Another Take on Biofuels

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chambero

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Long, but from a fairly liberal source.  Pretty accurate from what I know.

Thursday, Mar. 27, 2008
(from last week's time magazine.  A very, very, disturbing and frightening article on the effect of biofuels.  S)

The Clean Energy Scam
By Michael Grunwald
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. 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."

The Amazon was the chic eco-cause of the 1990s, revered as an incomparable storehouse of biodiversity. 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. 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."

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.

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. 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.

Meanwhile, by diverting grain and oilseed crops from dinner plates to fuel tanks, biofuels are jacking up world food prices and endangering the hungry. 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. 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.

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.

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. But most of the damage created by biofuels will be less direct and less obvious. 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."

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. 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. The biofuels boom, in short, is one that could haunt the planet for generations--and it's only getting started.

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.

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."

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.

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."

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. 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 growing backlash against biofuels is a product of the law of unintended consequences. It may seem obvious now that when biofuels increase demand for crops, prices will rise and farms will expand into nature. But biofuel technology began on a small scale, and grain surpluses were common. Any ripples were inconsequential. 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.

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.

America the Bio-Foolish
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.

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.

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. It was as if the science world assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots. 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. 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 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.

Not every kernel of corn diverted to fuel will be replaced. Diversions raise food prices, so the poor will eat less. 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.

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.

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.

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!"

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."

The trouble is that even if there were enough financial incentives to keep the Amazon intact, high commodity prices would encourage deforestation elsewhere. And government mandates to increase biofuel production are going to boost commodity prices, which will only attract more investment. Until someone invents that protein chip, it's going to mean the worst of everything: higher food prices, more deforestation and more emissions.

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.

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knabe

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i planted 250 redwood trees.  hopefully i will be able to harvest some of them with thinning and not have to file a permit for cutting down a heritage tree.

i also planted 50 oak trees, about 50 fruit trees, citrus, apple pear apricot plum crab apple.  food, shade and resources are going to be scarce.  it's coming folks.
 

Dusty

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I wonder what the Liberal Media would have had to say 100 years ago when we settled the midwest and started planting corn?  I get so sick of people saying that ethanol is going to lead to the end of the world.  Ethanol is actually going to be a boon to a lot of these poor third world countries that had no market for crops before.  It amazes me that we can sit here and degrade another country for making agricultural progress.  Who are we to say what lands can be cultivated and which lands cannot.  Believe it or not at one point there was no agriculture on this planet.  The human race takes itself way too seriously in thinking that we can severely alter this planet.  Earth has been around awhile and is actually pretty resilient.  I applaud Brazil for making progress and doing their part to be productive and help feed and fuel the world.
 

chambero

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Forest soils support trees long-term, not grass or crops.  Agriculture on those soils is not sustainable.  That's the problem.  You are right to an extent, its easy for us to sit back and throw darts at them because we have enough money to not have to worry about feeding our kids.  Problem is, too much of the world really does need food - not fuel. 

We grow our cattle and crops on prairies - where they are supposed to be.
 

knabe

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the reason forest soils support trees and not crops is because they are so thin, probably around 1 foot or less of actual soil, even though soil is usually classified as organic material, mineral and clay etc.  forest soil is so high in organic matter, that it ony takes a few years to deplete.  think of new orleans, it's on a peat bog and has sunk 24-36 feet since the french settled it, compounded by the fact that water has been pumped into lake ponchetrane (sp?).  the organic material is decomposing fast, yet we want to build there again.  one has to only look at the soil plume off Madagascar to see this is a problem, deforestation.  we keep trying to export our lifestyle and consumption and growth to every nation on earth.  once again, we rationalize this to pay for entitlements which can only be financed at current expectations by growth, rather than allocation of one's own funds.  unlink this, and the world will change.

