Friday, February 16, 2007

Global Warming

Ethanol fuel demand has bid up the price of corn. Already the price of tortillas has doubled and sharp rises were felt in the price of animal feed in both Mexico and the United States, according Technology Review.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this year the country is going to use 18 to 20 percent of its total corn crop for the production of ethanol, and by next year that will jump to 25 percent. And that increase, says Marshall Martin, an agriculture economist at Purdue University, "is the main driver behind the price increase for corn."

The jump in corn prices is already affecting the cost of food. The most notable example: in Mexico, which gets much of its corn from the United States, the price of corn tortillas has doubled in the past year, according to press reports, setting off large protest marches in Mexico City. It's almost certain that most of the rise in corn prices is due to the U.S. ethanol policy, says David Victor, director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University.

The situation will only get worse, says David Pimentel, a professor in the department of entomology at Cornell University. "We have over a hundred different ethanol plants under construction now, so the situation is going to get desperate," he says. Adding to the worries about corn-related food prices is President Bush's ambitious goal, announced in his last State of the Union address, that the United States will produce 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017.


Right after the 2006 Leyte mudslide killed nearly a thousand people it was obvious from the available aerial pictures that many of slopes which had collapsed had been stripped of their natural forest cover and converted to subsistence agriculture. None of this had to do with ethanol, of course. But it did have to do with the lack of job opportunities in the Philippines. The employer of last resort in a Third World country is always the land. When an unemployed man runs out of options, he borrows a shovel and a box of matches and goes out to engage in swidden farming, also known as kaingin. When the Kyoto protocols were first announced, with the intention of controlling the emissions of greenhouse gases, its implications may not have been fully understood by the Environmentalists who designed it. The Kyoto protocol, whatever its positive effects, would also have a negative effect in employment to the extent it dampened economic growth. Less growth. Fewer jobs. More kaingin. More matches and shovels in what is left of the forest. Leyte.

While not an argument against Kyoto per se, it is a reminder that any policy is likely to have both positive and negative effects. The trick, as any policy analyst knows, is to be certain any new policy produces net benefits. That is, that the good points clearly outweigh the bad. This is especially true in environmental policy issues in which enormously complex systems -- the weather, the biosphere and humankind -- all interact in ways that nobody; and certainly not the Environmentalists, understand. In the case of ethanol, the fuel industry will inevitably compete with the food industry to use corn. The resulting price increases may not be permanent where farmers can increase their own corn production. They will plant more corn -- but there will be more cultivation. And in places where the market doesn't work or government distortions make it difficult for farmers to ramp up their production the prices may simply rise. That's not what anyone wanted. But that's the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Michael Crichton tells the story of how the Park Service almost ruined Yellowstone Park by trying to preserve it forever.

Long recognized as a setting of great natural beauty, in 1872 Ulysses Grant set aside Yellowstone as the first formal nature preserve in the world. More than 2 million acres, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. John Muir was pleased when he visited in 1885, noting that under the care of the Department of the Interior, Yellowstone was protected from "the blind, ruthless destruction that is going on in adjoining regions."

What followed was the catastrophe of good intentions. The elk were protected, but soon overgrazed the flora and starved. To keep deer numbers up the wolves were hunted, creating a further imbalance. That didn't work so the wolves were trucked back. But by then the flora which supported the lower food chain had gone and the wolves starved. So they boosted the flora. And soon, the forests, deprived of controlled burning became a virtual tinderbox and when it burned, it burned for days. Environmental attempts to preserve Yellowstone only changed it forever. Crichton tells the story.

But Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the park service acknowledged that "white-tailed deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone." What they didn't say was that the park service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting animals for decades, even though that was illegal under the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew better. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.

What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error. But to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, and so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years the numbers of elk in the park exploded. Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals, and noted they were more numerous than on his last visit.

By 1912, there were 30,000. By 1914, 35,000. Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and though they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. And bears were increasing in numbers, and moose, and bison. By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and urged "scientific management." His advice was ignored. Instead, the park service did everything it could to increase their numbers.

