Tuesday, October 27, 2020
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students


Lost in the Maize

It brought us popcorn, tortillas, life-sized mazes, and set the scene for countless creepy movies like The X-Files, Children of…

By Ian Bickis , in Blogs This Business of the Environment , on January 22, 2008

It brought us popcorn, tortillas, life-sized mazes, and set the scene for countless creepy movies like The X-Files, Children of the Corn, and Field of Dreams. Is there anything corn can’t do?

If you said “save the environment,” then you’re part of a growing number of skeptics questioning the rapid growth of ethanol as a climate change solution.

Europeans, always ahead in the environmental game, are questioning the lifecycle benefits of ethanol. Just yesterday the Environmental Audit Committee called for an end to biofuel targets.

Here in Canada, the government calls ethanol “the road to a greener future” and has committed billions of dollars to help promote it.

They did this despite a government report that seriously questions the environmental benefits.

The heavy demand for corn to make fuel has also been a factor in the rapid increase in corn prices around the world.

It’s not that ethanol can’t work as a solution, it’s just that the government is taking the easy road on a difficult issue.

There are types of ethanol that produce a lot more energy, like cellulose- or sugarcane-based fuels. But people already grow corn in Canada and the US, and these alternatives are either more expensive, or grow much easier elsewhere like Brazil.

Hopefully corn is only the first step in a transition to more sustainable ethanol blends. But if millions are invested in factories that are reliant on steady supplies of corn, it will be a hard habit to shake.