The "STOP BIOFUEL" campaign is misguided extremism
I know that most people now think that there can be no such thing as good Bio Fuel and in some forums I would not even be permitted to post a message like this, which is my personal effort to bring balance back to this subject. So, I am taking a chance that you might be interested in a serious answer as to why some would look for better results from biofuel and further, are not convinced that biofuel is causing most of the problems. It is and will remain a small sliver of the agriculture, ranching and forestry sectors which have long been unsustainable and are in bed with the fossil energy industry.
There is an agenda to make biofuel the scapegoat for all the wrongs of present petrochemical based agriculture and for the the greed of the oil industry. Agribusiness and big oil will go for any possible escalation of oil prices, without regard to the plight of those poor who cannot afford to buy food. This is not about any change in our food production or supply ability but it reflects that most of the cost of food is based on petrochemical and energy inputs and these inputs have doubled and tripled in cost. This is a consequence of agricultural dependency on synthetic fertilizer, since throughout the world arable soils have been depleted of natural nutrients and are disappearing through erosion.
I have attached a recent article where I have made detailed comments to show you that biofuel is not the causative factor that you may think it is or that the extremists in the STOP BIOFUEL campaign would have you believe. There are extremely bad examples of biofuel that are stimulated by misguided public policy - especially the ethanol from corn programs in the USA. That being said, to conclude that all biofuel is bad is wrong and plays into the agenda of the fossil fuel industry who would love to have a red herring to blame for explosively growing energy and food costs - so, if you want to let them off the hook, then you can use biofuel as a scapegoat, and the misdeeds of all these dirty industries will go unchallenged.
I predict that the good biofuels will make it to market and you will see that one day they will be recognized as the paradigm shift that ultimately saved the planet and played an important part in restoring a natural and sustainable connection and balance with nature.
Below I offer my comments to rebut the assertions of the authors who are extreme in their attack on the biofuel road to clean and abundant energy for all:
The Clean Energy Scam
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD (From Time magazine, Thursday, Mar. 27, 2008 )
From his Cessna a mile above the southern Amazon, John Carter looks down on the destruction of the world's greatest ecological jewel. He watches men converting rain forest into cattle pastures and soybean fields with bulldozers and chains.
These are the sins of our agriculture and consumer economy. Slash and burn is so profitable because the soil so created can be used to extract valuable crops at very low input cost. Purchase of expensive fertilizer that is made from petrochemicals is avoided for a few years. Then the burnt out soil can be turned to grazing cattle then goats and finally the land will turn to desert if not farmed with irrigation and fertilizer inputs. The rush to produce soy is because of the increasingly high cost of the protein rich harvest for a balancing of animal FEED (not food) that is largely from corn. Corn is deficient in specific protein and soybean is added for a balanced feed formula with corn grain.
He sees fires wiping out such gigantic swaths of jungle that scientists now debate the "savannization" of the Amazon. Brazil just announced that deforestation is on track to double this year; Carter, a Texas cowboy with all the subtlety of a chainsaw, says it's going to get worse fast. "It gives me goose bumps," says Carter, who founded a nonprofit to promote sustainable ranching on the Amazon frontier. "It's like witnessing a rape."
Responsible biofuel proponents do not debate this and are as anxious as any other greens would be.
The Amazon was the chic eco-cause of the 1990s, revered as an incomparable storehouse of biodiversity.
This is the legacy of the “conservation” movement which remains the driving concern of all environmentalists and that includes responsible biofuel producers.
It's been overshadowed lately by global warming, but the Amazon rain forest happens also to be an incomparable storehouse of carbon, the very carbon that heats up the planet when it's released into the atmosphere.
This is the paradigm shift from the lead of the conservationists to the lead of “ecologists” and the current primary concern becoming the survival of ecosystems and of human disruption of the planetary atmospheric balance through the consumption of fossil fuels.
Brazil now ranks fourth in the world in carbon emissions, and most of its emissions come from deforestation. Carter is not a man who gets easily spooked--he led a reconnaissance unit in Desert Storm, and I watched him grab a small anaconda with his bare hands in Brazil--but he can sound downright panicky about the future of the forest. "You can't protect it. There's too much money to be made tearing it down," he says. "Out here on the frontier, you really see the market at work."
The Amazon rain forest is identified as a key factor in runaway global heating scenario that ends with a global extinction event. The total destruction would release enough CO 2? to double the current level of CO 2 in the atmosphere. The money relates to the high price of fossil fuels that is due to passing over the threshold of peak oil.