on the way to work today, 75 miles each way in a honda hybrid civic driving in the commuter lane so i can pass everyone, i counted 16 fullsize suv type vehicles counting full size pickups that were not tradesman, 6 full size sedans, usually rear wheel drive 4 doors, 2 highperformance cars, ie two seaters like porche 911, corvette etc (400 hp types and not two seater bmw types).  about 90% of the other vehicles were foreign made honda's, toyota's, hyundai's, volkswagon, bmw.  this is a pretty dramitic change.  i saw ZERO pre 1975 cars that california is trying to impose pollution restrictions on.  i can't remember the last time i saw one of those cars unless it was like a 66 mustang or corvair (quirky silicon valley types).  i saw one dodge hemi car.  i saw one super compact from toyota maybe, i couldn't tell what it was.
 
this pattern is pretty consistent.  it appears the bay area has converted almost completely away from domestic manufacturers.  i would purchase one if they weren't so ugly and front wheel drive.  my 1971 chevelle with a 307 engine AT, got about 17 city 21 freeway.  now corvettes get that.  i would probably purchase a hemi type vehicle like the challenger if it didn't have fake hood scoops, soooooooooooo american or the other one, but it's a four door.

the bay area has changed it's vehicles pretty dramatically and therefore, saves lots of gas compared to what wee did do.  i wonder what the next round will look like when we put limiters on miles vehicles can travel a day.  if they madated battery vehicles, i guess that would pretty much do it to under 100.


the world needs water.  did anyone see the masai running in the marathon in full clothing and sandals running for water?  yet we keep planting houses and subsidizing behaviors worldwide that encourages large family sizes.  the petri dish will fill.

now that overt colonialism is pretty much over, australia finally wants to get rid of the queen, what lessons can america learn from societies that have had static population?  i guess we already have it, yet we had i million LEGAL immigrants last year to help offset the social security medicare pyriamid scheme.

 

Dusty

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I think with the advancements we have had agronomically with regards to growing crops I think it is possible to grow crops on these soils which used to grow timber.  I agree soil which was formed under timber is not as desireable as soil formed under prairie.  But, it can be cropped.  I have seen it done.  I've been on steep hilly farms with soil so bad (i'm talking red, heavy clays) that for the life of me I couldn't figure out why we didn't just give it to the Indians.  But, those farms raised a crop.  175bu corn and 55bu beans.  Better than that if they had hog manure put on them.  The bottom line is our seed companies are constantly making strides and agronomically we are getting better and better at raising corn and soybeans on agronomically challenging land.
 

shorthorns r us

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Time Magazine Called Out for "inaccurate" reporting Over their Cover Story on Corn and Ethanol.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Responding to widespread inaccuracies in this week's Time magazine cover story, the 25x'25 National Steering Committee has sent a letter to the editors of Time expressing disappointment with the questionable characterization of biofuels and their role in the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in "The Clean Energy Scam," by Michael Grunwald. The letter was authored by steering committee member and former Congressman Thomas W. Ewing, who is also the Immediate Past Chairman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee. A set of talking points has also been developed that addresses point-for-point the misconceptions and inaccuracies found in the Time article.

At the top of the talking points, the 25X25 group says "25x'25 rejects the premise set forth in "A Clean Energy Scam," a story featured on the cover of Time magazine (dated April 7, 2008) and written by Michael Grunwald that perpetuates negative misconceptions about the role of biofuel production in greenhouse gas emissions. The story also fails to take into account other credible points of view."

We have the complete set of talking points linked below, which looks at ten major points trotted out by the Time article, with each of those points then taken on by the 25X25 organization.

