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2008-05-01
 

Machines now compete with humans for food

Automation has been wonderful for humanity. Many of the things on which we depend are produced by machines at a fraction of what they would cost if they were produced manually. Cheap watches, cheap cars, cheap clothing, cheap computers, everything is cheap, cheap, cheap because it is mass produced using assembly lines with many different types of machines.

In the past, people worried that machines would replace them. Labor unions fought against the adoption of automation that would result in job losses. Eventually, the proponents of automation won because the prices for products could be lowered while production could be increased thus saving the jobs. Our machines are powered by cheap coal and petroleum which originated from the decay of prehistoric plants and animals, but burning coal and petroleum increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a "greenhouse gas" that is associated with global warming.

Times have changed. Petroleum is not so cheap anymore. Greater costs provide an incentive to search for new forms of energy. The idea of burning biofuels, i.e, fuels derived from contemporary plant matter rather than from ancient organisms, has a lot of appeal because it provides an alternative to expensive petroleum and limits the increase of greenhouse gases. The carbon dioxide generated when a biofuel is burned, is the same gas that was sequestered from the atmosphere by the plant as it grew. Thus, there is no net increase in carbon dioxide. The use of ethanol from corn has been promoted as a fuel on the basis of this thinking.

However, there is one BIG problem. The World Bank estimates that the grain required to fill a 25-gallon sport-utility vehicle tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year. The United States uses approximately 375 million gallons of fuel per day. It is not possible to quench this tremendous thirst for fuel with all the corn fields of Iowa and Kansas.

In the past, machines used coal and petroleum products that were not suitable for human or animal consumption. Now, humans and farm animals will have to compete with machines for food. The use of human food to power machines seems inhuman, immoral, and short-sighted.


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