Biofueling an Egyptian Uprising

by William Yeatman on February 14, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Last week the New York Times Paul Krugman noted that near-record high food prices instigated the social instability in Cairo that has since led to overturning of Egypt’s government. However, Krugman went on to blame the rise in food prices on global warming, which is pure poppycock, as is explained by Roger Pielke Jr. In an editorial last Tuesday, the Washington Post identified a much more plausible explanation for the spike in food prices: ethanol.

This year, American farmers will divert a third of the corn crop into the production of corn fuels that are more expensive and environmentally harmful than regular gasoline. Naturally, this has increased demand for corn, which, in turn, has pushed prices to historic highs. American farmers set the global price for corn, so the impact of our foolish ethanol prices is felt worldwide. American corn is one of the largest crops in the world, and by displacing land given to other crops, the ethanol mandate also increases the price of wheat and soybeans on the international market.

Such unintended consequences were foreseeable long ago. In 2007, after the Congress enacted a 15 billion gallon Soviet-style ethanol production quota, I predicted that the resulting increase in global food prices would lead to social instability in poor urban areas dependent on the international food market. I even listed Cairo as among the cities at risk.

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