This land rush is being accelerated by an unlikely source: biofuels. An explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices to record highs, which is spurring a dramatic expansion of Brazilian agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming rate.
People who are well informed about end-of-oil (fossil) should have seen this coming as a result of the escalation of world energy prices. The thing to note is that crop prices are high but the cost to grow by slash and burn is low because the petrochemical inputs are avoided – that is why crops are expanding through deforestation. These soils deplete rapidly and instead of using fertilizer inputs it is easier to move their production to new slash and burn areas. The land rush is not caused by biofuels, it is caused by greed and high food prices. The portion that is connected to biofuel is a minor fraction of the devastation. And if biofuel production ceased the devastation would continue, unabated.
Propelled by mounting anxieties over soaring oil costs and climate change, biofuels have become the vanguard of the green-tech revolution, the trendy way for politicians and corporations to show they're serious about finding alternative sources of energy and in the process slowing global warming. The U.S. quintupled its production of ethanol--ethyl alcohol, a fuel distilled from plant matter--in the past decade, and Washington has just mandated another fivefold increase in renewable fuels over the next decade.
Mid-west American farmers have long been pressed to survive and the government has long paid subsidies for farmers to keep surplus lands out of production. The acreage that is now subsidized for corn for ethanol has not replaced food production. It has replaced idle land and land that would have grown FEED not food. What is misguided about this is that it is know that corn is a BAD energy crop because it has little net energy output. The petrochemical inputs are significant and therefore this will be a dead end as the petrochemical inputs are priced out of reach because of end-of-oil (fossil) availability.
Europe has similarly aggressive biofuel mandates and subsidies, and Brazil's filling stations no longer even offer plain gasoline.
This is good for biofuel awareness. Bad biofuel will shake out and the good and very positive benefits of biofuel from wastes and from algae will emerge.
Worldwide investment in biofuels rose from $5 billion in 1995 to $38 billion in 2005 and is expected to top $100 billion by 2010, thanks to investors like Richard Branson and George Soros, GE and BP, Ford and Shell, Cargill and the Carlyle Group. Renewable fuels has become one of those motherhood-and-apple-pie catchphrases, as unobjectionable as the troops or the middle class.
If you truly believe in the STOP BIOFUEL campaign then you are asked to take on faith that these individuals are uninformed and unconcerned about the bad biofuel and are investing in the wrong type of biofuel but closer investigation shows that these companies are investing in the "second generation" biofuels that avoid competition with food crops and avoid using arable agricultural land.
But several new studies show the biofuel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to be environmentally disastrous.
There is 400 million acres of grain production in the USA alone and most of it is corn and is used for FEED, the rest is for food and the biofuel crop is supplying less than 1% of oil demand and while growing quickly is not the source of the environmental disaster. Corn itself has always been and is an environmental disaster, so more of corn grown as a BAD biofuel crop is just insane.
Even cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less green than oil-derived gasoline.
This statement is wrong and is unsupported and it is not certain what oil is referred to. Oil from crops like soybean and rape is a byproduct and the grain mash is sold as a protein additive to FEED formula. There is 500 million acres of ranch land in the USA, which is basically deforested land and even a small fraction of this land used for switchgrass would be an great improvement in land use. The switchgrass grows without the petrochemical inputs needed for corn.
Meanwhile, by diverting grain and oilseed crops from dinner plates to fuel tanks, biofuels are jacking up world food prices and endangering the hungry.
Exaggeration of the worst kind. An attempt to be dramatic and manipulate emotion. Stop biofuels completely and food prices will still rise and have reached present price due to fossil fuel price tripling and the fact that big agribusiness is a channel for petrochemical consumption.
The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year. Harvests are being plucked to fuel our cars instead of ourselves.
Again, dramatic pandering for public panic to sell an article and get a speaking engagement.
The U.N.'s World Food Program says it needs $500 million in additional funding and supplies, calling the rising costs for food nothing less than a global emergency. Soaring corn prices have sparked tortilla riots in Mexico City, and skyrocketing flour prices have destabilized Pakistan, which wasn't exactly tranquil when flour was affordable.
This is a real emergency and is showing us that we are over the peak oil (fossil) threshold and we will begin to see the disastrous consequences that lead to the “die-off” scenario - see www.die-off.org – that is why we need to move the C&C agenda forward with all rapidity.
