Sunday, April 20, 2008

Propaganda Alert: Biofuels and Food Shortages

I notice that every article is blaming rising food prices worldwide on rising production of biofuels based on corn and wheat. Interestingly, I can't actually find any statistics on how much diversion of the total staple crop the rise in biofuels production supposedly accounts for. The closest I can come is this blurb from this article, which seems speculative at best: "Most look at a scenario in the year 2015 where the American farmer will produce 15 billion bushels of corn, said Renewable Fuels Association spokesperson Matt Hartwig. If the ethanol industry can produce three gallons of ethanol per bushel, that will mean using about one third of that crop to make 15 billion gallons of ethanol as mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)."

Also, not one of the myriad articles, blog comments, and suchlike I've seen mentioning biofuels as one of the causes of the problem (if not the primary cause, which I find extremely hard to believe) mentions the Ug99 wheat blight, a new, emerging strain of wheat rust to which every major wheat strain in commercial production is vulnerable, and which has been devastating wheat crops in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The most populous regions in the world are losing most of their wheat crop to Ug99 (the "breadbasket" area of Africa has been especially hard-hit), and demand is spilling over -- people have to eat, whether they're eating wheat, corn, rice, or other staples. Given that, I'm calling bullshit on the biofuels scare tactics.

That absolutely reeks of propaganda, for three reasons. First of all, it's easy to enforce the petroleum status quo if you can say to people, "Oh, the hippies with their biodiesel are the reason you're now paying two and a half bucks for bread, and why half of the world is starving." Secondly, since corn ethanol in particular is being heavily subsidised by the US government, you can pretty much tell that EISA is a straight-up Bush Administration gift-with-a-bow-on-top to Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto, and other big agribusiness players. Thirdly, it's easy to discredit biofuels if you make them synonymous in most people's minds with inefficient, wasteful, high-maintenance products like corn ethanol -- in many people's minds, reinforcing ideas like that leaves no conceptual space for other alternatives. So if corn ethanol = biofuels, and corn ethanol sucks, then biofuels suck, right? After all, it wouldn't do for the energy plutocrats in the Bush Administration to have people know that the most efficient way of doing biofuels is using no-till, low-maintenance, fast-growing crops like switchgrass... (Good thing the Manitoba government is a bit smarter and less evil than the Bushies.)

What an impressive hat trick.

h/t Bark Bark Woof Woof for the idea.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's impressive, all right. A disinformation campaign on a grand scale. I'm fond of this set of articles that starts out with a cover story that admits that biofuels have been a positive and definitely useful choice since at least the early eighties but NOT ANYMORE!!!

Personally I always start with three simple points.
1 - If I plant switchgrass on an abandoned lot, walk away, and do nothing else there for a year, will it grow and can I burn it or otherwise convert it for fuel?

2 - How did that process take away from food-growing or use fuel?

3 - Are you aware that switchgrass and most equivalent recommended crops were always being suggested as things to plant on land that nothing else will grow on? That extension agents and highway departments have been suggesting this since at least the seventies?

Other than handwaving about available land (which is easy to counter with hard facts) this leaves the brainwashed with nowhere to retreat to. Fun to watch.

And, fwiw, I just approached the local head of the Sierra Club, who has much pull in this city (Portland, OR), about growing switchgrass on abandoned lots and he said this was a really good idea and that he would look into it. This was as we weere both leaving a hearing at City Hall where he had been a key speaker. I'll be following up with him and with city government next week.

6:14 PM  
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