“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Arguments against Bio-Fuels

Bio-Foolish Behavior


Environment: In 2005, America used 15% of its corn crop to replace just 2% of its gasoline. Two new studies say use of biofuels will leave the world a warmer and hungrier place.

The law of unintended consequences has reared its ugly head once again, with a study published in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Science.

According to University of Minnesota ecologist and study co-author David Tilman, converting the grasslands of the U.S. to corn for ethanol releases excess CO2 emissions of 134 metric tons per hectare (equal to 2.47 acres).

The reason is that plants, from grasses to trees, store carbon dioxide in their roots, shoots and leaves.

"I know that when I look at a tree that half the dry weight is carbon," says Tilman. "That's going to end up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you cut it down."

"Any biofuel that causes land clearing is likely to increase global warming," says Nature Conservancy ecologist Joseph Fargione, the lead author of a second study also published in Science.

Fargione notes that ethanol demand in the U.S. has caused farmers to plant more corn and less soy. This has driven up soy prices and caused farmers in Brazil to clear more acres of rain forest to plant the increasingly valuable soy.

Tim Searchinger, an agricultural expert at Princeton University and lead author of the first study, says, "There is a huge imbalance between the carbon (released) by plowing up a hectare of forest or grassland from the benefit you get from biofuels."

According to Searchinger, "Corn-based ethanol, instead of producing 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years."

So it's not surprising that 10 prominent scientists have written a letter to President Bush and other government leaders urging them to "shape policies to assure that government incentives for biofuels do not increase global warming."

Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, recently led a team that weighed the benefits of palm oil against the ecological harm from clearing virgin Asian rain forests for new plantations. He concluded that as a fuel, palm oil is more like snake oil, noting: "As a biofuel, it's a failure."

A team from Wetlands, Delft Hydraulics and the Alterra Research Center of Wageningen University produced a four-year study that detailed the environmental harm caused by the use of palm oil as an alternative energy source. The team zeroed in on Indonesia and Malaysia, where 85% of commercial palm oil is grown.

The study found that 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide go up in smoke every year from rain forest fires set to clear new land for biofuel plantations. An additional 600 million tons seep into the air from drained peat swamps. Those 2 billion tons of CO2 constitute 8% of the earth's fossil fuel emissions.

As we have noted, our increased use of corn for ethanol has driven up U.S. food prices across the board.

This process, Tilman notes, is "equivalent to saying we will try to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing food consumption. Unfortunately, a lot of that comes from the world's poorest people. We are converting their food into our fuel."

"We are witnessing the beginnings of one of the great tragedies of history," Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, said in a written statement. "The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before."

To avoid drilling in ANWR, we are increasing emissions of the greenhouse gases previously absorbed by plants and encouraging that process around the world. Meanwhile, a world of hungry people watches us stick ears of corn into our gas tanks.


  1. "I know that when I look at a tree that half the dry weight is carbon," says Tilman. "That's going to end up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you cut it down."

    I don't follow the argument. Where did the carbon in the tree come from in the first place? Why wouldn't the Bio-Fuel process not be Carbon neutral if you keep replanting?

  2. Horse shit; Start to Finish.

  3. The food impact arguments against bio-fuels do not have any merit against cellulosic ethanol.

    Florida is forging ahead with ethanol production from sugar cane waste products, citrus peels and wood chips.

    See the Florida Farm to Fuel Programm

  4. Jeez, Why ya wanna do this to me? Why? Why?

    Searchinger is an "activist" with a Doctor of Jures Degree. Princeton got $15 Million from Exxon(?) (Iowa State got $22 Million from Conoco) a couple of years ago. The Nature Conservancy has two board spots reserved for Exxon/Conoco. It's total horseshit.

    Ethanol/biodiesel scares these folks to death.

    We must be getting better. Last year we replace 5% of our gasoline and only used 12% of our corn. We still paid farmers NOT to plant 36 Million Acres. If they can't get these basic things right, how can I pay attention to any of the rest of it.

    Question: Why didn't anyone care about CO2 when we planted corn to feed to cattle so rich people could eat steak? Why is it only when we produce cheap fuel for poor people to drive to work that we worry? Never Mind.

    Brazil has more arable land lying fallow than we have under cultivation. They could supply soybeans to the whole world and never cut down a single tree. The Deforestation that's occurring (it IS declining, by the way) is CRIMINAL Behavior of those who would get "Free" land, not behavior based on "Need."

    This whole line of argument is insanity. It's playing on the flames of hysteria about global warming, and in this case is being fanned (paid for) by rent-seeking oil companies, and lazy pseudo-academics looking for an easy ride.

    Here's the Real Story.

    Only a Malthusian of the Nth Order could predict the end of the world as a result of Agriculture, but with oil peaking, and soon going into decline, they've gotta come up with something. This puts them and the oil companies, interestingly enough, in the same bed for the time being.

    The oil companies want to keep us away from ethanol/biodiesel as long as they can; and, the Malthusians just want us to starve to death.


  5. THIS is what scares Exxon-Mobil Shitless.

    Sweden aims to get 49% of it's Total Energy from Renewables by 2020.

    It, also, hopes to go "Oil-Free" by 2020.

  6. I think Whit gets a cigar. Compound low may be granny gear. After plowing through the listing about clothing I came on this: from Urban Dictioary--

    1. granny gear

    An extremely low first gear in a four-speed truck transmission. It is used for climbing steep hills, for moving slowly over bad terrain, or for driving slowly.

    But, then I began to think, granny gear was the term used, around here anyway, for awhile, for the two speed high/low gear box on a truck's rear axle, giving a 5 speed tranny 10 effective gears, you being able to go high/low in each gear.

    But, there may have been another term for that too.....

  7. And don't forget, Rufus, Sweden has a pilot program to heat nearby buildings from the recycled body heat of thousands of sweaty, stinking Swedes as they stand idly in train stations.

    Beat that, if you can.!

  8. Not Good if you're an oil company.

  9. All You Need

    Just add a little fertilizer.

  10. Nader running for president
    Consumer advocate announces third-party bid on ‘Meet the Press’

    Nader announces presidential bid
    Feb 24: Ralph Nader announces his third bid for the White House while speaking with NBC’s Tim Russert of “Meet the Press”.
    Meet the Press

    WASHINGTON - Ralph Nader is launching a third-party campaign for president.

    The consumer advocate made the announcement Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." He says most Americans are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties, and that none of the presidential contenders are addressing ways to stem corporate crime and Pentagon waste and promote labor rights.

    Nader also ran as a third-party candidate in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. He is still loathed by many Democrats who call him a spoiler and claim his candidacy in 2000 cost the party the election by siphoning votes away from Al Gore in a razor-thin contest in Florida.

  11. Rufus is hard to beat. I was going to post Biofuel Takes Off, Literally but got beat to it.

  12. Rufus,

    Let me just say it again, thank you.

  13. With oil production peaking, just think how much Exxon/Conoco/Saudi Royal Family will make if they can stop biofuels. Add in some idiot, but well-meaning, environmentalists, some hysterical CO2/Global Warmening-End of the Worlders, and a sprinkling of Neo-Malthusians, and you've got a "spicey" stew, indeed.

    Exxon knew they could hold corn ethanol to a reasonable level; but, they didn't, in their worst nightmares, see This One coming.

  14. Oh, you're welcome, Mat. It's a "labor of love." :)