The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline, overgrazing changed the flora, aspen and willows were being eaten heavily and did not regenerate. In an effort to stem the loss of animals, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and cougar and were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out; studies showed that it wasn’t predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators had only made things worse.

Meanwhile the environment continued to change. Aspen trees, once plentiful in the park, where virtually destroyed by the enormous herds of hungry elk.  With the aspen gone, the beaver had no trees to make dams, so they disappeared. Beaver were essential to the water management of the park; without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer, and still more animals vanished. Situation worsened. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930. So in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. There were also persistent rumors that rangers were trucking them in ...  Now we come to the 1970s, when bears are starting to be recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged within the park ...

And by now we are about ready to reap the rewards of our forty-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear, all that. The Indians used to burn forest regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every summer. But when these fires are suppressed, the branches that drop to cover the ground make conditions for a very hot, low fire that sterilizes the soil. And in 1988, Yellowstone burned. All in all, 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned. Then, having killed the wolves, and having tried to sneak them back in, the park service officially brought the wolves back, and the local ranchers screamed. And on, and on.

Crichton observes that once you start managing complex events you have to keep managing them. In for the dime, in for the dollar. The idea that man can give complex systems a small nudge and then leave them to serenely sail on their way while we enjoy lobsters and chardonnay on the ridge-top is fantasy. The genesis of the 'small nudge, sit back fantasy' as Crichton noted, was the academic fiction that Native Americans had left the land alone. In fact, they knew what today's environmentalists would prefer to forget. Once you start the hill of marbles rolling the trick is to stay one step ahead of events. The Indians worked at intrusion 24x7.

As the story unfolds, it becomes impossible to overlook the cold truth that when it comes to managing 2.2 million acres of wilderness, nobody since the Indians has had the faintest idea how to do it. And nobody asked the Indians, because the Indians managed the land very intrusively. The Indians started fires, burned trees and grasses, hunted the large animals, elk and moose, to the edge of extinction. White men refused to follow that practice, and made things worse.

To solve that embarrassment, everybody pretended that the Indians had never altered the landscape. These “pioneer ecologists,” as Steward Udall called them, did not do anything to manipulate the land. But now academic opinion is shifting again, and the wisdom of the Indian land management practices is being discovered anew. Whether we will follow their practices remains to be seen.

So much for ethanol. But readers of this site will by now have realized the parallels that exist between managing nature and managing international conflict. Although we tend to forget it now, the West very intrusively "managed" the Middle East through much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Iraq itself, for example, is the political creation of European diplomacy. And so, some might argue, was Israel. After the Second World War, having made these vast changes, further intrusive management was regarded as evil. The West drew back and proceeded to purchase vast quantities of oil from the region, leaving things to the care and feeding of the United Nations in the belief that nothing else would happen now that History was at an End. But we were talking about ethanol and climate change, weren't we?


Blogger James said...

"The idea that man can give complex systems a small nudge and then leave them to serenely sail on their way while we enjoy lobsters and chardonnay on the ridge-top is fantasy. "

Isn't that the premise of capital gains tax cuts and Reaganomics?

2/16/2007 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

Wretchard said:

"But readers of this site will by now have realized the parallels that exist between managing nature and managing international conflict. Although we tend to forget it now, the West very intrusively "managed" the Middle East through much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Iraq itself, for example, is the political creation of European diplomacy. And so, some might argue, was Israel. After the Second World War, having made these vast changes, further intrusive management was regarded as evil. The West drew back and proceeded to purchase vast quantities of oil from the region, leaving things to the care and feeding of the United Nations in the belief that nothing else would happen now that History was at an End."