Talking Points: Responding to the Time Cover Story,
"The Clean Energy Scam," by Michael Grunwald.
25x'25 rejects the premise set forth in "A Clean Energy Scam," a story featured on the cover of Time magazine (dated April 7, 2008) and written by Michael Grunwald that perpetuates negative misconceptions about the role of biofuel production in greenhouse gas emissions. The story also fails to take into account other credible points of view.
Time: "This land rush [on the Amazon rainforest] 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."
Fact: The implication that biofuel production is responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest ignores the reality that ever increasing worldwide demand for food and fiber is the primary cause of land-use change.
Time: "'Renewable fuels' has become one of those motherhood-and-apple-pie catchphrases, as unobjectionable as the troops or the middle class."
Fact: Renewable Fuels have been the subject of vigorous public and private policy debates for many years, and to suggest otherwise is only a false device used by the author to suggest his story is original.
Time: "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."
Fact: Mr. Grunwald acknowledges but cites as "flawed" Department of Energy studies that show burning corn ethanol as fuel results in a 19-percent reduction in harmful emissions when compared with gasoline, and that cellulosic ethanol, such as that made from switchgrass, has the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86 percent. However, Mr. Grunwald fails to acknowledge that corn ethanol is fully biodegradable, unlike some fuel additives, such as MTBE. And he fails to take into account other studies, including a recent, five-year University of Nebraska project that shows switchgrass grown for biofuel production produced 540 percent more energy than that needed to grow, harvest and process it into cellulosic ethanol. The study also shows switchgrass also offers significant environmental benefits, including many conservation uses - the deep fibrous roots of the plant help to keep soil intact and virtually stop runoff, while putting organic material back into the ground, improving soil, and requiring no pesticides or fertilizers. Meanwhile, oil companies are extracting oil from the Alberta tar sands of Canada, which environmentalists say produces four times the amount of emissions produced from conventionally extracting oil.
Time: "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. It was as if the science world assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots."
Fact: Conservation tillage and other agriculture and forestry residue management techniques used to produce biofuel feedstocks can provide a constant buildup of soil organic carbon. Ohio State University researchers have concluded that the total potential of carbon sequestration in U.S. soils, counting croplands, grazing lands and woodlands, is nearly 600 million metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of more than 2,200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions - about 33 percent of total U.S. emissions.
Time: "Biofuels are jacking up world food prices and endangering the hungry."
Fact: While the increasing demand for corn and soybeans for fuel are a factor in higher food costs, the head of the UN Food Program recently noted that higher energy costs, erratic weather, increased demand and low stocks are big factors contributing to the high cost of food around the globe.
Time: "Skyrocketing flour prices have destabilized Pakistan."
The article ignores religious strife, political turmoil, the assassination of a powerful political party leader and poor government wheat export decisions as contributors to the tensions in Pakistan.
Time: "U.S. farmers are selling one-fifth of their corn to ethanol production, so U.S. soybean producers are switching to corn."
Fact: USDA recently announced its projects of planting intentions for the upcoming crop year, and corn acreage in the United States is expected to go down 8 percent from 2007 levels, while soybean acreage is expected to increase by 18 percent.
Time: "Soaring corn prices have sparked tortilla riots in Mexico."
Fact: Tortillas are made from white corn, not the yellow corn varieties of animal feed grain used to produce ethanol. Furthermore, Mexican government deregulation resulted in a two-company domination of the tortilla market, resulting in higher prices.
Time: "A U.N. food expert recently called agrofuels a 'crime against humanity.'"
Fact: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization immediately rejected the criticism of biofuel production leveled by Jean Ziegler, a UN food expert who also called for a moratorium on all biofuel production. The UN FAO issued the following statement the day after Ziegler's remarks: "We regret the report of the Special Rapporteur has taken a very complex issue, with many positive dimensions as well as negative ones, and characterized it as a 'crime against humanity'. FAO strongly feels that food security and
environmental considerations must be fully addressed before making investments or policy decisions, and we are actively working to ensure this happens. However, a moratorium that ignores the potential of biofuels to support rural development and assist the economies of developing countries would not, in our view, be a constructive approach to this topic."
Time: "Using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon."
Fact: The implication that biofuel production is responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rain forest and other sensitive lands ignores the reality that ever increasing worldwide demand for food and fiber is the primary cause of land use change in this and other regions. Simply eliminating biofuels will not stop land use changes from occurring, and in countries like Haiti that have already lost their forests, biofuels could help reestablish forests and offer more affordable and sustainable energy options. Similarly, information in the story about a recent study, which claims land-use changes brought about by increased biofuel production are producing more greenhouse gas emissions (Searchinger et al.), only tells half the story. What is missing is that Searchinger’s methodologies have been widely questioned by respected biofuel life-cycle analysis researchers such as Michael Wang, with the Center for Transportation Research at the Argonne National Laboratory, who counter that Searchinger et al. used outdated, if not incorrect, data to reach their conclusions.
25x'25 embraces sustainability as a key principle in reaching a new, renewable energy future. We have adopted the 25x'25 Sustainability Principles (available online at www.25x25.org), which underscore the concept of sustainability as the ideal of stewardship.
The principles cover air quality, biodiversity, biotechnology, efficiency and conservation. The new guiding environmental principles also address greenhouse gas emissions, invasive species, private and public lands, soil erosion and quality, water quality and quantity, and wildlife. The principles also set economic and social guidelines for access to infrastructure, incentives and market development, access and distribution.
 

