Published: Wednesday, December 15, 2010
His past backing of massive federal subsidies for ethanol was a major mistake, he said in a panel talk, and let’s give him credit for this laggard truthfulness while hoping more is to come, not just from him but from others backing varied positions that are supposed to save us but actually kill.
Ethanol kills? Isn’t it enough to say that the federally fostered use of this corn-based gas additive drives up food prices, chews up forests and contributes to the D.C. deficit dance while doing next to nothing to save us from endangering particles in the air?
That’s obviously plenty, but some students of the subject have said as well that international emphasis on biofuels is reducing food production and thereby contributes to starvation in the poorest parts of the world.
Originally seen by some as a potent renewable energy source, ethanol had early support from the environmentally minded and quickly garnered still other fans.
Farmers smelled the cash and smiled. Some corporate chiefs looked at how subsidies and mandates kept profits bulging. They smiled, too.
Politicians, figuring those farmers were good for votes, those corporate chiefs good for campaign contributions and that the public at large could be convinced all would benefit, could hardly be restrained in their enthusiasm.
From the start, though, there were critical economists, and, eventually, some environmental groups woke up to reality, too. Then, the other day, lo and behold, there was the Nobel Prize-winning, Oscar-winning former vice president of the United States, none other than Al Gore himself, saying not only that he had seen the light on this issue, but that it was devilish politics that made him bless ethanol in the first place.
Good stuff, but not enough, because now we need others to jump ship, and we need those politicians who happily backed such idiocies as the 1970s Corporate Average Fuel Economy program and more recent versions to say they now understand their initial stupidity may have slaughtered as many Americans as were killed in Vietnam.
The program, popularly known as CAFE, aimed at giving the national vehicle fleet greater fuel efficiency, and one consequence was the increased production in Detroit of smaller cars, which happen to be less safe in crashes than bigger cars.
A prestigious think tank and the National Academy of Sciences are among those testifying that the cost has been the deaths of thousands of people who would not have died without this intervention that, by the way, did precious little to meet its objective of conserving gasoline.
CAFE standards are nothing next to the DDT catastrophe.
Banned in the United States largely because of its supposed cumulative impact on the reproduction of eagles and other raptors, the pesticide fell into disuse generally.
Some environmental groups voiced concerns about its being used any place for any reason, there were those worrying without evidence about serious health effects on people, and nations such as the United States hesitated to underwrite its production for use in Africa to fight malaria. So malaria won, killing millions who would have lived without this DDT retreat.
As Hoover Institution fellow Henry Miller has pointed out, the heroic Gore has not yet been heroic enough to apologize for his opposition to biotech advances that could alleviate Third World hunger.
And then we come to the fiercest dread not only of Gore but of many others: global warming.
Said the president of Bolivia at a climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, a failure to act decisively will amount to “ecocide.”
But according to a Yale economist, if you adopted the cap-and-trade rescue scheme advocated by Gore, you would spend about $24 trillion more by century’s end than the trillions saved in limiting warming harm.
Anyone who thinks that would not take a toll in lives is not really thinking.
Message to Gore and his ideological kin: more confessions, please, and less activism that kills.
Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.
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