There's a very interesting book about the GWoT titled "AMERICA'S SECRET WAR" by George Friedman. The book is a bit out of date but never the less, Friedman did a very good job at taking conflicting information and casting it into a rational frame. However despite Friedman's obvious intelligence and depth of knowledge, I was struck by his inability to predict future events. One wonders how people like President Bush are able to manage world affairs given that they can not see the future. I've come to the conclusion that leaders like Bush probably don't even try. What I suspect they really want is to "hold the initiative", i.e. it doesn't matter if the decision is right or wrong, what matters is that some decision is made such that the initiative is maintained. It boils down to controlling the "Boyd Cycle", e.g. I can screw up and make a bad decision but if I maintain the initiative then I can repair the damage in my next decision cycle. Death comes to the guy who hunkers down, starts dithering and wondering what to do next.

2/16/2007 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

Iraq itself, for example, is the political creation of European diplomacy. And so, some might argue, was Israel.

Only if they are completely ignorant.

Nobody created Israel, but Israelis themselves. It wasn't UN diplomats that fought for its independence and every other war after, and it wasn't British imperialists that toiled the land to sustain the population.

2/16/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

Not to decide is also to decide.

You can put a fence around it, you can pave it over, you can shoot all the wolves and you can feed the bears garbage. All are management choices that will have some effects that can be predicted or not based on your goals, and your understanding of the system.

You can manage actively or passively or somewhere in between. How you manage is based partly on your goals and partly on your capabilities and partly on your predilictions.

When it comes to foreign policy or economic policy everyone has their own goals and predilictions.

Maybe they should plant more corn in Mexico. Maybe they should invite more Mexicans to plant corn in Iowa.

2/16/2007 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

A Texas A&M professor could not get grant money to study the rise in CO2 caused by the Great Plow-up in the 1900s.

Most US soils went from 4-8% organic matter to 2-4% in a few decades.

This carbon dump into the atmosphere was tons per acre. It dwarfs the yearly worldwide man-made CO2 production.

But he CAN get money to study carbon sequestration into soils.

At the end of the last glaciation, the entire ecosystem of North America changed - forests dissappeared in 100 years and forests sprang up where the ice had been. The plains changed from a spruce forest to grassland. Massive lakes discharged in catastrophic floods.

2/16/2007 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

"West very intrusively "managed" the Middle East through much of the 19th and early 20th centuries"

Not just the Middle East; pretty much the entire world. But that is no different than what previous dominant cultures did.

2/16/2007 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

There are environmentalists who view man as a pest (I saw a Nature episode on PBS with that premise a few years back). They believe the human population of the planet should be less than a billion. So, if their nostrums should kill 80 percent of humanity, would that be considered a success or a failure?

They do promise to leave a breeding population of humans on at least one of the continents, which is setting the bar pretty low, if you ask me. At least the Commies promised a Utopia--a goal you could measure progress towards (are we a "60 percent utopia" yet?) But who wants to get half way to a future where all you eat is soy-cakes?

2/16/2007 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

In the book "Peace to End All Peace", David Fromkin describes how British diplomats believed that a Jewish conspiracy had installed the Young Turks as leaders of the Ottoman Empire. Since the Young Turks had come in on the side of Germany, it was thought in some British missions, that it would be wise to split the "Jewish conspirators" off by mooting a homeland. I remember when reading it laughing aloud at how the actions of Muslim Turks should be attributed to the Jews and how, perhaps in some little way, the State of Israel was the unintended result of Kemal Attaturk's actions. Now this is certainly not to argue that Israel is a British creation. But surely it is fair to say that European decisions had a role in shaping the present boundaries in the Middle East.

It's now largely forgotten that long before the JDAM the RAF adopted the policy in the 1920s of strafing Arab villages in Iraq's interior to maintain a kind of peace. It is extremely ironic, even hilarious, to read Rep. Henry T. Gonzalez (Democrat Texas) speech in 1994, arguing for decisive action against Saddam Hussein and WMD proliferating states in the Persian Gulf, citing as a defense against those who argued such use was unthinkable, the charge that the British used poison gas against the Sunnis in Iraq in the 1920s. I will quote him at length. And remember he was a Democrat. All the things he said are the very things Nancy Pelosi is accusing the Repubicans of inventing. In fact the whole Gonzalez speech is so prescient, even hinting in 1994 at a possible future 9/11 as to be eerie. To me it only proves that politicians stay the same. It is the date on the calendar that changes.

