The American Interest: Ethanol Is a Threat to National Security

October 1, 2012

As a way to save the planet, not many policies are worse than government-backed ethanol. It’s bad for the economy, bad for the environment, doesn’t reduce greenhouse gases, and has led to rapidly rising food prices.

Now a recent report links ethanol mandates to civil unrest, social upheaval, and even war.

As the report shows, rising food prices have been a significant contributor to global unrest, particularly in the Middle East. High food prices have long been associated with riots and civil unrest. In 1848, a wave of droughts and crop failures led to the toppling of governments throughout Europe. Hunger breeds desperation, and the inability of government to deal with the situation can lead to loss of confidence and legitimacy. All of this creates conditions that are ripe for an outbreak of mass violence, which can be triggered even by an otherwise unrelated incident.

The connection between food price spikes and civil unrest continues up to the present day. In 2008, a spike in food prices coincided with more than sixty riots in thirty different countries. After falling sharply in 2009 as a result of the Great Recession, food prices began rising again, reaching their previous peak towards the end of 2010. On December 17, 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest of government bureaucracy and regulation. His death sparked major protests, which soon spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, ultimately leading to the overthrow of several governments in what became known as the Arab Spring.