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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • Most modern agricultural techniques are extremely energy intensive. We use fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, mechanical planters and harvesters, and long distance transport, all which requires energy input. In 1940 the united states produced 2.3 calories of food for every calorie of fossil fuel used. In 1974, the ratio was 1:1 [harpers.org], and it's been getting worse ever since.

    So we've been directly competing with robots for food ever since 1974. Our food supply depends upon a stable energy supply; this is nothing new. However what you've described is something new, and it's much more scary. Let's look at why we may be turning corn into fuel:

    1. The cost of other energy sources is too expensive, and it's cheaper to grow corn than produce oil.
    2. Artificial factors such as subsidies and tariffs make it profitable to grow corn even when there is insufficient demand.

    Corn may well be one of those crops which gives us a net energy surplus after we've gone to the effort of growing it and converting it into ethanol. If so, then using corn for fuel is easing our energy pressures, at least for the time being. That would indeed be lovely, however I'm not convinced.

    I think there is a real risk that we're turning corn into fuel not because it gives us a net energy gain, but because artificial economic reasons such as tariffs and subsidies make it profitable to do so. In that case, we're effectively subsidising the destruction of energy for no good reason whatsoever. I find this much more chilling than merely competing with robots for food.

    digg this [digg.com]

    • I'm not concerned about the US corn situation at all.

      If it's not economically competative and is supported entirely by subsidies, then it is either will have to get more efficient (do you really think the US will be able to afford all these subsidies the next time a major recession hits?) or it's just going to get optimised out of existance.

      Stupid inefficient niches eventually go away.

      Also, if there's more energy being pumped into farming, and the price of energy goes up, it can be reduced. We already see n