Many of my colleagues think the Persian Gulf situation is over with. My friends, I wish it were. It is not.

The number of declared nuclear powers has grown slowly since World War II and is still limited to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, that is, the full power. ... These five, of course, are our country, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China. However, at least four other countries probably have a nuclear capability. ...

As a matter of fact, our CIA Director, Robert Gates, recently warned that North Korea may be only months away from building an atomic bomb. My information is that Pakistan was a lot closer than North Korea months ago.

Remember, in the Persian Gulf war we killed better than 200,000 Moslems. If my colleagues think that there is not a very bitter, anti-United States feeling where you have vast multitudes sworn to revenge, if it takes a thousand years, that is the translation from at least the Arab Moslem.

But remember, the Moslem world is worldwide Pakistan is a Moslem country.

We have been lucky, up to now. But these things are changing so quickly, so unpredictably, that the potential for great and serious mischief is great.

Iraq and Syria have reportedly developed offensive biological weapons, and five more countries are progressing toward the development of biological weapons. It has been reported that Iraq used biological weapons. Certainly the accusation has been passed.

But there again, where is the moral right? The first one to use gas against Arabs was Winston Churchill, the British, in the early 1920's. They were Iraq Arabs they used them against.

In the words of Winston Churchill, or his military head, it was used in order to subdue the, quote/unquote, recalcitrant Arabs.

So where is the moral right? Who are we to preach?

At least 14 Third World countries have offensive chemical weapons, and 10 other countries are trying to develop them. Most of these countries are located in regions of political and military tension, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Iraq repeatedly used chemical weapons against Iranian troops during the brutal Iran-Iraq war, and even against its own citizens of Kurdish extraction. ...

Approximately 25 countries now have surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and 12 of those countries are in the Middle East and Asia, not counting Africa.

The transfer of advanced conventional weapons has since contributed to regional instability. In the last decade and a half, at least, the sheer amount of money spent on armament in the Middle East defies any kind of calculation. Iraq was able to build the world's sixth largest armed forces and equip them with some of the best weapons systems of the industrial powers.

It did not expose that during the Persian Gulf, so-called, war. I have always been intrigued by that. It was a war without a battle. There were no battles in the recent

Persian Gulf war. There were some skirmishes.

The administration has done little to contain the proliferation, and clearly there is a need for action, my colleagues. It is not enough to insist that Iraq cleanse itself when China ships Scuds, Pakistan develops nuclear bombs, and North Korea produces weapons-grade plutonium.

Historically, Iraq is everybody's policy. Now, having spread the blame all around, might it be possible to say: Ok, that's where the ball lies. Now how do we play it?

2/16/2007 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Gonzalez's 1994 speech is here.

2/16/2007 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

"Ok, that's where the ball lies. Now how do we play it?"

It is not just Iraq that needs to be dealt with.

With the rapidly increasing potential NGOs getting access to WMD, the entire world needs to cooperate a whole lot better.

The "no-fly zone" equivalent is not a long-term solution.

What is being attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan is a long-term solution, but I fear that there are too many short-sighted actors (everything from the Democratic party, to Islam, to Russia) for there to be a desired "domino" effect.

I think the end result is going to be a lot of dead "third-worlders".

2/16/2007 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

There's a wonderful article at Pajamas Media by Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh describing the follies of supporting the "moderate" Fatah against the "radical" Hamas by sending more coals to Newcastle, ahem, more guns to Palestinian "security forces".

But although Toameh doesn't quite say it, the whole farce proceeds directly from the idea that a Palestinian State has to be nurtured into existence. Once that premise is accepted, then the only degree of freedom left is who to support within Palestine.

And while a Palestine might eventually be both necessary and good, for the moment, diplomats can't avoid giving the impression that they are piling up a hill of beans or building sand castles against the surf by supporting one thinly-disguised set of thugs against another set of goons. And we are back to the choice between stale sandwiches and turd plate specials again. You know what to choose but aren't particularly looking forward to lunch. But the world is a limited menu kind of place.