Biofuels do slightly reduce dependence on imported oil, and the ethanol boom has created rural jobs while enriching some farmers and agribusinesses. But the basic problem with most biofuels is amazingly simple, given that researchers have ignored it until now: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon.
Certainly not true for much of the USA biofuel crops. I have mentioned above that the surplus land in crop production and the millions of acres of ranch land have been used to a minor extent. I have shown that it is slash and burn agriculture that is growing (cheaply but a high environmental cost) FEED crops for cattle and then also grazing cattle in the Brazilian and other South American situations.
Backed by billions in investment capital, this alarming phenomenon is replicating itself around the world. Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world's top carbon emitters has surged from 21st to third according to a report by Wetlands International. Malaysia is converting forests into palm oil farms so rapidly that it's running out of uncultivated land.
I have seen the detailed Ministry of Agriculture plan for Sarawak, the province of Malaysia having the largest forest land and I can tell you from my personal knowledge of the Palm Oil industry, that has planted 1 million hectares to date (less then 2% of forest land) that this is blatant lies. Illegal logging and corrupt government regulation of forestry has always be a problem but is improving. There is about 12% of the land in agricultural use and that land makes Sarawak an agricultural exporter, which accounts for a large portion of its net revenues. The above statement is intended to make you think that Malaysians and the Far East are on the brink of starvation. That is not true. The price escalation of food make things hard on the poorest and that price escalation is happening because of tripling of fossil energy price and that will continue because of peak oil (fossil).
But most of the damage created by biofuels will be less direct and less obvious.
Now if you are a believer in the STOP BIOFUEL campaign then you can blame everything that you see that is bad on biofuel – this is called a scapegoat.
In Brazil, for instance, only a tiny portion of the Amazon is being torn down to grow the sugarcane that fuels most Brazilian cars. More deforestation results from a chain reaction so vast it's subtle: U.S. farmers are selling one-fifth of their corn to ethanol production, so U.S. soybean farmers are switching to corn, so Brazilian soybean farmers are expanding into cattle pastures, so Brazilian cattlemen are displaced to the Amazon. It's the remorseless economics of commodities markets. "The price of soybeans goes up," laments Sandro Menezes, a biologist with Conservation International in Brazil, "and the forest comes down."
The supposed logical argument of the author is a fiction. The reality is that fossil oil drives these events and prices not the other way around.
Deforestation accounts for 20% of all current carbon emissions. So unless the world can eliminate emissions from all other sources--cars, power plants, factories, even flatulent cows--it needs to reduce deforestation or risk an environmental catastrophe.
Everyone can agree with this statement but why not be proactive for afforestation. The author is from the west where lands are largely deforested and he could include in this campaign a recommendation for the west to get off their duffs and replant ranch lands.
That means limiting the expansion of agriculture, a daunting task as the world's population keeps expanding. And saving forests is probably an impossibility so long as vast expanses of cropland are used to grow modest amounts of fuel.
An assumption is made here that bad crops will dominate the future of biofuel that results in a vision of an implausible result – but the author wants the reader to respond emotionally.
The biofuels boom, in short, is one that could haunt the planet for generations--and it's only getting started.
The author has not mentioned (and this is so typical of the STOP BIOFUELS leaders and experts) biofuel from wastes nor oil from algae, yet these are proven and highly beneficial developments in this sector. Of course it is inconvenient for such media campaigns to offer a balanced report, since that would not be emotional and scary and will not grab public attention.
Why the Amazon Is on Fire
This destructive biofuel dynamic is on vivid display in Brazil, where a Rhode Island--size chunk of the Amazon was deforested in the second half of 2007 and even more was degraded by fire. Some scientists believe fires are now altering the local microclimate and could eventually reduce the Amazon to a savanna or even a desert. "It's approaching a tipping point," says ecologist Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center.
The author is not able to connect the following story to biofuel, clearly it is slash an burn agriculture that is responsible for the vast scale of this problem. This is driven by high FEED prices that is connected directly with high fossil fuel prices.
I spent a day in the Amazon with the Kamayura tribe, which has been forced by drought to replant its crops five times this year. The tribesmen I met all complained about hacking coughs and stinging eyes from the constant fires and the disappearance of the native plants they use for food, medicine and rituals. The Kamayura had virtually no contact with whites until the 1960s; now their forest is collapsing around them. Their chief, Kotok, a middle-aged man with an easy smile and Three Stooges hairdo that belie his fierce authority, believes that's no coincidence. "We are people of the forest, and the whites are destroying our home," says Kotok, who wore a ceremonial beaded belt, a digital watch, a pair of flip-flops and nothing else. "It's all because of money."
