Sunday, April 13, 2008

Biofuels: A Threat and a Cause of World Hunger

Cross-posted by Maggie at Maggie's Notebook

In an op-ed dated April 10th, the The New York Times says that the world is getting hungrier because corn, wheat and soy prices are through the roof.
Last year, the food import bill of developing countries rose by 25 percent as food prices rose to levels not seen in a generation.

Corn doubled in price over the last two years. Wheat reached its highest price in 28 years....
The United States and other developed countries need to step up to the plate. The rise in food prices is partly because of uncontrollable forces — including rising energy costs and the growth of the middle class in China and India....
Now, any country with a growing middle class...well, that's good news, but still yet, the NYT tells us, the problem is that old familiar culprit - the "rich world," which has been arrogant enough to produce biofuels.
"...industrial nations are not generous" and "rich countries' energy policies helped create the problem."
The unnamed editorialist doesn't like our Government subsidies and tariffs, and says"
At best, corn ethanol delivers only a small reduction in greenhouse gases compared with gasoline.

And it could make things far worse if it leads to more farming in forests and grasslands. Rising food prices provide an urgent argument to nix ethanol’s supports.
Are we beginning to see an ephiphany here - did the NYT just wake up from a long Gore-induced coma? Was it ever so difficult to understand that land once planted to wheat, but now planted to corn, would raise the price of wheat? Could we not see that the price of tortillas would rise swiftly and affect a population that daily consumes corn and wheat tortillas as a staple of their diet.

From the UK Telegraph (similar report in the WashingtonPost):
Mexico's Poor Suffer as Tortilla Price Rises.

Mexico is in the grip of the worst "tortilla crisis" in modern history because America's growing demand for the grain-based fuel ethanol has sent corn prices soaring.Customers suddenly unable to afford the tortillas, a dietary staple among the poor, are enraged.
We commoners out here in flyover country could see this coming long ago, and we smugly affirmed our astute assessment when Willie Nelson first touted his BioWillie.
Ask for America’s quality renewable fuel by name – BioWillie® premium biodiesel

All Americans understand the importance of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Long or short haul carriers understand that every gallon we grow from our nation's crops reduces what we buy from foreign soil. Our American truckers are on the front lines -- making the decision to fuel up with BioWillie helps our local, state and national economy. In addition, there are clear environmental benefits.
It's always about the money - even if the intentions are good, which I have no doubt that Willie's are...and his product is probably a fine biodiesel.

But then there's Al Gore and his carbon offsets, and it's definitely all about the money because no matter how loud he proclaims it, his science isn't convincing.

Gore claims that he lives a carbon-neutral lifestyle by purchasing carbon credits to offset his very large "carbon footprint."

A report from WorldNetDaily says that Gore is part-owner and Chairman of Generation Investment Management, which sells carbon credits - which Gore then buys from himself! So how does Generation Investment Management provide a person with carbon credits? From GIM's website:
Generation has built a global research platform to integrate sustainability research into fundamental equity analysis. We focus on the economic, environmental, social, and governance risks and opportunities that can materially affect a company's ability to sustain profitability and deliver returns. Our research plays an important role in forming our views on the quality of the business, the quality of management, and valuation.

Our preference for performance-based fees aligns our interests with that of our clients and is typically based on long-term performance.

Our Advisory Board, convened by our Chairman the Hon. Al Gore, helps set our long-term thematic research agenda into global sustainability issues, including climate change, poverty and development, ecosystem services and biodiversity, water scarcity, pandemics, demographics and migration, and urbanization.
Isn't that enlightening? Let's just let WorldNetDaily explain it:
In other words, he 'buys' his 'carbon offsets' from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself," Hobbs writes. "To be blunt, Gore doesn't buy 'carbon offsets' through Generation Investment Management – he buys stocks.
Read the WorldNetDaily piece here and follow the excellent "global warming" links.

A February 8, 2008 NYT piece by Elisabeth Rosenthal - Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat cites two studies reported in the journal, Science. Among the conclusions of the studies are:

(1) Any type of land, whether rain forest or grasslands, releases greenhouse gases when burned and plowed. The burning and plowing "deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions."

(2) It doesn't matter where in the world the land is cleared to produce biofuels, because the "greenhouse gas emissions are significant."
When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially, said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University.

Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.
Most of us know that decisions have consequences - whether for good or for bad. The world's "experts," and most of our Congress (the Great Senator Jim Inhofe R-OK, excepted) willingly got on the merry-go-round for renewable fuels. Now what are they gonna do? Learning a thing or two will be a good place to start.

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  1. Al Gore should take advantage of these:

  2. A few points. First of all, back in during the Cold War, the U.S. foreign policy was to shore up Latin American nations. One of the ways they did that was by not imposing tariffs on sugar. The domestic sugar industry crumbled because domestic sugar became too expensive. Eventually, so did imported cane sugar. So corn syrup was developed as a substitute. This also helped subsidize American farmers. That is part of the reason you can be at almost any railway crossing and see endless tankers full of the stuff. It is in every food we eat or drink. And it makes us far fatter than sugar because of the way it is metabolized. Some researchers speculate that this is one of the main causes of our national obesity problem.

    Secondly, the rising subsidies for corn helped shore up votes for Congressmen. Now that it pays more to sell corn for ethanol, grain products for livestock feed is rising as well. That means that every source of poultry, pork, beef, eggs or dairy products will continue to rise. The irony is that the push to use cornbased ethanol was the fallacy used by what I like to call "greenheads" using numbers based on the Brazilian ethanol project. The key difference was that Brazil use SUGAR CANE, a more densely efficient source of ethanol. As it is, ethanol reduces fuel efficiency by about 15% and the water and power needed to create it makes the energy saving null. Add to that the price spikes that occur because all lines must be purged to add the stuff into the fuel mix, and you have a recipe that will top out around $4.00 a gallon unless it's stopped.

    But I have a solution, if anyone would listen. Stop subsidizing corn ethanol. Instead reintroduce and protect domestic sugar cane farming in the ravaged areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. Use domestic sugar as a sweetener and use the cane for ethanol. EVERYBODY WINS!!!!!

    Mark my words, the rioting you are seeing over tortillas in Mexico and food of any sort in Haiti is going to spread to our urban centers if something doesn't change soon. And by "change" I do not mean Obama. I mean REAL CHANGE, where we stop playing games and start doing what is right for this country based on good facts and not bad science.

    End of rant.