It's a gloomy thought on which to start the weekend, but I can't help thinking of Genesis 3:19-24. Who said life was going to be easy?

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. ... So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."

2/16/2007 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


re: I think the end result is going to be a lot of dead "third-worlders".

As usual, the Muslims will wield the instrument of their own destruction.

Pakistani Dr. Blown Up For Dispensing Un-Islamic Polio Vaccine

I would be remiss in failing to mention that Israel will be the blame. If Israel did not exist, G-d would have to invent it as the matter of international mental hygeine.

Oh, the discoverer of the polio vaccine was an apostate Jew. The Zionist conspiracy is clearly obvious.

2/16/2007 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


re: Genesis 3:19-24.

The idolatry of man has made it ever so. While dates change, the heart of man remains unphased.

2/16/2007 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

re: idolatry

"You will be like G-d, who knows good from evil."

Yes, my life has come so tantalizingly close to that. I can't say enough for drugs and alcohol.

2/16/2007 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Well, Walid Jumblatt can dish out hell-fire as well as anyone. And for imagery a la Genesis, guess the Middle Easterners do it best. Walid Jumblatt recently laid a string of insults on President Assad. But wouldn't you know it? The word "Israel" had to figure in there somewhere. Here, from MEMRI

Walid Jumblatt: We have come to Freedom Square to tell you, oh tyrant of Damascus, you ape unknown to nature, you snake from which even the snakes have fled, you whale vomited by the ocean, you wild desert beast, you creature that is only half-man, you Israeli product at the expense of the corpses of the South Lebanese, you liar and arch-killer in Iraq, you criminal blood-shedder in Syria and Lebanon – we have come to say that the words of the great poet Nizar Qabani apply to you. He said: “Every twenty years comes an armed man to slaughter unity in its cradle and to kill the dreams.”

2/16/2007 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Db2m said...

"Finish your corn flakes, Johnny. Boys and girls in Mexico are going hungry."

2/16/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

But surely it is fair to say that European decisions had a role in shaping the present boundaries in the Middle East.

That role was to literally trap European Jewry in Nazi Europe, prevent their immigration to Israel, while at the same time work to ensure their genocidal extermination. The number of Jews exterminated in WWII Europe was 10x the number of Jews in Israel during its 1948 War of Independence. And because European policy placed an arm embargo on Israelis, during their War of Independence, Israelis were forced to use whatever black market light arms they got from the Soviets to fight against British and other European heavy weaponry. Heavy weaponry, which of course the Europeans casually decided to leave behind, and allow 5 invading Arab armies to use in their own bid for a European style Final Solution.

2/16/2007 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

This will likely have an effect on other prices, as well. More expensive corn for livestock feed, acreage used for other crops converted to corn, thus raising prices on the other crops, etc.

2/16/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger What is "Occupation" said...

my solution uses all kinds of oil from all kinds of crops besides corn



yellow liquid gold...

just pour into my diesel tank, add a few gallons of dirty arab diesel to thin it and poof...

I got winter fuel...

2/16/2007 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Db2m said...

I wonder how high prices for food, ethanol, and deer feeder corn will have to go; and how dire the situation will have to become South of the Border before folks finally figure out that it's not too bright an idea to stuff food into automobile gas tanks.

2/16/2007 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

It's not my intention to diss ethanol, just point out that there is no free lunch. Wind farms kill birds. Solar panels gobble up space. Ethanol uses crops. Nuclear power generates long-lived waste. Coal belches "greenhouse gases". Oil funds the Jihad.

Beer is nice but it probably kills a few brain cells every time you take a sip. Still willing to drink that beer?

2/16/2007 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

hdgreene - They believe the human population of the planet should be less than a billion. So, if their nostrums should kill 80 percent of humanity, would that be considered a success or a failure?

They may have a point about present numbers being unsustainable. Not just from a global warming standpoint but technology running into limits in what it can do to "workaround" exponential human population growth against "hard resource limits" of energy, water, ecological systems now collapsed already in several global regions, ocean fisheries, arable land.