Kotok knows nothing about biofuels. He's more concerned about his tribe's recent tendency to waste its precious diesel-powered generator watching late-night soap operas. But he's right. Deforestation can be a complex process; for example, land reforms enacted by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have attracted slash-and-burn squatters to the forest, and "use it or lose it" incentives have spurred some landowners to deforest to avoid redistribution. The basic problem is that the Amazon is worth more deforested than it is intact. Carter, who fell in love with the region after marrying a Brazilian and taking over her father's ranch, says the rate of deforestation closely tracks commodity prices on the Chicago Board of Trade. "It's just exponential right now because the economics are so good," he says. "Everything tillable or grazeable is gouged out and cleared."
First the soil is exploited until exhausted (not long on the tropical soil) and then it is grazed.
That the destruction is taking place in Brazil is sadly ironic, given that the nation is also an exemplar of the allure of biofuels. Sugar growers here have a greener story to tell than do any other biofuel producers. They provide 45% of Brazil's fuel (all cars in the country are able to run on ethanol) on only 1% of its arable land. They've reduced fertilizer use while increasing yields, and they convert leftover biomass into electricity. Marcos Jank, the head of their trade group, urges me not to lump biofuels together: "Grain is good for bread, not for cars. But sugar is different." Jank expects production to double by 2015 with little effect on the Amazon. "You'll see the expansion on cattle pastures and the Cerrado," he says.
Because the Corn for Methanol program in the USA is so bad an example we cannot brand biofuel as a bad and non eco solution. Oil crops are not so bad as the dumbed down STOP BIOFUEL campaign would have you think because they never mention that the oil is a byproduct of soybean and grains used for protein FEED for livestock. Palm is not the disaster that it is claimed to be by campaigners who wrongly lay blame on the palm plantations for the vast deforestation that is due to slash and burn agriculture.
So far, he's right. There isn't much sugar in the Amazon. But my next stop was the Cerrado, south of the Amazon, an ecological jewel in its own right. The Amazon gets the ink, but the Cerrado is the world's most biodiverse savanna, with 10,000 species of plants, nearly half of which are found nowhere else on earth, and more mammals than the African bush. In the natural Cerrado, I saw toucans and macaws, puma tracks and a carnivorous flower that lures flies by smelling like manure. The Cerrado's trees aren't as tall or dense as the Amazon's, so they don't store as much carbon, but the region is three times the size of Texas, so it stores its share.
At least it did, before it was transformed by the march of progress--first into pastures, then into sugarcane and soybean fields. In one field I saw an array of ovens cooking trees into charcoal, spewing Cerrado's carbon into the atmosphere; those ovens used to be ubiquitous, but most of the trees are gone. I had to travel hours through converted Cerrado to see a 96-acre (39 hectare) sliver of intact Cerrado, where a former shopkeeper named Lauro Barbosa had spent his life savings for a nature preserve. "The land prices are going up, up, up," Barbosa told me. "My friends say I'm a fool, and my wife almost divorced me. But I wanted to save something before it's all gone."
This is one of the pressures on the forest for fuel in the developing world and it becomes more necessary because the price of fossil fuels is moving beyond reach of poor people everywhere. This is never mention by your STOP BIOFUEL campaigners.
The environmental cost of this cropland creep is now becoming apparent. One groundbreaking new study in Science concluded that when this deforestation effect is taken into account, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline.
This is misguided thinking because corn and soy in the west is not grown and need not be grown on recently forested land. So it is a constructed argument to campaign against biofuel by those who's purpose is to confuse. As relates to the tropics, the above account makes it clear that it is “slash-and-burn squatters” that are doing the damage first and these are not known to be producers of biofuel.
Sugarcane ethanol is much cleaner, and biofuels created from waste products that don't gobble up land have real potential, but even cellulosic ethanol increases overall emissions when its plant source is grown on good cropland. "People don't want to believe renewable fuels could be bad," says the lead author, Tim Searchinger, a Princeton scholar and former Environmental Defense attorney. "But when you realize we're tearing down rain forests that store loads of carbon to grow crops that store much less carbon, it becomes obvious."
The quote should read "People don't want to believe [that some] renewable fuels could be bad," – it is likely that the author has misquoted for affect.
