Just when we thought we were finally finished with Al Gore, he turns up again with another "Kick Me" sign on his back. At an energy conference in Athens on Nov. 22 Gore conceded an inconvenient truth--that his support for grain-based ethanol production was ill-advised and had more to do with politics than the best interests of the environment and the nation. "It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol. The benefits of ethanol are 'trivial,' but it's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going. One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president."
Gore's "mistake" was a whopper: Corn is a poor substrate for ethanol production because it takes a lot of conventional fossil energy to grow and ferment it, and its diversion to ethanol production creates a conflict between two of our most fundamental needs--food and energy. The demand for corn-derived ethanol has resulted in upward price pressure on certain foods. For example, according to the USDA, the price of pork is up 13% from a year ago, butter is up 25%, and milk has risen 6%.