A stage is being played out in the farmlands of America, all in the name of energy independence. Many Americans believed George Bush’s initial call for the increase in alternative fuels would result in more research for alternatives and a refinement in the processes used to develop alternatives then in place. The then-President went on to announce that ethanol would become a major additive to gasoline. Against this backdrop of political maneuvering and an inability to foresee the unintended consequences of this ill-fated policy, farmers throughout the Midwest and elsewhere began turning diverse crop production into a single crop, corn.
The fulfillment of the government’s plan to harvest more corn for biofuel use has left thousands of acres of what used to be wetlands and conservation areas unable to sustain crop growth and unable to return to its original state. The amount of energy used to farm these earlier protected areas surpassed the energy savings obtained from the use of ethanol, a resulting negative energy gain while losing the use of pristine lands. In addition the water tables have been lowered in most areas while other water supplies have become polluted to level making them unusable.
From a position of maintaining sustainability of Earth’s resources, a policy of energy independence finds itself further down the list of “must dos” than the need to balance societal needs with the recognition that the environment is in trouble. Biofuels can and are produced through processes using other resources, for ethanol sugar is a better source than corn requiring less energy input and resulting in positive energy output. But even here, sugar comes at an expense that must be included in the real cost of energy development; pollution in the Everglades comes, in great part, from the sugar industry.
Is there an answer to the growing demand for energy? Probably but it will come with the need for society to make individual sacrifices. Rather than trying to meet a growing demand, the world market for energy needs to shrink. Individual modes of transportation need to shrink while fuel efficient mass transportation systems to grow. Renewable energy, such as wind and solar, need harvesting in a method making them accessible to more people. The more fuel that is burned to create useable energy, the more the harm to Planet Earth. The really big projects to establish a better energy grid will take time and cost billions of dollar but each individual can take the smaller steps to creating a healthier Earth. Looking at just the transportation issue, each of us should make a list of what needs to be purchased outside the home before getting into our cars for the short trip to pick up a gallon of milk or a bag of salad.
“Earth’s Sake for Our Sake.”