And aesthetic limits of prospects of loss of the planet's wildlife, future wars where resources are the goal and excess humans considered more discardable than valuable, the sharply lowered quality of life in congested megopolises.

With Open Borders, and unrestricted 3rd Worlder breeding?

1. America is slated to go from 300 million (up from 140 million in WWII) to 420 million by 2030, to 850-900 million by 2100.

2. Africa is slated to go from 211 million in 1950 to 2,200,000,000 in 2050 assuming foreign food continues to sustain those families of 12 living on now-desertified farm and rangeland.

3. Indonesia to grow from 87 million in 1938 and 245 million now to 640 million in 2050, again assuming food from intact ecosystems can be shipped in..

4. Other examples outside the advanced nations are many. And the old saw that wealth and education will end large families is only true in the Western and Asian cultures. Muslims of wealth and with high levels of well educated females in those nations still breed like rabbits.

What they argue is not "killing off 80% of humanity", but if fears of environmental collapse are true, to regulate family size globally (maybe to only 2 kids by law if we need to drawdown to 1 billion) and end use of regions like America, Europe, and Oceana as dumping spots for surplus 3rd World populations. (Libertarians and "freedom-lovers" of course will hate that as much as someone telling them there won't be 450 horsepower 8 ton SUVs in heir future).
On topic of corn ethanol, it is just another 1970s fad already proved impractical, no CO2 saver, a topsoil loser, and not economic. Then agribiz pushed it as a "green solution" in more ways than one, and the Bushies, who have not met a subsidy to big business millionaires they don't like or refuse to borrow money from China to fund -- and Ethanol was off to the races.

2/16/2007 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger pauldanish said...

With regard to Yellowstone National Park, history didn't end with the great fires of 1988. A new ecological balance is being achieved in the park, one that contains more meadow and aspen. Press accounts suggest that on balance this is a more ecologically healthy state of affairs. Good. Is it more "natural"? Who knows. Who cares. The point is that nature is rebalancing, and Yellowstone is still a national treasure, albeit an ecologically different one than existed when is was made a national park. Change, like shit, happens. We need to get used to it.

It is the same with global warming. I'm willing to accept the proposition that it is happening and that Homo saps had something to do with it as a working hypothesis if nothing else. However, I am highly skeptical as to whether we can do anything to stop it, let alone reverse it -- or whether it is even desirable to try to reverse it.

According to the recently issued climate report (Chicken Little, et al.) the climate-related consequences of the greenhouse gases already in the air and the ones that will be released during the 21st Century will be felt for the next thousand years.

Reflect for a moment on the implications of that. Assume we began a crash program today to slash greenhouse gases. Assume that by the end of the century (2100) we succeeded in reducing emissions to substantially below 1990 (Kyoto baseline) levels and kept reducing them.

This scenario would have two likely consequences: 1) The world will be warmer and the sea will be higher in 2100 than it is today by virtue of the gases already released the the ones that will be released,because even if the rate of release is dramatically reduced the total amount of greenhosue gases in the atmosphere will have grown and 2) if we cut greenhouse gas emissions so drastically that the atmosphere begins to purge itself of the existing burden of greenhouse gases around 2300 or 2400 the world might actually start cooling off.

Now what do you suppose people living in 2300 or 2400, who will have spent two or three centuries adjusting to a warmer world, moving cities inland, building whole new cities and civilizations in places like Canada, Siberia, and on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, replacing tens of trillions of dollars of infrastructure, and so on, will make of the impending threat of global cooling? I suspect they will view it as an impending crisis.

Their reaction is worth reflecting on, because the only real reason to do anything about global warming is for the benefit of future generations -- and chances are they won't be particularly please with what we are intending to do.

(Personally, I'm at the age where global warming seems like a pretty good idea. Especially after this winter in Colorado.)

The only thing that can be said with much confidence about climate change is that sooner or later the climate is going to change. Learn to live with it. Change happens.

