At the beginning of July, we noted that even though just a few days had passed in the month, thousands of heat records had been matched or surpassed. Now, it turns out that the month of July was the hottest month on record—not the hottest July on record, the hottest month ever. July continues the record warming of the first seven months of this year and we are experiencing the warmest 12 month period since NOAA started keeping records in 1895. So, can we final agree that the climate crisis needs immediate attention?
Accompanying the extreme heat is widespread drought. Drought conditions still cover over 60 percent of the contiguous United Stateswith the central regions of the country -- prime agricultural land -- hit the hardest. Corn, soybean, and livestock are all being hit hard, which will translate into higher prices for food staples. Due to the rise in feed prices, livestock famers, ranchers, and politicians are calling for the Obama Administration to suspend the renewable fuel standard that requires a certain production level of ethanol.
While the cost impact on farmers and ranchers is significant, removing the ethanol requirement does nothing to meaningfully reduce the cost of corn and, more importantly, it would increase the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. Given the increasingly clear link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, removing the ethanol mandate will cause far greater harm in the long-run. Short-sighted policy decisions may generate political points, but they will certainly do nothing to stop the worst impacts of climate change from occurring.
This is not to say that ethanol is the best form of alternative fuel. We applauded the end of subsidies for the industry, which is able to stand on its own and doesn’t need any further support—a fate that is far overdue for the fossil fuel industry. In fact, there are far better biofuels than corn that take less land and less energy to grow. But, we need to break our addiction to fossil fuels and the only politically viable alternative right now is corn ethanol.
The fact that corn-based ethanol is our only option is a perfect example of the corrosive effect that money plays in politics. Corn-based ethanol mainly helps one constituency- corn farmers. And, if you want to know how successful the corn lobby is try to find products without high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked directly to the increase in obesity. In the case of ethanol, we have the unfortunate situation that the corn lobby is the only industry with enough money to influence politicians to move away from fossil fuels, even though investments in wind, solar and other biofuels would do far more to move us closer to energy independence and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
So, how many more months of record-breaking heat do we need before policymakers stop listening to money, wake up to the very real impacts of climate change and start investing in a real plan to combat climate change? My guess is that we should start counting record-breaking years, and not months, before this happens.