Through God’s grace, the United States and Canada have been a blessing to the larger world in many ways. The concepts of liberty and justice have shaped not only our own nations but have served as a model for other nations and cultures.
Besides these lofty concepts, North America has also been a blessing to other countries in producing abundant food for its citizens and for a hungry world. We have the enviable reputation of being the bread basket of the world.
When famine stalked Europe and Russia after the First World War, then-presidential candidate Herbert Hoover organized a gigantic effort to feed the starving millions. Criticized for including the Russians in that program, he slammed his fist on the table and shouted: “Twenty million people are starving there, and they shall be fed.” And they were. This is one example of how a caring and righteous action exalts a nation.
One of the great blessings of our nations has been the availability of reasonably priced food. Those living at or below the poverty level could at least minimally provide for the nutritional needs of their children. Even in inflationary times, food prices stayed at a constant low level, with a corresponding minimal level of malnutrition.
The agriculture sector of our economy is the envy of the world. The government guarantees famers a fair return for their work and investment by means of subsidies and support prices. This program rightly guarantees a fair return to the famer and abundant supply of food for its citizens.
Regrettably, America has adopted a new policy called “Food for Fuel.” Billions of bushels of corn have been diverted from the food supply year after year and crushed to extract a combustible liquid (ethanol) in order to feed the thirsty gas tanks of our large vehicles.
Economically this might seem like a great idea.
Economically this might seem like a great idea. But every decision also has a moral and ethical dimension, which should be of primary concern. How does such a decision affect the least among us?
The policy quickly caused waves of dismay in the poverty-stricken burrows of Central and South America and Mexico, as well as in the homes of millions of poverty-stricken families in our own countries. Their grain-based food had spiked in price, and there was less food for hungry children. The news media reported food riots in many cities. As usual, though, the poor were powerless to effect any change.
The world’s population, which stands at 7 billion, can only be efficiently fed through the production and distribution of grains. Meat prices too will continue to rise along with grain prices.
The Food for Fuel policy not only lacks moral justification but is self-defeating. Whatever we save in fuel costs will be spent on higher food and grocery costs. It has also aroused fears that it may trigger a new round of destructive inflation.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek makes this following observation about using corn for fuel: “Corn is a lousy raw material for fuel because producing 10 gallons of ethanol consumes the energy equivalent of about 7 gallons of gasoline and greenhouse reductions are miniscule.” That approaches a zero-sum advantage. So a decision once thought to be economically advantageous might have an opposite effect.
One U.N. official went so far as to call this policy a crime against humanity. A Michigan State University researcher suggested that prime soil should only be used for growing food and less productive soil for growing biofuel grasses that could then be used for the production of ethanol.
This program poses an unwarranted high risk. In the 1930s a 10-year plague of drought and dust devastated large portions of the U.S. Farms, once thriving, were put up for sale, but there were no takers. In 1988 farmers held their collective breath as once again large areas that had produced crops were parched by lack of rain. Now a swath of southern states, particularly Texas, is in the grip of a destructive drought.
Scripture relates at least two severe and long-lasing droughts that took place in the Near East, one lasting seven years and one three and one half years. But those droughts would pale in comparison if the whole breadbasket of North America, which would cause a crisis of unparalleled severity.
Yes, it is imperative that we control fuel and energy costs and become energy independent. To begin with, America has huge reserves of untapped natural gas. Natural gas-powered vehicles have been on the road for some years already. A large dairy in our area has refitted their large fleet of trucks with engines that consume not gasoline or diesel but an alternative fuel. This corporation plans to build stations selling this gas to vehicles with similar engines. A large corporation in South Carolina is powering its entire factory with gas extracted from garbage.
The government could enforce a reasonable speed limit on our roads and highways and enact stricter policies for the manufacture of cars with better fuel economy. These last two examples alone would drastically lower the cost of transportation and would require some sacrifice of all citizens, not just those with the lowest incomes.
In addition we should expand our use of wind, solar, clean coal, and nuclear power. In contrast to the U.S. and Canada, some nations are extracting ethanol not from food stocks but from other materials.
Our Creator has a special concern and affinity for the downtrodden, the hungry, and the powerless, revealed in the Old Testament regulations for the care of the needy. The Savior showed the same concern when he walked among us. The way we treat “the least” among us is a measure of the sincerity of our faith (Matt. 25:40).
May God give our leaders the necessary wisdom to make fair and just decisions in every area of national life.
About the Author
Bernie VanderMolen is a semi-retired famer living near DeMotte, Ind. He is a member of First Christian Reformed Church of DeMotte.