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Bush, Global Warming and the Fallacy of Ethanol

by Londonbear Sun May 13th, 2007 at 09:48:49 PM EST

The more reports come out, the more it is becoming apparent that the use of biofuels in the form of ethnanol (or indeed most forms of bio-diesel) is a false road to prevent global warming. Bush's push for it must therefore be seen as the policy of Mr Micawber, the belief that "something will turn up" to avoid the need for radical changes. Indications are that again he is gearing up to emasculate the outcome of the upcoming G8 discussions on global warming and lay landmines for a future administration.

What I want to bring together are three news items that appear at first to be separate but when taken together must inform future energy policy. That, I would suggest, is not a case of substitution, as in ethanol for gasoline but avoiding usage as in investing in public transport and radically changing infrastructure and work patterns to avoid the current levels of travel for work.

The first report comes from the Co-Operative Insurance Society. This is part of the Co-Operative movement in the UK. Starting as a means of getting low cost good quality food for the working classes, their remit now extends to sustainable and ethical farming and into other ethic fields. The Bank for example has strict lending and investment policies. The source should therefore not be regarded as coming from the usually suspicious oil industry lobby.

Unfortunately the full report is not available on line so I have to refer to the BBC coverage of it. It points to problems we are already seeing in Mexico. Growing crops for conversion to fuel is at the expense of growing food for the poor.

The Co-op report claims there is a future for biofuels, but current targets for growing so much fuel could have unintended consequences, BBC correspondent Damian Kahya says.

Professor Dieter Helm, a senior advisor to the British government, told the BBC: "The sort of targets being set for biofuels will have quite radical effects on agriculture and therefore will have very substantial consequences for food prices and agriculture more generally."

The report says that  around nine per cent of the world's agricultural land may be needed to replace just 10% of the world's transport fuels.

This means the production of biofuels could lead to a decrease in land available for food production in countries where famine already exists.

Professor Helm also points to another problem with using biofuels:

People are felling rainforests to plant crops to grow energy fuels, biofuels," Professor Helm said.

"Think of the energy involved in felling those rainforests. Think about the damage to the climate being done by the loss of those trees. Think about the ploughing and the cultivation of fields.

Here we should move on to the front page of Monday's Independent. The main, indeed the only story, is how deforestation play by far the greatest role in global warming.

The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.

The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.

Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show  deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up only 3 per cent of the total.

"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change," said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.

Scientists say  one days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic emissions can be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.

Here at least there is suggested an immediate, practical and effective proposal to reduce the rise in global warming. Paying those countries with   the forests to preserve them in a massive form of "carbon offsetting". Unfortunately it seems such moves are going to be further delayed by Bush with an attempt to gut the statement after the coming G8 meeting.

The (US) administration has made no official comment concerning the G8 draft. But the US's proposed revisions, obtained by BBC News, mark a fundamentally different stance.

A clause saying "climate change is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment and severely weaken (the) global economy... resolute action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions" is struck out.

So are a statement that "we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)", and a commitment to send a "clear message" on international efforts to combat global warming at the next round of UN climate talks in December.

US negotiators also want to remove from the draft firm targets for improving energy efficiency in buildings and transport, and a call for the establishment of a global carbon market.


"I think the real objective (of the US negotiators) is not just to keep the lid on and have nothing happen while President Bush is in office, but they are trying to lay landmines under a post-Kyoto agreement after they leave office," commented Philip Clapp, president of the Washington-based National Environmental Trust, who has seen the US's proposed amendments.

"It lies in the hands of Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Merkel, whether it's all sweetness and light or whether they are prepared to stand up and say 'I'm sorry, but the rest of the world is moving in a different direction from you'," he said.

All the Democratic candidates should make a joint stand against such binding of future administrations' options. It seems that Boy George is going beyond monarchy and wants to issue Papal Bulls.

(cross posted from Daily Kos)

Deforestation in Brazil and Peru is getting terrible.

The Amazon jungle is the lungs of our planet. Yes, this is a good analogy: it supplies oxygen to the athmosphere and the whole planet, just as lungs supply oxygen to hnuman body. Computer models certainly show that is Amazon jungle is gone, CO2 concentrations and temperatures will shoot up, giving us broiling hell on Earth.

It is asif our civilisation decided to commit suicide.

by das monde on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:56:57 AM EST
It is asif our civilisation decided to commit suicide.  

Except that it is not really "as if"--This is precisely what is happening.    

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed May 16th, 2007 at 12:39:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is an astute observation:

[One thing in the daily news] most worth noting right now is the economic blowback set in motion by the US government's attempt to bolster its faltering petroleum-driven economy with ethanol. As corn and other grains get diverted from grocery stores to gas tanks, commodity prices spike, inflation ripples outward through the economic food chain, and the possibility of actual grain shortages looms on the middle-term horizon. More than twenty years ago, William Catton pointed out in his seminal classic Overshoot that the downslope of industrial society would force human beings to compete against their own machines for dwindling resource stocks. His prediction has become today's reality.
by das monde on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 01:03:32 AM EST
shameless self-promoting crosspost

what I've been saying all along about this biofuels thing:  bad math, wishful thinking.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 02:30:16 AM EST
Excellent discussion ...

current targets for growing so much fuel could have unintended consequences

As if there aren't already those consequences, such as on tortilla production and prices in Mexico?

The point is that we are already seeing those consequences and the unbridled/blind promotion of biofuels as, somehow, <u>the</u> solution to liquid fuels will have severe consequences, some already being foreseen and, it seems likely, many that will surprise us.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 11:45:06 AM EST
All I can add is a tired yeah.  A Canadian study I can't relocate indicates that all the land in the US isn't enough to provide an ethenol replacement for it's current consumption of oil.  Nobody seems to give much thought to how much fossil fuel goes into the biochemical features of industrial agriculture.

Brazil's sugarcane makes it the largest exporter of ethanol, but then the laterite soils exposed by the 12 acres of Tropical forests going down every eight seconds or so in the tropical forest band around the planet -- never mind the 137 species a day disappearing -- don't really offer much promise of help either, not to mention the other detriments cited in the diary.  

Brazil's ethanol push could eat away at Amazon: U.N. official voices his concerns ahead of energy visit by Bush

Brazil: Environmental Issues

Rainforest Facts

Neoliberalism may be the primary meme for cultural insanity.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 11:59:24 AM EST
[...] around nine per cent of the world's agricultural land may be needed to replace just 10% of the world's transport fuels.

Oil was nice while we had it, wasn't it?

by Number 6 on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 10:14:11 AM EST

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