Jack Simpson - America must clean out its closets

I was hunting some ant killer at the local hardware store recently. A clerk remarked, "Our country sure is in bad shape these days." When I asked what he had in mind, he replied, "Take your pick." Inflation, the economy, war in Iraq, fuel prices, violence, theft, unemployment, healthcare costs, and the list goes on.

Maybe he was one among us who has a Fibber McGee's closet in his house. Open the door and all the stuff crammed in there comes tumbling out. Seems like we are overwhelmed sometimes, and when we try to solve one problem, others are created. This is cause for pessimism and can make us feel like crisis has come to our lives.

When we try to wean ourselves from dependence on foreign oil by developing biofuels, look what happens. Some of our foods are diverted from the dinner table. With less corn available and rice being hoarded, prices rise.

Farmers clear forests for more fields and use nitrogen to increase the yield in corn growth. Nitrogen runs off the fields and into streams that find their way into the mighty Mississippi. The flow of the river goes into the Gulf of Mexico, where it collects and kills the shrimp, fish, crabs and oysters, a part of our diet. We open one closet door and out comes trouble. The run-off fertilizer depletes oxygen and endangers animals, a food source.

So, what is our choice? Do we keep buying oil abroad, develop a fuel alternative, or do we keep on eating? Food or ethanol for our gas guzzlers. Growing more and more corn for fuel will also crowd out other crops we have been eating in our diets.

Study is required for suitable answers. People from all nations will have to become involved. We face challenges demanding ingenious solutions because there are environmental, climate and social issues involved. What we do can mess up more ecosystems; and, problems in one area can spill over into another. Clearly, we do not want crisis to be our constant companion.

America has a history of addressing and solving great challenges. We built railroads across a continent, sent a man to the moon, found a way to eradicate dread diseases. Surely we can work together to make fuel from hydrogen or grasses and protect our own food supply. How can we keep economically sound and safe at the same time?

If America reprioritizes, she can resolve the food versus energy debate. We must have more farsighted goals. The will of the people will make it so. Cleaning out the closets could be an answer.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.