Friday, July 04, 2008

Reuters Lies About Biofuels This Time

...with help from World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who contradicts himself quite neatly in his own quoted statement here.

According to Zoellick, corn-based ethanol (not "biofuels") is a significant contributor to rising world food prices.

Reuters makes a particularly egregious mistake here in the seventh paragraph of their story
Recently, [Zoellick] wrote in the Financial Times that the use of corn for ethanol by the United States had consumed more than 75 percent of global corn production over the past three years, and called on the United States and Europe to ease subsidies and tariffs on biofuels derived from corn and oilseeds.

"The use of corn for ethanol has consumed more than 75 percent of the increase in global corn production over the past three years," he wrote.

Let's break that down a little, shall we? On the one hand, we have Reuters saying that corn ethanol is using up seventy-five percent of the total world corn crop, which is garbage by any estimation, and then Zoellick himself saying that corn production has increased some unspecified (in the Reuters article) amount in the last three years, of which increase, 75% has been diverted to corn ethanol. That means real corn production is still up 25% in three years even discounting corn production for corn ethanol.

Here's Zoellick's contradiction: I am frankly not seeing how you get from "real worldwide corn production is up by one quarter" to "corn ethanol is a significant contributor to the world food shortage." Particularly when you consider all the other factors I've mentioned before.

Update: Commenter Ficus corrects my math, in that real corn production is not up by one quarter; one quarter of the total increase is going to food and other non-ethanol uses. We do not, as far as I know, have any statistics in the recent Reuters article to quantify the amount of the increase. I thought something looked hinky there, but due to my dyscalculia, there are some days when I can practically crunch standard deviations in my head, and some days when I can't count to five using my fingers. Guess which happened to me the day I wrote this post? Nevertheless, I still think the point stands: I don't see how you get from "real corn production is up a significant amount" to "corn ethanol is a significant contributor to the world food shortage," especially given the other factors in play. My calculation error also doesn't invalidate the rank dishonesty I've exposed here, as I think ought to go without saying...

It's also extremely mendacious to refer to "biofuels" when you mean "corn ethanol." I'm getting tired of pointing this out, but apparently I need to keep doing it, since otherwise the propaganda machine gets to make its barbaric yawp unopposed (even by lowly umpteenth-tier bloggers like Your Humble Narrator).

Corn ethanol is not equal to "biofuels." Corn ethanol represents one type of biofuel, and only one type. Please stop referring to corn ethanol as "biofuels" as though the terms are synonymous. They are not. Doing so is unethical, flat-out dishonest, and bad journalism to boot.

It's all about the framing, folks. Pay attention, and don't believe the hype.

Postscript: My better half, the brilliant Tomble of Neologue, also points out the red herring in the first paragraph, in his typically pungent British way: "Corn has fuck-all to do with oilseed fuels as far as I can see, apart from the fact they're both used in some biofuels."


Author's Note: I had some things to say about Henry Morgenthaler's being awarded the Order of Canada, but I'm kind of all out for now. I swear, this blog won't be all biofuels all the time in the future, though...


Anonymous Ficus said...

Hello, mathematician here.

Say we take at face-value the statement made by Zoellick as correct. (I don't care at the moment whether it is true or not -- I'm aiming at a different target.)

What it does not mean is that corn-for-food production is up 25%.

What it does mean is that 25% of the increase is being used as corn-for-food. As an example, let's say production was up 4%. Then, in this setting, corn-for-food would be up 1%.

(If overall production were up 100% -- i.e., doubled -- in three years, then we would see corn-for-food production up 25% over that time.)


8:18 AM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Yes, thank you Ficus, that's what I actually meant. I knew something looked hinky about that paragraph. Trust my dyscalculia not to let me find it... >:(

1:38 AM  

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