Worried that no one’s going to post on ethanol today? Let me ease your troubled mind …

The world may soon be facing the highest food prices in history, according to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. The group released a missive today that says increased corn demand caused by the ethanol boom will dramatically raise food costs in the near future:

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 500 as well.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations TRIPLED!

This is more than a little alarmist and extreme, and a nice argument could be made that the dumping of subsidized, overproduced U.S. corn in “lower-income countries”, which undermines local markets and forces small farmers out of business, could stand to be staunched.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But choosing to produce more corn, and diverting that corn to ethanol production, is having and will have serious consequences, not only environmentally, as I’ve talked lots about here, but yes, probably on food prices too.

What I think will have an even greater impact on the lives of the less-fortunate residents of this planet (and ultimately, probably on all of us) is the destruction of tropical ecosystems to make way for fuel crops like oil palm.

It’s funny, I’ve always viewed soybeans sort of on par with corn — a lesser evil, since they’re legumes and therefore fix nitrogen, but a vile member just the same of the two-punch agricultural nightmare we live here in Iowa. But lately, as farmers are increasingly going all-corn, all-the-time, I’ve been finding myself pining for the good old diverse days of corn and beans. Sigh.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.