President George Bush in his State of the Union message tonight is expected to call for increased production of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline. (We’ll see if that’s accompanied by a call for more fuel-efficient vehicles.) Massive expansion of ethanol plants is already underway. Therefore, it’s important to know if the following is accurate:

From an agricultural vantage point, the automotive demand for fuel is insatiable. The grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year. Converting the entire U.S. grain harvest to ethanol would satisfy only 16 percent of U.S. auto fuel needs.

The competition for grain between the world’s 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its 2 billion poorest people who are simply trying to survive is emerging as an epic issue. Soaring food prices could lead to urban food riots in scores of lower-income countries that rely on grain imports, such as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and Mexico. The resulting political instability could in turn disrupt global economic progress, directly affecting all countries. It is not only food prices that are at stake, but trends in the Nikkei Index and the Dow Jones Industrials as well.

This comes from the Earth Policy Institute. I haven’t seen these figures elsewhere, so I’m cautious. But even if exaggerated, the moral issue is probably not: If filling up an SUV means people suffer elsewhere, possibly even at home because of higher prices for food … well, what would Jesus do?

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