As for ethanol, the importance of ethanol is not it's impact on global warming, but its impact on national security -- by reducing the demand for oil, which is the funding source of the Islamic fascists, as well as neo-communists like Putin and Chavez. Permanently breaking the price of oil by reducing global demand for it is of enormous importance to winning the (misnamed) war on terror. Any global warming benefits are secondary.

Economically, ethanol is a pretty cheap way of crushing the west's major enemies. America uses about 140 billion gallons of gasoline a year. Replacing it with ethanol would almost certainly destroy the price of oil. Generally speaking, if you want to produce a glut of something, subsidize it. In the case of ethanol, it is currently subsidized in the United States to the tune of 51 cents a gallon -- and with oil at $50 dollars a barrel, production of it has exploded.

So lets double the subsidy to $1 a gallon. The maximum cost to the taxpayer would be $140 billion a year, about one thrid of the defense budget. If that subsidy resulted in the destruction of the economies of the terror sustaining states, it would be a bargain. And as a national security expense, it could be justified. (As a practical matter, we would only have to produce enough ethanol to ensure that there was always a glut of gasoline or ethanol on the world market to keep oil prices low. About 50 billion gallons a year, the equivalent of about 1 million barrels a day of gasoline, would probably do the job.)

But make no mistake, turning to biological sources for transportation fuel is going to lead to huge environmental changes regardless of whether the ethanol is made from corn, sugar, sorgham, grass, or woodchips. Any way you cut it, millions of square miles of plants are going to go into the gas tank.

But then, turning North America into the world's largest farm caused big ecological changes in the last 500 years. The genuinely big changes has already been made. Learn to live with that change. We will learn to live with the next one. Life goes on.

2/16/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Pascal Fervor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/16/2007 11:48:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


Our energy profile needs to fit along some utility curve, on which we give up certain things in exchange for others. Your national security argument looks to good to me. The tradeoffs are acceptable -- to me. But think how they would look to a Greenie.

As you point out, one way to deal with Global Warming, if it existed, would be to adapt. The way cities adapt to changing coastlines. They don't try to stop the coastline from changing, but move the buildings. But there's that Utility Curve again. Some people would rather spend trillions to keep the coastline where it was than a few million dollars to move the buildings.

2/17/2007 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger Pascal Fervor said...

[Corrected from 2/16/2007 11:48:00]

Mexico's cost of tortillas has doubled? Well they could trade barrels of oil for bushels of corn.

So, I'm inclined to a modified Marie Antoinette view of it all.

Maybe that way the Mexicans will do something long overdue. Like asphalt and feathering their rulers who keep "windfall oil profits" for their ruling circle rather than build Mexico's infrastructure that would feed Mexicans in Mexico.

2/17/2007 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

From the Globalists point-of-view a doubling in the price of corn could be considered a GOOD thing because all the poor, third world farmers who currently can't compete with subsidized first-world mega-agro may be able to flourish at the higher price point.

With respect to Michael Crichton's observations, we can't even control the ecology in one natural park and yet Al Gore thinks we can control the climate of an entire planet! How crazy does that make him?

2/17/2007 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Omaha1 said...

With the US farming community now incentivized to produce more corn to feed the ethanol appetite, new dominos will begin falling.

Water is already in short supply in many Western states. Where will the water come from to irrigate all of this corn?

Topsoil is a non-renewable resource. Certainly, modern agricultural methods are better at preserving it, but its degradation is still a significant issue that should be considered.

As mentioned above, corn is not just food for humans, but also a primary ingredient in animal feed. More ethanol production will lead to higher meat prices.

The cultivation and transportation of corn requires a significant expenditure of energy. Ethanol production is much less energy-efficient than petroleum refinement.

Water shortages, rising food prices, topsoil loss, third-world our pursuit of increased ethanol production really worth these very real costs?

2/18/2007 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger jdwill said...

Doesn't burning ethanol emit CO2? How does this reduce carbon emission? I see politicians talking about ethanol as a palliative to global warming about this and I wonder. Am I missing something?

2/19/2007 04:52:00 AM  
Blogger pauldanish said...