It is not “obvious” at all that a biofuel industry that produces good bifuel would have any connection to the “tearing down” of any forest and indeed as the developed nations get meaningful action happening on energy from organic waste and algae, then the pressure on price increases for fossil energy will abate and the deforestation and food price escalation will abate. In contrast, the STOP BIOFUEL campaign has no solutions and the result will be to play into the greed of big energy and the petrochemical agribusiness who greatly profit from these high prices and the associated misery.
The growing backlash against biofuels is a product of the law of unintended consequences.
Truth is that the backlash is the product of a concerted campaign that is probably, in the deep background, encouraged by big fossil energy.
It may seem obvious now that when biofuels increase demand for crops, prices will rise and farms will expand into nature.
High prices are to blame on big fossil energy and the petrochemical based agriculture who go for profits and who are unable also to avoid the price pressure on their products because of the passing over the threshold of peak (fossil) oil. There is no causative roll for biofuel in the current trends but big (fossil) oil is happy to have a scapegoat if the public is dumb enough to buy the story.
But biofuel technology began on a small scale, and grain surpluses were common. Any ripples were inconsequential.
Comparative to global energy demand biofuel is a drop in the bucket and even if it expands rapidly the portion of biofuels from current sources will be very small. But the large portion of demand can be supplied by the new generation of biofuel from wastes and from Algae.
When the scale becomes global, the outcome is entirely different, which is causing cheerleaders for biofuels to recalibrate. "We're all looking at the numbers in an entirely new way," says the Natural Resources Defense Council's Nathanael Greene, whose optimistic "Growing Energy" report in 2004 helped galvanize support for biofuels among green groups.
These proponents will get back on track when they understand that your campaign is purposefully “blind” to the truth about the potential of biofuel. Like any alternative energy solution these are start up birthing pains and the baby will be beautiful.
Several of the most widely cited experts on the environmental benefits of biofuels are warning about the environmental costs now that they've recognized the deforestation effect. "The situation is a lot more challenging than a lot of us thought," says University of California, Berkeley, professor Alexander Farrell, whose 2006 Science article calculating the emissions reductions of various ethanols used to be considered the definitive analysis. The experts haven't given up on biofuels; they're calling for better biofuels that won't trigger massive carbon releases by displacing wildland. Robert Watson, the top scientist at the U.K.'s Department for the Environment, recently warned that mandating more biofuel usage--as the European Union is proposing--would be "insane" if it increases greenhouse gases. But the forces that biofuels have unleashed--political, economic, social--may now be too powerful to constrain.
The operative word is “if” and the argument is again one that is stirring false fear and not even suggesting of the known and proven ways forward for a beneficial biofuel development. Of course the situation is challenging. It is complex and it not simplistic as the message that has been delivered to the public and the ill considered campaign of the STOP BIOFUEL leaders.
America the Bio-Foolish
We will see who laughs last – those casting derision or the solution finders.
The best place to see this is America's biofuel mecca: Iowa. Last year fewer than 2% of U.S. gas stations offered ethanol, and the country produced 7 billion gal. (26.5 billion L) of biofuel, which cost taxpayers at least $8 billion in subsidies. But on Nov. 6, at a biodiesel plant in Newton, Iowa, Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled an eye-popping plan that would require all stations to offer ethanol by 2017 while mandating 60 billion gal. (227 billion L) by 2030. "This is the fuel for a much brighter future!" she declared. Barack Obama immediately criticized her--not for proposing such an expansive plan but for failing to support ethanol before she started trolling for votes in Iowa's caucuses.
These farmers are bringing formerly idle land back into production and they will be as capable of growing good biofuel – so, it is a good start even if the corn is not the right crop. Farmers will not want to depend on subsidies in the long run so they will be open to better and more productive energy crops and also to production of biofuel from agriculture wastes and from algae.
If biofuels are the new dotcoms, Iowa is Silicon Valley, with 53,000 jobs and $1.8 billion in income dependent on the industry. The state has so many ethanol distilleries under construction that it's poised to become a net importer of corn. That's why biofuel-pandering has become virtually mandatory for presidential contenders. John McCain was the rare candidate who vehemently opposed ethanol as an outrageous agribusiness boondoggle, which is why he skipped Iowa in 2000. But McCain learned his lesson in time for this year's caucuses. By 2006 he was calling ethanol a "vital alternative energy source."
