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Ethanol's new victims: beer drinkers

oktoberfest cheers
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty

We witnessed the tens of thousands of demonstrators decrying the rapidly (and exorbitantly) rising price of corn in the "tortilla protests" in Mexico City earlier this year. The protests came about as a result of the growing demand for corn-based ethanol, the Bush administration's biofuel of choice. But now there appears to be a new dietary staple under threat from the rising demand for ethanol: German beer.

Der Spiegel Online reports that a 2006 barley shortage will raise the wholesale price of German beer this May. Many brewing industry lobbyists attribute the price rise to farmers forgoing barley for corn in order to satisfy the global demand for biofuels, especially from the United States. In the past year, the price of barley has doubled on the German market, from €200 to €400 per ton.

But it's not just Germany that is set to see soaring beer prices. The chief executive of Heineken (the Dutch brewer) warned in February that the expanding biofuel sector was starting to cause a "structural shift" in European and U.S. agricultural markets, which could precipitate a long-term upward shift in the price of beer. Already, futures prices for European malting barley have risen since last May by 85 percent to more than €230 a ton, and barley production in the United States has fallen to 180.05 million bushels (in 2006)—the lowest level since 1936. Global stockpiles of barley have shrunk by a third in the last two years. All of this augurs ill for beer drinkers, who may soon be paying significantly more for their pints.

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Sheryl Crow urges you to use less toilet paper

Sheryl Crow

People who care about protecting the environment are often ridiculed as being tree-hugging hippies who eat granola and wear Birkenstocks. Or, they're seen as elitist, hypocritical liberals who rant against global warming while living in 4,000-square-foot houses. Sometimes, they're just dismissed as wackos.

Yesterday was Earth Day, and unfortunately, one well-meaning music icon made a ridiculous suggestion that reinforced all the laughable stereotypes that critics have of environmentalists. Singer Sheryl Crow proposed limits on toilet paper: "only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two or three could be required."

Maybe she made the comment in jest, but overall it doesn't help the environmental movement. People don't have to embrace extreme austerity or sacrifice basic hygiene to make a difference. Just Google "ways to save the environment," and you'll find hundreds of entirely reasonable ways to be more earth-friendly (mixed among some of the more outrageous suggestions).

Perhaps Crow, who seems so bent on being green, should take her suggestion to its logical extreme: ditch toilet paper altogether. Poor people all over the world manage without it. Old newspapers, corncobs, leaves, left hands, pails of water, and bidets are all alternatives.