Ethanol burning does indeed emit CO2. However, since the ethanol is derived from plants, which in the recent past (i.e. last year) removed CO2 from the atmosphere, ethanol is considered carbon neutral.

Ethanol's critics challenge the assumption of carbon neutrality, maintaining that ethanol produced from corn has a high fossil fuel input in its production -- in the form of tractor fuel, petro-chemical derived fertilizers and agricultural chemicals, and coal or natural gas derived industrial process heat used for distillation, among other things.

Some even maintain that the fossil fuel energy inputs needed to make ethanol are greater than the energy content of the ethanol. This view has been largely discredited by a number of studies, but the press continues to repeat it.

The truth is that while ethanol almost certainly has a positive energy balance -- and a dramatically positive one in the case of ethanol plants that use methane derived from cow manure for industrial process heat -- that is not the principal reason to pursue bio-fuels. Neither is combating global warming, although that is a secondary benefit of making the switch from oil.

The point of the exercise -- the thing that would justify big federal subsidies for ethanol and bio-fuel production -- is a swift reduction in U.S. gasoline and diesel usage with the intent of permanently breaking the global price of oil and de-funding the world's leading Islamic fascist states.

Bio-fuels are primarily a national defense issue, not an environmental issue. Critics of ethanol choose to ignore this, attempting to shift the argument to an environmental or even free market context, but this misses the point.

2/19/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger jdwill said...


Thanks. I'm on board with the energy independence 100%. This war we're in is crazy if we are funding our enemies and unable to really disrupt their base of supply for fear of disrupting ours.

2/20/2007 04:47:00 AM  
Blogger Mr.Atos said...

From WSJ last December,

"Indonesia - Investors are pouring billions of dollars into "renewable" energy sources such as ethanol, biodiesel and solar power that promise to reduce the world's reliance on petroleum. But exploiting these alternatives may produce unintended environmental and economic consequences that offset the expected benefits."

"Here on the Island of Bornea, a thick haze often encloses this city of 500,000 people. The cause: forest fires that have blazed across the island. many of them set to clear land to produce palm oil - a key ingredient in biodiesel, a clean-burning diesel alternative."

In a previous post, 'Harvesting Dependency,' I noted similar UN concerns about the growing and somewhat irresponsible quest to encourage the production and use of biofuels... and their unintended consequences.

"STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Rising production of biofuels from crops might complicate U.N. goals of ending hunger in developing countries, where 850 million people do not have enough to eat, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.

"There's a huge potential for biofuels but we have to look at ... competition with food production," said Alexander Mueller, assistant Director General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Production of fuels from sugar, maize, soybeans and other corps is surging, spurred by oil prices above $70 a barrel and a drive for more environmentally friendly fuels from renewable sources. "This is a completely new issue, we only know that this has impact on the question of feeding the world," he told a news conference during a meeting of 1,500 water experts in Stockholm"

At the time, I pointed to new standards imposed by West Coast Legislatures that encourage and promote - indeed even compell by law - this dictate. Recently, both Oregon and Washington implemented California's LEV II Standards for lower emissions. It includes a requirement for the mandatory distribution of ethanols and biodiesel products in place of so-called fossil-fuels... namely petroleum products. In the interests of Oregon, and in accordance with certain Sustainability principals (see Conservation Economics), the intention is for this state to convert much of its agricultural industry to fuel production, according to Oregon Business Magazine.

Wheat sells for cents per bushel, while bio-fuels can yield upwards of $70 dollars per barrel. Building products, always in high demand tease various degrees of monetary success, while tightening restrictions and regulations encourage a broadening market for both of those sustainable products. A widespread conversion is already taking place across the United States and other parts of the globe. The U.N. is right to be worried about the implications of decreasing food production. Its humanitarian mission to feed the misfortunate masses of the world may indeed be in jeopardy, when fuel is cheap relative to a seventy dollar loaf of bread, and corn is exclusively refined into Citco barrels instead of being packed into Del Monte cans.

links here:

2/21/2007 06:53:00 AM  

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