THURSDAY OCTOBER 01, 2009
The first step in training a mule, so it is written, is to bash it between the eyes with a 4x2. This is to get its attention. The world has been so conned by exaggerations, half-truths, and the gross deceptions in Al Gore's movie (a woman wrote in to one local paper bemoaning the fact that the melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice will raise the Pacific Ocean 20 feet within her daughter's lifetime), that it is necessary to produce strong counterpropaganda to try to get into people's minds that there is another viewpoint. It isn't finesse, yet at times the sledgehammer approach is required. Whatever it takes, politicians and populace alike need a wake-up call to prevent being conned by international hysteria merchants. Bio-fuels are supposed to be the latest answer to all our problems. When oil runs out we can grow our fuel, and clean corn does not put dirty exhausts into the air. Do we really believe that?
The arable land around our metropolitan areas is fully utilised now for our food. Where is the extra land going to come from to grow fuel, and whence would come manpower to harvest it? But the logic is out the window - why take perfectly edible food which could feed millions of starving people, and instead make something burnable to be utilized in an internal combustion engine? It defies reason when the end products of both of these fuels are identical – CO2 & H2O. In order to get from point A to point B the amount of energy that is required is a constant. One must burn an identical amount of hydrocarbons in order to do so which results in an identical release of CO2 and H2O. Other than raping the consumer with the exorbitant costs associated with the production of these biofuels, there is no difference in the output of the so-called greenhouse gases. "Saving the planet" from the hypothetical, theoretical, and fictional effects of human-induced greenhouse gases could be nothing but a subterfuge. It seems there are many want-to-be billionaires out there with friends in high places causing the brouhaha in order to facilitate their lame-brain get-rich schemes.
The biofuel industry will create more problems, will require intensive agriculture with high-chemical input, and the large amounts of land needed will burden soil and groundwater and decrease biodiversity. The benefits are uncertain and climate change reduction costs high. Growing crops for fuel is like boiling water to get rain for dams. Biofuels get their actual energy gain from the sun, as do any other fossil fuel like wood, coal, gas or oil. They are all just bottled sunshine. They all let off gases when they burn. The only relative differences are the processing costs. Take away subsidies and tax incentives and the processing bills will double.
Increased demand raises prices, which is the reason we are continually told oil reserves are running out. And as bio-energy is developed, the prices of oilseeds, including soybeans, rapeseeds, and sunflower seeds, are projected to rise: estimates for the US are by 26 percent by 2010 and 76 percent by 2020, and wheat prices by 11 percent by 2010 and 30 percent by 2020.
As usual the poor will be affected most. For example, cassava, a tropical potato-like tuber also known as manioc, provides one-third of the caloric needs of those in sub-Saharan Africa making it the primary staple for Africa’s poorest. It is the food turned to when they cannot afford anything else. When other crops fail it serves as an important reserve because it can grow in poor soils and dry conditions and can be left in the ground to be harvested as needed. Thanks to its high-starch content, cassava is also an excellent source of ethanol. As the technology for converting it to fuel improves, many countries including China, Nigeria, and Thailand are considering processing it.. If peasant farmers become suppliers, they would in theory benefit from the increased income. But the history of demand suggests that large producers will be the main beneficiaries, and a boom in cassava-based ethanol production will mean more poor people struggling even more to feed themselves. Even now where cassava is a staple in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, its price is expected to increase by 33 percent by 2010 and 135 percent by 2020.
Less people to consume fossil fuels means less emissions affecting the environment. Is an agenda of the Greens the reduction the world's population? Preventing development in third world countries and increase in poverty is the ongoing trend. As ethanol production diverts corn from the nation's dinner table to its gas tank, the average Joe must be happy Al Gore has brought all this to the forefront of the attention of the power-elte. Gore’s alarmism has significantly added to the rise in food and energy prices. According to the Wall St Journal, high corn prices, bad weather and steep energy costs have combined to make food a bigger contributor to inflation this year than it has been at least since 2004, when a cutback in dairy production boosted dairy prices and beef prices rose as mad-cow disease disrupted trade. The US Agriculture Department projects that retail food prices may climb by 2.5% to 4.5% in 2007, fueled by strong demand for corn-derived ethanol. The best customers for U.S. corn farmers have traditionally been livestock producers, who buy half the corn produced as feed for cattle, pigs and poultry. Doubling corn prices over the last six months because of demand for ethanol has seen U.S. beef and pork producers at odds with their friends in the corn industry. To prevent agricultural products going through the roof, they are opposing tax and trade policies that offer incentives for corn-based ethanol production. Some farmers in Nebraska now can’t even purchase corn to feed their pigs this spring because corn producers have contracted their production at today’s high prices to go to ethanol plants.
