It has been my observation that farmers who passionately embrace biofuels also frequently consider anthropogenic global warming a scam. This skepticism on climate change seriously undermines one central tenet (and one of the more plausible ones at that) of biofuel use: namely, lower carbon emissions.
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. Europe has similarly aggressive biofuel mandates and subsidies, and Brazil's filling stations no longer even offer plain gasoline. 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.This rather nasty cover article in TIME has so riled up corn growers they have decided to fight like a Clinton - on a lower level. Quaintly phrasing it "viral" rather than the more accurate "SPAM", corn growers have elected to plunge into the netherworld of inbox-cloggers.
Renewable fuels has become one of those motherhood-and-apple-pie catchphrases, as unobjectionable as the troops or the middle class. 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. 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. [More]
Here's what showed up in my mailbox yesterday:
Please read and pass along: Below is a diverse collection of information to forward to anyone you know who needs some ammunition to fight the increasingly strident and biased attacks on renewable fuels. ... If everyone who receives this email were to pass it along to just four friends and associates, and those who then received it were to do the same, in ten days, this message would reach more than 13 million people. Get tough. Get active. Work together. Thanks for all you do.
Even if the panic level over $6 corn has introduced a sense of desperation, joining the millions of blithering , obscene, and malicious jerks who seriously degrade the capabilities of the Internet with unwanted, unread, and unhealthy propaganda strikes me as a tacky strategy choice. This is close to the kitchen sink, IMHO. The rewards of this approach might be similar as well.
There is a better defense for biofuels.
- Lose the ethanol subsidies, and immunize ethanol against public policy by letting the marketplace choose. As impossible as it is to conceive, there are a few of us who think biofuels could work as a real grownup business. It would at least allow the marketplace to arbiter fairly between all corn users.
- Acknowledge the prevalent farmer position on human effect on the climate and dismiss the problem of carbon emissions as meaningless, thus answering the Amazon-burning accusation. Trying to have it both ways is transparently hypocritical.
- If you must send out mass e-mails, use mailing lists, and allow users to unsubscribe. I'm proud of being a corn grower. I reject the need for chain e-letters to support my profession.
But wait!! There was another surprising e-mail.
My name is ----. I buy grain for... ADM elevators.
We are currently bidding for grain through March 2009.
If you would like to talk about possibly selling us some new crop grain, please give me a call.
I am located in ------ and my number is --------.
Look who is wandering back in the forward market. I don't mean to embarrass the writer, but obviously somebody heard I was a little frustrated trying to figure out whether Cargill was going to be in the soybean business this fall or not.
Well, this is certainly awkward. After all, I have been going steady with Cargill. But it's that old fear of [margin] commitment thing, I guess.
What's a nice guy to do?
And this note from ND:
Here in Central North Dakota, the farmers are beside themselves trying to get the anhydrous knifed in but the soil is still cold and it's very dry.
Calving is going good and even better than average. Don't know what the prices will be this fall but the grain will keep many from feeding their calves after weaning. Looks like we will be eating grass fed beef instead of corn fed.
Can't say the ethanol fuel is the answer. Gas was $3.24 on Thursday at our local pump.
Keep up the good reporting. We enjoy reading your column.
My goodness, I would have thought the NH3 in ND would be flowing like maple syrup right now. Glad about the calving. My friends with cows here had a disastrous year last year.
The sun is shining here now, and I need to step away from the computer....