knabe

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i was waiting for that response.  i saw a pretty extensive debate about that story.  the biofuels people getting a big fat subsidy, who would of thought, got all huffy.

sorghum and safflower are two great crops for marginal soils.

when they can fix wheat to grow in higher saltier environments, which they kind of already have i think, things will look up again.  it's pretty amazing how doomsday has never come.

the concept of sustainability as the ideal of stewardship.

i pretty much have a problem with this comment.  sounds like facism, and not in the germany italy way of WWII, but the group think way of steering subsidies to one's way.
 

shorthorns r us

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Time Magazine Gets Lost in the Amazon Looking for Blame For Ethanol.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We got an interesting response on the Time Magazine story on Corn and Ethanol- Time blasting the alternative fuel as the problem instead of the solution in a feature article this week. The response is from OSU Ag Policy Professor Michael Dicks who believes that Time has been led down the garden path in their assumptions that you can blame deforestation in the Amazon River Basin on corn production grown for ethanol.

Dr. Dicks writes "The Time magizine article makes the same mistake that Dennis Avery and the Heritage Institute made during the 1990s. There is no relationship between what the U.S. does or does not do and what Brazil does with respect to conversion of the Amazon. The data clearly show that the Brasil has been expanding cropland area for the last 50 years and it does not matter what the price is, whether the U.S. uses land retirement programs (As Avery insists is the cause), or feed corn gets shifted into ethanol production. Brazil needs foreign exchange earnings and the cheap land (that is the cash cost of it) allows them to produce below U.S. costs and compete in world markets.

"What I find amazing is that no-one talks about how the absence of sufficient government stocks or idled acres has contributed to the huge run-up of prices. In 1995 the mantra was "let the markets work". Seven years latter Oklahoma lost roughly 3 million acres of wheat that essentially went back to forage production. And, it did this through whole farm production rather than by all farms setting aside 20 percent of their land. Over those same seven years stocks dwindled until we were maintaining about 60 days worth of carry over. So the market essentially trimmed agriculture of its excess capacity. And as in the past, just as the market is becoming successful in aligning supply and demand, weather around the globe fails, supplies fall precipitously and yes demand increased slightly so that supplies got extremely tight and prices went through the roof as industries bid for land to plant their needed crops."

"Let the market work - I think there are a lot of people now who wonder about that concept when food is involved."

 

knabe

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SRU said:
"What I find amazing is that no-one talks about how the absence of sufficient government stocks or idled acres has contributed to the huge run-up of prices. In 1995 the mantra was "let the markets work". Seven years latter Oklahoma lost roughly 3 million acres of wheat that essentially went back to forage production. And, it did this through whole farm production rather than by all farms setting aside 20 percent of their land. Over those same seven years stocks dwindled until we were maintaining about 60 days worth of carry over. So the market essentially trimmed agriculture of its excess capacity. And as in the past, just as the market is becoming successful in aligning supply and demand, weather around the globe fails, supplies fall precipitously and yes demand increased slightly so that supplies got extremely tight and prices went through the roof as industries bid for land to plant their needed crops."

"Let the market work - I think there are a lot of people now who wonder about that concept when food is involved."

great info SRU.  just in time (not the poster) inventories has beached itself into agriculture.  the market will rereward sufficient stocks to weather crisis.  this is a natural market response, similar to saving money for a rainy day and rewarding those on a rainy day.  most people against markets seem to not like ebb and flow and cycles, and the money made on those changes, which is a different market response than simple profit in a window small enough not to reflect swings.  i call this snapshot thinking.
 
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