia to give him a little extra money for every bucket of Ethanol he made with his corn? Better yet, what if he could make all his neighbors buy a little of his Ethanol to mix with their gasoline? Then, maybe it would be worth it.
Off he drove to visit Governor Mutt, Cornlandia’s top dog. The Governor thought Farmer Dog’s idea was brilliant, and he made all Farmer Dog’s neighbors give him extra money for every bucket of Ethanol he made. He also made them all buy a little of Farmer Dog’s Ethanol to mix with their gasoline.
Farmer Dog was happy, and he made more and more Ethanol, since everyone had to buy some.
But there was a problem. Farmer Dog’s neighbors were not happy at all. The corn they had once bought to feed their chickens and dairy cows was now gone for Farmer Dog’s Ethanol. Now the chickens laid no eggs, and the cows gave no milk! They had to buy Farmer Dog’s Ethanol. And worse yet, they had to pay Governor Mutt’s tax for every bucket he made from his corn!
Farmer Dog was selling so much Ethanol that he needed more and more gasoline to run his tractor and the distilling machine. Qadaffy Duck sold him all the oil he needed. Qadaffy didn’t seem to be such a bad duck any more.
And Farmer Dog and Qadaffy Duck lived happily ever after.
** THE END **
Note to reader: I actually made this story up. But here are a few actual facts for you (current as of 3/2011):
Fact: World corn prices have increased by 73% since June 2010, according to a World Bank January 2011 report.
Fact: According to the World Bank, rising global food prices swelled the numbers of those in extreme poverty by 44 million souls last year alone – people living on less than $1.25 per day.
Fact: A 2008 report by the World Bank attributed 70-75% of the world food price rises to subsidies for biofuels like corn ethanol.
Fact: One tankful of ethanol consumes more than enough corn – 8 bushels – to feed one African person for an entire year.
Fact: 34.9 percent of the U.S. corn harvest went to make ethanol last year, almost as much as for animal feed. This year, about 36 percent of the American corn harvest will be ethanol.
Fact: U.S. acreage to grow corn for ethanol last year was as big as the entire state of Ohio, or Virginia or Tennessee.
Fact: U.S. law requires the use of ethanol in fuels: 13.2 billion gallons of it last year.
Fact: American taxpayers paid $23 billion in taxes or government deficits last year because of subsidies for corn ethanol. The Congressional Budget Office reported that the cost to U.S. taxpayers from ethanol subsidies totaled $1.78 per gallon of ethanol produced.
Fact: While researchers disagree on the exact number, they all agree that making ethanol uses a lot of fuel. Some argue that it uses more fuel than the actual ethanol produced. But even the most optimistic admit that for every unit of ethanol produced, you have to consume at least two-thirds of that amount in petroleum.
Fact: If we used all the corn grown in the U.S. for nothing but ethanol, we would only satisfy 12% of our gasoline demand. But if we count the petroleum used to make the stuff, we would only have about 3% more fuel – and no corn at all for that old-fashioned practice … eating.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Isaiah 55:2
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.