Ethanol will not lead to energy independence. If all the corn produced in America was dedicated to ethanol production (in 2006 only 14% of it was), gasoline consumption would drop by only 12%. For corn ethanol to displace gasoline, all cropland would need to be appropriated and turned over to corn-ethanol production, and then 20% more land found on top of that for cultivation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes that the practical limit for domestic ethanol production is about 700,000 barrels a day — a figure they don’t think is realistic until 2030! Nor is ethanol economically competitive or capable of reducing greenhouse emissions, which was the much-touted reason for its introduction. According to a 2005 report by the U.S. Agriculture Department, corn ethanol costs several times more what it costs to produce a gallon of gasoline. At the moment exactly a litre of other energy and fuel is required to produce a litre of corn fuel. Without the subsidies, costs would be far higher. If, in the US you lived in urban areas that used reformulated gasoline last summer — that’s the environmentally “clean” gasoline required for areas with air pollution problems — you would have paid 60 cents a gallon more for gasoline than you would have otherwise because the federal government required oil refineries to use 4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2006 regardless of price. A similar requirement is in the latest budget for NZ. But whether or not farmers will receive the full benefit will be decided by energy suppliers.
Ethanol is not a renewable fuel. According to Science magazine, only 5-26 % of the energy content of ethanol is renewable. The balance of ethanol’s energy actually comes from the staggering amount of coal, natural gas and nuclear power necessary to produce corn and process it into ethanol. Then what about pollution? When evaporative emissions are taken into account, E10 (10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, the standard mix that constitutes the bulk of the ethanol available today) increases emissions of total hydrocarbons, non-methane organic compounds and air toxins compared to conventional gasoline. And the pollution is actually worse for E85. Oil is available now without research and development costs, it is cheap and cleaner. No one seems to have a problem with it except the green lobby. Alternatives simply won't work. Bicycles are fine for commuters in Christchurch and Ashburton, but not in the hilly suburbs of Wellington and Dunedin. Batteries in electric cars would run flat two hours into Auckland’s morning rush hour. The solar-powered car is ideal in the middle of Australia but would be useless in Southland and inland Otago. Trains? There aren't any on Auckland's North Shore, Waiheke, and many rural towns especially in the South Island, after the Lange government let tracks be ripped out in favour of trucks. Someone forgot that trains carry people as well as freight, but not so trucks. Besides, many of today’s car manufacturers already produce cars with reduced emission levels, especially in Japan and the US where clean-air laws demand it.
So why are oil companies spending so much time and energy on bio-fuel production? The short answer is that they qualify for tax-breaks. To court the green vote, governments, including our own, support research into fuel alternatives. The tax incentives for biofuel research are now so important that for some oil companies operating on wafer-thin profit margins, their annual profit is almost entirely from government assistance. Fear of government collapse if greens pull their vote away translates into ongoing legislation to fund energy research. The real looming world problem later down the track will be for the welfare of poor nations that depend on our excess food production to keep from starving. There will be forests and jungles that of necessity would have to be cut down to make way for the huge corn crops that would be needed. What happens to all the creatures that live in those forests and jungles? Don't they have a right to live, too?
The tax dollar received by the government goes to an offshore oilman so he can play around with other fuels. The oil industry profits from the preferential treatment in tax laws and government support. For example while in the US the non-oil industries are taxed at a rate of 18 percent, the oil industry is taxed at a mere 11 percent. This reduced rate equates to $2 billion in federal corporate income tax benefits per year. They also benefit from low state and local sales tax rates on gasoline, an indirect subsidy exceeding $4 billion a year. Direct government funding of oil and motor vehicle infrastructure and services tops off at $45 billion a year. And taxpayers, not the oil industry, are left to pay the cleanup bill for oil-related health and environmental damage, which could be as high at an annual $232 billion. All oil industries have to do is claim they are continually revisiting and researching the problem and investigating possible alternatives and the green bloc remains contented. The oilman’s research can be as basic as tipping a tin of kerosine into an oil vat to see what happens. There is no transparency, and no expected outcome. There is no watchdog consumer agency to see that the tax dollar is wisely spent. The government has promised to "tackle climate change" and energy PR people have pledged to find "renewable resources" but both expressions are empty of meaning.
Somewhere in a varnished mahogany boardroom beneath a company logo, ethanol executives and politicians use first names and greet over drinks. Like the arms industry supplying both sides in the Middle East conflict, the whole energy supply industry has positioned itself so it cannot lose, peddling both oil and carbon-credit brokerage, enjoying tax concessions both ways. The consumer pays because governments are unwise not to comply. The potential to cream fuel-taxes on old and existing, as well as more and newer fuels, keeps the treasury coffers full.
Climate has got nothing to do with it.