Monday, April 07, 2008

Biofuels: Lemming Science and Politics

"And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states."
Paul Krugman, Grains Gone Wild, April 7, 2008

Leave it to consensus science and Oregon and Portland progressive politics to put Oregon on the cutting edge of causing starvation around the world.

Paul Krugman gives a beginning answer on what to do now. We need "a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake."

Not a mistake that everyone made, but as Krugman points out all the "remaining" presidential candidates are "terrible on this issue." [It might be instructive to see which of the original presidential candidates (or Oregon state legislators and politicians) had the good judgment to get this right.]

Krugman's column published today in The New York Times describes the growing food shortage:

These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there’s another world crisis under way — and it’s hurting a lot more people.

I’m talking about the food crisis. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending.

There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.

How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck — and bad policy.

What's the worst part of the bad policy?

Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels.

The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a “scam.”

This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly “good” biofuel policies, like Brazil’s use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.

And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.

Krugman doesn't even mention the tragic consequences to the world's poor of water waste in biofuels. They consume 70 to 400 times as much water as an equivalent amount of fossil fuels.

When is the leadership of the Oregon State legislature and the Portland City Council, who are responsible for pushing through these terrible policies, going to face up to the impact of recent legislation requiring biofuel use in Oregon? When are they going to reverse those policies?

And when are the presidential candidates going to be taken to task on their poor judgment in promoting policies causing havoc for the world's poor? When are state and local officials going to have to answer for the results of these devastating policies?

Don't hold your breath.

In the meantime, besides repealing the short-sighted, self-serving biofuel policies implemented, Krugman suggests that we need to stop focusing on our own relatively minor economic problems and give aid to those in life and death situations.

The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the U.N.’s World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.

Given the UN oil for food corruption scandal, an NGO with a clean track record would be a better choice for aid.


OregonGuy said...

Umm, am I wrong, or didn't the state of Oregon give a lot of money to start-up "our" ethanol process with funds from the Oregon lottery?

When the state passed the mandated ethanol law, the line being offered at the time was, that it would take years before the law, mandating ethanol replacement gasoline in Oregon, would be years away.

Well, in Clatsop county we're suffering from low power gas, under the mandates of the law passed in the last session, due to ethanol produced with Lottery funds. And the schedule is in place to further line the pockets of Ted's friends.

The fellers who own the plant have much to thank Governor K and his minions for. They will not go gently into "that good night".

On a totally unrelated note--heh--the Governor announces tomorrow "plans for green transportation policies".

"Governor Ted Kulongoski tomorrow will address the Oregon Environmental Council and outline his vision for integrating climate change and sustainability into Oregon’s transportation plans."

They've found a Green Mine, and they are going to pump it until it runs dry.

Draw your own conclusions.


terrance said...

Thanks for this added information, oregonguy.

It is so astounding that because it has become so lucrative financially and politically, Oregon leaders don't care that we are part of causing millions of people to face severe water shortages and starvation.