Biofuel Becomes ‘Unbeerable’

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Two of the most important things in my life are currently in conflict in Germany: beer and the environment. Compare the number of days that I have spent camping in the woods, miles away from toilets, and the number of months that I have held all of my part-time jobs combined, and you will see that I have spent more time in the wilderness than I have receiving a steady paycheck.
Beer is also my hobby. Much like Pokemon, I “gotta catch ’em all.” Since I turned 21, it has been my quest to purchase every type of beer in existence. However, the ability to pursue both these loves is becoming difficult in Germany. German environmental policies are forcing the country’s beer prices to rise.
Alongside other industrialized nations, Germany is making strides in relying progressively more on biofuels in order to help the environment. This means a shift in crop production. An increasing amount of land is being switched from barley, a staple ingredient in beer, to corn. The corn is used to produce ethanol, an important component in the production of biofuels.
The results are affecting the Germans, who have made the most progress toward using more biofuels but still rely on barley. Barley prices have doubled in the past two years, pushing beer prices up 30 euros.
It may not seem like a large increase, but take into account that Germans call beer “liquid bread,” indicating that beer is a staple in their diet. To think in German terms, every time you eat a slice of bread, I want you to replace it with a beer. In any other country, you would be a raging alcoholic, but in Germany, you would be Joe Fritz.
The increase in the price of beer should be worth saving the world from the inevitability of global warming (yes, global warming is real, so suck it, Bush administration). However, the price increase is not helping, because biofuels are actually more harmful to the environment than regular gasoline.
To keep up with demands in biofuels, farmers are forced to clear new land. This means that, in order to save the environment, nations are cutting down rainforests and converting swamplands. This releases initial deposits of carbon into the atmosphere and prevents old carbon from being recycled by plants, resulting in a greater “carbon debt” than if we had used ordinary gasoline.
It gets worse. The croplands that are now devoted to ethanol production take food out of the mouths of the world. We are burning our food supply and causing rises in the prices of basic food staples like grain, making it too expensive for people to eat. In a world where there are already millions of starving people, we are destroying their food supply on a daily basis under the false premise that we are helping the environment.
An increased reliance on ethanol contributes to complications that are as painful to think about as the beer-induced hangover you got after celebrating the end of your last final. It only exacerbates the issues that it intended to solve and actually creates additional problems by taking the worldwide food market into dangerous new territory.
Environmentalists, economists and government policymakers have no idea what they are doing. In fact, I am willing to wager that we would be better off creating a policy to stop global warming after an all night flip-cup marathon. We cannot even pour our hopes into the pub glasses of the science community. Scientists are great at observing the past but not so great at predicting the future.
The atmosphere is shaped by millions of different processes, such as chemical reactions, plant growth and cow farts. However, people seem to think that the rapid increase in global temperature can be solved in a few easy steps. Assuming that humans left this planet today and never came back, the carbon we have emitted would continue to warm the Earth for hundreds of years.
Simply stopping carbon production is not a solution, nor is switching to biofuels. Any solution to global warming will have thousands of unforeseen implications. I am not saying that we should give up; I just believe that the situation is infinitely more complicated than any party has bothered to explain. I would not worry, though; at least we have beer to comfort us on our freight train to disaster.

Kevin Pease is a third-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at
kpease@uci.edu.

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