One result is higher corn prices, which means climbing food bills for cattle, pigs and poultry, and thus skyrocketing meat, pork, chicken and turkey prices. Plus, with more acreage devoted to corn, there is less for other crops like cotton, wheat, rice and soy -- and the prices of those commodities are soaring as well.
Americans' increasing use of homegrown ethanol seems to be raising the price of food for the world's poor, just as our importation of oil enriches the world's already wealthy and dangerous.
What, then, is the least pernicious alternative -- and the most environmentally, financially and ethically sound?
Unfortunately, for a while longer it is not just to trust in promising new technologies like wind and solar power; for decades to come, these will only provide a fraction of our energy needs.
Instead, aside from greater conservation, we must develop more traditional energy resources at home. That would mean building more nuclear power plants, intensifying efforts at mining and burning coal more cleanly -- and developing more domestic oil, while retooling our vehicles to be even lighter and more fuel-efficient.
Nuclear power poses risks of proper disposal of radioactive wastes. Coal heats up the atmosphere. But both can also reduce our need to import fossil fuels to run our generators, while offering electrical energy to charge efficient and clean cars of the not-too-distant future.
No one wants a nuclear plant in his county. But, then, no one wants to leave the country bankrupt paying for imported fuel, or vulnerable by empowering hostile foreign oil producers, or insensitive to the price of food for the poor.
It is also time to re-evaluate domestic oil production in environmental -- and moral --terms. The question is no longer simply whether we want to drill in the Alaskan wilderness or off the Florida or California coasts. Rather, the dilemma is whether by doing so, we can mitigate the world's ecological risks beyond our shores, deny dictators financial clout, get America out of debt, and help the poor afford food.
We may not like oil platforms off the beach or mega-tankers in Arctic waters, but the alternatives for now are far worse -- in both environmental and ethical terms.