I know I'm supposed to be celebrating Earth Day and all the good vibes, but I'm sitting this one out.
Not that I'm against the spirit of the event. I'm all for saving the environment. I take quick showers, I recycle, and I drive a small energy-efficient automobile. But after the feel-good speeches finish and the politicians move on to their next smiling photo-ops, maybe we can get real for a moment.
Fact is that things are bad and getting worse. Some of the best brains are working hard at finding a tech solution to contain fossil fuel pollution. But it's taking time. Time, unfortunately, is not in our favor.
China and India pay lip service to green concerns, but they're intent on repeating all of our stupid mistakes as they pell-mell go about industrializing in the least green-friendly ways. I can't point fingers abroad because here at home, we're going about things in exactly the wrong way. Let's cut through the bull: The fix is in and a supine Congress is in the pockets of the agri-business lobby.
When they write the history of these times, there'll be several culprits. The worst of the bunch is our false fixation on corn ethanol as a "solution." What a scam. This is going to go down as one of the biggest tech boondoggles of our times. Congress has mandated the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by the year 2022, and we've footed the bill for more than $50 billion in corn subsidies in the last decade. Give the lobbyists credit for knowing how to push the right buttons. Ethanol isn't going to make gasoline cheap, and it sure as hell isn't going to help the environment.
We're feeling the more immediate pinch in the form of climbing food prices. It's been that way for at least six months, and there's no reason to believe the trend is going to reverse anytime soon. (Check out this recent report from the World Bank which details how increased biofuel production has contributed to the rise in food prices.) If food riots continue to break out around the globe, maybe our political class will start to focus more sharply.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick recently labeled the rising demand for biofuels a "significant contributor" to increasing grain prices. He added that 33 countries now are at risk of social upheaval because of the crisis. (For a deeper dive, read this recent piece by The Economist on "The new face of hunger."
There's no hope the current administration will rethink its support for corn-based ethanol. Yet, hope springs eternal and maybe a future McCain-, Clinton-, or Obama-led government will call this scam for what it is. Until then, Earth Day will remain a phony feel-good exercise for the saps.