Food or Oil? Tough Choices Ahead


On 16 May 2005, U.S. President George Bush proved that his energy policy is running on fumes, during a photo op at a biodiesel factory in Virginia.

Bush called the process of turning soybeans into motor fuel a "promising alternative fuel source."

According to, Bush noted that "20 years ago, 75% of crude oil used in U.S. refineries came from American sources. Today, the figure is 35%." He should know; he was an oil industry executive in those days. But we can't blame him for this problem. The U.S. has simply pumped and burned all its readily-available oil.

Bush can't fix the nation's dependence on foreign oil by pumping more U.S. oil. There just aren't any more big U.S. oil fields to pump.

True, Bush wants to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge for oil production, but that's a very small oil field, compared to those in the Middle East, Brittan's North Sea, or the played-out fields of Texas. We would burn though the Alaskan reserves in only 3 months. In the long run, the refuge's wildlife (also known as "food" to local people) has more economic value than the oil does!

The irony of Bush's remarks at the soybean-to-fuel factory is that he ignores how soybeans are produced.

Soybeans cannot be harvested in the quantities we see today without heavy inputs of foreign oil, in the forms of fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. All that heavy farm equipment and our transportation systems also rely on petroleum.

The convoluted process of using foreign oil to grow soybeans, then converting them into diesel, may actually result in less energy at the end than we put in at the start. We might just as well burn the oil and skip the step of switching over to diesel cars.

Just as U.S. oil production peaked and began declining in the 1970's, world oil production is showing signs that it too has reached its peak. A decline in oil production within a decade seems inevitable. As fertilizers and pesticides become prohibitively expensive, we might just find we want soybeans for food, not motor fuel.

Bush's attempts to address serious issues with photo ops and pipedreams are frustrating, and more-than-a-little frightening.

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