Members of Congress love biofuels too, not only because so many dream about future Iowa caucuses but also because so few want to offend the farm lobby, the most powerful force behind biofuels on Capitol Hill. Ethanol isn't about just Iowa or even the Midwest anymore. Plants are under construction in New York, Georgia, Oregon and Texas, and the ethanol boom's effect on prices has helped lift farm incomes to record levels nationwide.
The real lifting of prices is due to the the fossil oil price escalation and it is a response that is natural and in time much better results will be emerging. Furthermore, many who are positive about biofuel are very much against the corn for ethanol subsidy program. To be against BAD biofuel is very different (and less attention grabbing) than to be standing against all biofuel as is the simplistic position of the STOP BIOFUEL campaign.
Someone is paying to support these environmentally questionable industries: you. In December, President Bush signed a bipartisan energy bill that will dramatically increase support to the industry while mandating 36 billion gal. (136 billion L) of biofuel by 2022. This will provide a huge boost to grain markets.
Why is so much money still being poured into such a misguided enterprise? Like the scientists and environmentalists, many politicians genuinely believe biofuels can help decrease global warming. It makes intuitive sense: cars emit carbon no matter what fuel they burn, but the process of growing plants for fuel sucks some of that carbon out of the atmosphere. For years, the big question was whether those reductions from carbon sequestration outweighed the "life cycle" of carbon emissions from farming, converting the crops to fuel and transporting the fuel to market. Researchers eventually concluded that yes, biofuels were greener than gasoline. The improvements were only about 20% for corn ethanol because tractors, petroleum-based fertilizers and distilleries emitted lots of carbon. But the gains approached 90% for more efficient fuels, and advocates were confident that technology would progressively increase benefits. There was just one flaw in the calculation: the studies all credited fuel crops for sequestering carbon, but no one checked whether the crops would ultimately replace vegetation and soils that sucked up even more carbon.
No American crops have replaced forest. So the rest of argument below establishes a false linkage to the American situation. Again an attempt for simplistic thinking – dumbing it down for the campaigners not be confused by the truth.
It was as if the science world assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots.
Insulting the intelligence of the "other" is a certain indicator of an extremist and prejudiced campaign!
The deforestation of Indonesia has shown that's not the case. It turns out that the carbon lost when wilderness is razed overwhelms the gains from cleaner-burning fuels.
The argument is baseless because these forests are not being cleared for energy crops. They are cleared for FEED and FOOD crops.
A study by University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman concluded that it will take more than 400 years of biodiesel use to "pay back" the carbon emitted by directly clearing peat lands to grow palm oil; clearing grasslands to grow corn for ethanol has a payback period of 93 years.
The calculation simply is not applicable to the reality that wetlands are not generally used for palm and corn for ethanol does not involve "clearing" of grasslands. These consequences are therefore fictitious but are used as more emotional ammunition to gun down the enemy, biofuel.
The result is that biofuels increase demand for crops, which boosts prices, which drives agricultural expansion, which eats forests. Searchinger's study concluded that overall, corn ethanol has a payback period of about 167 years because of the deforestation it triggers.
USA lands brought back into production of corn do not deprive anyone of food or feed nor do they “trigger” deforestation. And food prices are not driven by biofuel but by fossil fuel prices and these so called experts must be aware of the fossil oil price escalation if they live in the real world.
Not every kernel of corn diverted to fuel will be replaced. Diversions raise food prices, so the poor will eat less.
Emotional hype. Propaganda for the believers in the STOP BIOFUEL campaign.
That's the reason a U.N. food expert recently called agrofuels a "crime against humanity." Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that biofuels pit the 800 million people with cars against the 800 million people with hunger problems. Four years ago, two University of Minnesota researchers predicted the ranks of the hungry would drop to 625 million by 2025; last year, after adjusting for the inflationary effects of biofuels, they increased their prediction to 1.2 billion.
Brown call for the subsidy of the corn for ethanol to end and that is because it is an example of a bad biofuel crop. We in the forefront of the biofuel sector support this campaign to end the corn for ethanol programs. The extrapolations are therefore the good reason to avoid developing bad biofuel choices.
Industry advocates say that as farms increase crop yields, as has happened throughout history, they won't need as much land. They'll use less energy, and they'll use farm waste to generate electricity. To which Searchinger says: Wonderful! But growing fuel is still an inefficient use of good cropland. Strange as it sounds, we're better off growing food and drilling for oil. Sure, we should conserve fuel and buy efficient cars, but we should keep filling them with gas if the alternatives are dirtier.
