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Volume 85 Issue 48 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: November 26, 2007

Unsustainable Consumption

Department: Letters

Several items related to fuels and chemicals from food crops in the Sept. 17 issue of C&EN prompt this letter: "OECD Questions Biofuel Expansion" (page 27), "Renewable Fuels Face Bumpy Road" (page 28), and "ACS Honors Heroes of Chemistry" (page 45).

Ah, the power of the Law of Unintended Consequences. When Norman Borlaug launched the Green Revolution in the 1950s, for which he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, there were about 2 billion people on the planet, struggling to get enough to eat. Now, largely as a result of that revolution, the world population has tripled to 6 billion, still struggling for enough food. Same problem at three times the magnitude.

To make matters worse, we are now using an increasing share of our precious cropland to make transportation fuels such as ethanol from corn and diesel from soybeans. This is already substantially raising food prices worldwide with no chance of making a significant dent in our dependence on petroleum. With the power of subsidies that would be difficult to eliminate, the magnitude of this disaster is still several years away. As a DuPont retiree, I got a bit of a chill over the honor bestowed on my company for its work in making raw materials for plastics and fibers from corn.

For more than 100 years, the West has adopted a lifestyle heavily based on the idea of the unlimited availability of oil, when we should have known that that resource could never support the same lifestyle in the rest of the world. We have no standing now to claim that China and India, for example, must not try to duplicate our lifestyle. Instead, the U.S. ought to be leading the way to energy efficiency. There seems little chance that we're willing to do that and to slow global warming.

All this displays the need for long-range thinking, something people seem incapable of, particularly in democracies.

Victor Reilly
Aiken, S.C.

 
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