February 19, 2015
politicians eager to strike a blow against the “polarization” that worries
elites, there’s no better place to start than biofuels.
federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency establishes “specific annual
volume standards for total renewable fuel and also for the specific renewable
fuel categories of cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, and advanced
biofuel.” In 2013, refineries were
required to produce 16.55 billion gallons of the stuff.
and libertarians have long opposed the package of subsidies, tax breaks, and tariffs
bestowed on ethanol and
biodiesel. In 1999, the
Cato Institute’s Jerry Taylor denounced “America’s most obnoxious and cloying
welfare recipient -- the corn farmer.” For decades, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has crusaded against
Washington’s slavish favoritism to biofuels, calling it “industrial policy.”
“Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land,” a working paper from
Resources Institute (WRI) makes a compelling liberal indictment of using food for fuel.
moonbat credentials are unassailable.
WRI was founded with money from the John
D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which “supports creative people
and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and
peaceful world.” (Its list of “Genius Grant” recipients is awfully light on
right-wingers.) The institute’s hysteria-meter is set to maximum -- it claims
that humanity is “depleting
Earth’s resources at rates that are not sustainable, endangering economies
and people’s lives. People depend on clean water, fertile land, healthy
forests, and a stable climate.”
authors Tim Searchinger and Ralph Heimlich think about biofuels? Not much.
Their chief concern is the “food crop calorie gap,” a disparity of 6,500 trillion
kilocalories between “the food available in 2006 and likely demand in 2050.”
That’s a 70 percent increase, and the planet’s going to need a heckuva lot more
farming to reach the goal.
compete with food production because there’s only so much arable land. Between 1960
and 2006, we learned to grow crops, milk cows, and produce meat much more
efficiently. But still, “agricultural land area expanded by roughly 500 million
hectares” during the period.
implemented a requirement that 10 percent of all transportation energy be met
by biofuels by 2050, WRI predicts that the “food crop calorie gap would widen
from about 70 percent to roughly 90 percent. In the other direction, phasing
out biofuels altogether would reduce the gap to 60 percent.”
think that cellulosic biomass -- waste products and “noncrop” plants such as
trees and switchgrass
-- hold promise. “Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land” is
skeptical: “[A] hectare of [corn] in the United States currently produces
roughly 1,600 gallons of ethanol (about 6,000 liters). For cellulosic ethanol
production just to match this output, the grasses or trees must achieve almost
double the national cellulosic yields estimated by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and two to four times the perennial grass yields farmers
actually achieve today in the United States.”
there’s “global warming.” Whether Al Gore is reliable or nutty, burning
biofuels “emits carbon dioxide, just like burning fossil fuels.” WRI has little
patience for the theory that the emissions are “matched and implicitly ‘offset’
by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants growing the biomass feedstock.”
Wouldn’t those plants have grown anyway? “Large, positive estimates of global
bioenergy potential are based on an incorrect belief that biomass, like solar
and wind, is inherently a carbon-free source of energy despite the fact that
burning biomass emits carbon. That view is based on an accounting error that
‘double counts’ biomass, carbon, or land that is already in use.”
recommends the “phasing out of the dedicated use of land to generate bioenergy,
including biofuels, while reserving some efforts to generate bioenergy from
true wastes.” That means scrapping the “range of tax credits and other
financial support not only for biofuels themselves, but also for the
construction of biofuel production facilities.” Also in the crosshairs: electricity-targeted
renewable energy standards that “treat the burning of wood as a qualifying
source,” and low-carbon fuel standards that permit “biofuels grown on dedicated
Iowa caucus less
than a year away, it’s probably wishful thinking to expect fedpols to mount
a bold, bipartisan assault on biofuels. But the establishment of a left-right
alliance of think tanks and activists should be achievable. Conservatives and
libertarians have never wavered in their opposition to food-as-fuel corporate
welfare. Now, with WRI’s important contribution, liberals have powerful data to
confirm biofuels’ role in carbon emissions and raise concerns about
developing nations’ urgent nutritional needs.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
# # # # #