So, the dirty truth is out – your campaign to STOP BIOFUEL is backed by the fossil oil industry!
The lesson behind the math is that on a warming planet, land is an incredibly precious commodity, and every acre used to generate fuel is an acre that can't be used to generate the food needed to feed us or the carbon storage needed to save us. Searchinger acknowledges that biofuels can be a godsend if they don't use arable land. Possible feedstocks include municipal trash, agricultural waste, algae and even carbon dioxide, although none of the technologies are yet economical on a large scale. Tilman even holds out hope for fuel crops--he's been experimenting with Midwestern prairie grasses--as long as they're grown on "degraded lands" that can no longer support food crops or cattle.
Land is precious and a well developed biofuel future will not need to use any agricultural land to produce the biofuels that can replace all fossil fuel use.
Changing the Incentives
That's certainly not what's going on in Brazil. There's a frontier feel to the southern Amazon right now. Gunmen go by names like Lizard and Messiah, and Carter tells harrowing stories about decapitations and castrations and hostages. Brazil has remarkably strict environmental laws--in the Amazon, landholders are permitted to deforest only 20% of their property--but there's not much law enforcement. I left Kotok to see Blairo Maggi, who is not only the soybean king of the world, with nearly half a million acres (200,000 hectares) in the province of Mato Grosso, but also the region's governor. "It's like your Wild West right now," Maggi says. "There's no money for enforcement, so people do what they want."
Maggi has been a leading pioneer on the Brazilian frontier, and it irks him that critics in the U.S.--which cleared its forests and settled its frontier 125 years ago but still provides generous subsidies to its farmers--attack him for doing the same thing except without subsidies and with severe restrictions on deforestation. Imagine Iowa farmers agreeing to keep 80%--or even 20%--of their land in native prairie grass. "You make us sound like bandits," Maggi tells me. "But we want to achieve what you achieved in America. We have the same dreams for our families. Are you afraid of the competition?"
Maggi got in trouble recently for saying he'd rather feed a child than save a tree, but he's come to recognize the importance of the forest. "Now I want to feed a child and save a tree," he says with a grin. But can he do all that and grow fuel for the world as well? "Ah, now you've hit the nail on the head." Maggi says the biofuel boom is making him richer, but it's also making it harder to feed children and save trees. "There are many mouths to feed, and nobody's invented a chip to create protein without growing crops," says his pal Homero Pereira, a congressman who is also the head of Mato Grosso's farm bureau. "If you don't want us to tear down the forest, you better pay us to leave it up!"
These dynamics existed before biofuel and would continue to be a problem. But the STOP BIOFUEL campaign is no solution and will detract from the development of beneficial biofuel solutions that have the greatest potential to replace the supply of fossil oil.
Everyone I interviewed in Brazil agreed: the market drives behavior, so without incentives to prevent deforestation, the Amazon is doomed. It's unfair to ask developing countries not to develop natural areas without compensation. Anyway, laws aren't enough. Carter tried confronting ranchers who didn't obey deforestation laws and nearly got killed; now his nonprofit is developing certification programs to reward eco-sensitive ranchers. "People see the forest as junk," he says. "If you want to save it, you better open your pocketbook. Plus, you might not get shot." This is a sad situation but the cause is not biofuel. The trouble is that even if there were enough financial incentives to keep the Amazon intact, high commodity prices would encourage deforestation elsewhere.
True, but this is due to fossil petrochemical price escalations that have set in and will move ever higher because of peak (fossil) oil.
And government mandates to increase biofuel production are going to boost commodity prices, which will only attract more investment.
Not true, because the Bazilian biofuel programs are a good example of the right choices in crops and policy, which focuses on sugar cane.
Until someone invents that protein chip, it's going to mean the worst of everything: higher food prices, more deforestation and more emissions.
The author would do himself some service and would be more informative if he knew about the proven capacity of micro-algae to produce both nutrients (protein) and oil in abundance and on a small, non agricultural land footprint.
Advocates are always careful to point out that biofuels are only part of the solution to global warming, that the world also needs more energy-efficient lightbulbs and homes and factories and lifestyles. And the world does need all those things. But the world is still going to be fighting an uphill battle until it realizes that right now, biofuels aren't part of the solution at all. They're part of the problem.
The author will eat those words. Again a simplistic position for all the blind, extremist and misguided campaigners to get out and protest to STOP BIOFUEL!
