Ethanol Kills Crabs, Fish, and Shrimp

by updated 2011/01/21

In an ironic twist in the drive to become as independent of foreign oil as possible, marine life by the millions in the Gulf of Mexico could be paying the ultimate price. It has been known for years that runoff from the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in the Midwestern farm belt of the U.S. creates a “dead zone” where the polluted Mississippi river empties into the Gulf. With the dramatic increase in demand for corn to fuel ethanol production, fertilizer use is increasing and the dead zone is growing.

Here is an article with details on how corn production is killing the Gulf of Mexico. The story really made me think about how even positive developments, (like the increased use of ethanol), can have unintended consequences. Commercial corn farmers don’t want to use environmentally safe methods of production because they are paid by the bushel for their corn. By using synthesized chemical fertilizers they can force the growth of more corn per acre, thus increasing profits. Although there are methods to reduce runoff by creating buffer zones around water ways, there is no real incentive for farmers to do it. The demand for corn is so high right now that any buffer zone removes profitable land from corn production.

Reports like this can be a bit disheartening, but there are also some strange aspects to the situation. We are growing more corn to fuel ethanol production because of oil cost and availability.  In doing this we use more fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, most of which are themselves petroleum based products.  Another thing to think about is that even with the increased demand by consumers for healthy, organically grown, meat and vegetables; much farming in the U.S. produces crops and products that cannot be considered food. Ethanol and cotton are two of the biggest examples, but there are also numerous others.

One possible solution would be to redirect farm subsidies away from corn farmers not growing responsibly to corn farmers who create buffer zones of trees and other vegetation along rivers, lakes, and streams. Although I have not been a huge fan of farm subsidies in general, this might be better than current subsidies with purposes like keeping the price of conventionally produced corn, milk, and beef artificially low.

What do you think?

Will Sig
1 Bob

Very interesting post Will I wasn’t aware of any of this stuff, the articles you linked to explain the problem further, and I agree with you I don’t usually like farm subsidies, but in this case seems like a plan.

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2 Will

Bob – I think subsidies should be used only to encourage the adoption of new and better ideas and products. They should not be used to artificially support the price existing products can command in the free market. Maybe this position is a bit contradictory?

-Will

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3 Bob

Hi Will, no it isn’t I agree 100% with you.

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4 Scott

In my opinion, even though ethanol seems to have many positives at first glance, it also has many negative effects. For example, as you said, it kills many animals, and on top of that, it drives up food costs. Instead of ethanol, I think that water is a better alternative as an energy source. I have blogged about using water as an energy source on my blog, Water for Gas. Water as an energy source has a lot of potential, and should start to be considered by people as an alternative to ethanol, oil, etc. Remember, water only costs 99c a gallon. :)

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5 Will

Thanks Scott! I will take a look tonight. I do have an article coming out on Wed. morning that might make us think twice about the future cost of water. Stay tuned!

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6 Snowy

Thanks for this great post. Ethanol is not the answer, unfortunately. I do believe electric cars will be our best option in the near future.

Organically.tvs last blog post..A humorous and eye opening short film about plastic bags

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7 Keith

Will, your post just goes to show that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is a matter of policy of the US government. I dare say that those subsidies have killed as much or more marine wildlife as the media covered oil spill.

You also allude to the fact that corn, for the most part, is not fit for human consumption, since most (probably more than 95%) is GMO and, as such, is an untested food additive. We still do not fully know how GMO foods affect human or animal health.

Also, it has been estimated that the cost to produce one gallon of ethanol is approximately 1.1 gallons of refined hydrocarbons. Wasting resources like this is not only unethical, it is also downright stupid. This could only happen in the presence of government subsidies to encourage such waste.

Lastly, this is unlikely to change as long as the big corporations control government policy.

ps I cannot wait to read Scott’s blog!

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8 Tony McGurk

Mankind just never learns from past mistakes do they. We have had so many lessons from the past on the use of chemicals on crops (DDT comes to mind) yet they continue to pump it into our food then wonder why there’s so much cancer & other serious illness.

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9 Tony

Mankind just never learns from past mistakes do they. We have had so many lessons from the past on the use of chemicals on crops (DDT comes to mind) yet they continue to pump it into our food then wonder why there’s so much cancer & other serious illness.
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