• Find this article at: • http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1725975,00.html
Comments are welcome here:
NY Times defense of biofuels (esp. Brazilian sugarcane)
Posted by: "Brian Tokar" firstname.lastname@example.org briantinvt Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:50 am (PDT) Op-Ed Columnist Bring on the Right Biofuels By ROGER COHEN Published: April 24, 2008
Fads come fast and furious in our viral age, and the reactions to them can be equally ferocious. That’s what we’re seeing right now with biofuels, which everyone loved until everyone decided they were the worst thing since the Black Death.
Skip to next paragraph
Roger Cohen Go to Columnist Page » Blog: Passages
Where fuel distilled from plant matter was once hailed as an answer to everything from global warming to the eo-strategic power shift favoring repressive one-pipeline oil states, its now a “scam” and “part of the problem,” according to Time magazine. Ethanol has turned awful.
The supposed crimes of biofuels are manifold. They’re behind soaring global commodity prices, the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, increased rather than diminished greenhouse gases, food riots in Haiti, Indonesian deforestation and, no doubt, your mother-in-law’s toothache.
Most of this, to borrow a farm image, is hogwash and bilge.
I’ll grant that the fashion for biofuels led to excess, and that some farm-to-fuel- plant conversion, particularly in subsidized U.S. and European markets, makes no economic or environmental sense. But biofuels remain very much part of the solution. It just depends which biofuels.
Before I get to that, some myths need dispelling. If Asian rice prices are soaring, along with the global prices of wheat and maize, it’s not principally because John Doe in Iowa or Jean Dupont in Picardy has decided to turn yummy corn and beet into un-yummy ethanol feedstock.
Much larger trends are at work. They dwarf the still tiny biofuel industry (roughly a $40 billion annual business, or the equivalent of Exxon Mobil’s $40.6 billion profits in 2007). I refer to the rise of more than one-third of humanity in China and India, the disintegrating dollar and soaring oil prices.
Hundreds of millions of people have moved from poverty into the global economy over the past decade in Asia. They’re eating twice a day, instead of once, and propelling rapid urbanization. Their demand for food staples and once unthinkable luxuries like meat is pushing up prices.
At the same time, the rising price of commodities over the past year has largely tracked the declining parity of the beleaguered dollar. Rice prices have shot up in dollar terms, far less against the euro. Countries like China are offloading depreciating dollar reserves to hoard stores of value like commodities.
Food price increases are also tied to oil being nearly $120 a barrel. Fossil fuels are an important input in everything from fertilizer to diesel for tractors.
Another myth that needs nuking is that the Amazon rain forest is being destroyed to make way for Brazilian sugar-cane ethanol. Almost all viable cane-growing areas lie hundreds of miles from the rain forest. Brazil has enough savannah to multiply its 3.5 million hectares of cane-for-ethanol production by ten without going near the Amazon ecosystem.
Brazilian rain forest is burning, as it long has, for a complex mix of economic reasons. Brazil’s successful ethanol industry — 80 percent of new cars run on ethanol or gasoline and all gasoline comprises 25 percent biofuel — is not one of them.
The danger in all this anti-biofuel hysteria is that we’ll throw out the baby with the bath water.
Those hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians now eating more will be driving cars within the next quarter-century. What that will do to oil prices is anybody’s guess, but what’s clear is that ethanol presents the only technically and economically viable alternative for large-scale substitution of petroleum fuels for transport in the next 15 to 20 years. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a necessary bridge to the next technological breakthrough.
The question is: which ethanol?
Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidiesand trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have dubious environmental credentials.
What sense does it make to have a surplus of environmentally friendly Brazilian sugar-based ethanol with a yield eight times higher than U.S. corn ethanol and zero impact on food prices being kept from an American market by a tariff of 54 cents on a gallon while Iowan corn ethanol gets a subsidy?
“It would make a lot more sense to drop the tariff, drop the subsidy, and allow Brazilian ethanol into the United States,” said Philippe Reichstul, the chief executive of a biofuel company in São Paulo.“Pressure on U.S. land will be slashed.”
The United States and Europe should maintain their biofuel targets. Pressure to scrap a European plan for renewable fuels to supply a tenth of all vehicle fuel by 2020 must be resisted while rethinking the policies that favor the wrong biofuels.
The real scam lies in developed world protectionism and skewed subsidies, not the biofuel idea.