4-18-08 by dugan
Global warming denial is a nearly lost cause, so its proponents have a new issue: killer biofuels. Their simple, effective message is that biofuels–all of them–are the cause of rising food costs. Thus biofuels are killing babies in the Third World. It’s cynical, brilliant and mostly untrue. But it certainly deflects blame from spiraling oil and fuel prices, which are spiking farm prices, food transportation costs and worldwide inflation.
It’s no surprise that some ardent messengers have ties to the oil industry. Consider Fox News columnist/commentator Steven Milloy. His column yesterday is scarily headlined "A New ‘Green’ Body Count Begins" and goes on to blame food riots in Haiti and global warming itself on all biofuels–even though he’s a disbeliever in global warming. He’s gotten substantial funding from ExxonMobil as well as from the other old friend of the free-market right, tobacco.
Canada‘s version of Milloy is newspaper columnist Lorne Gunter, who has also turned from global warming doubt to killer biofuels. He writes from Edmonton, Alberta, the heart of Canada’s oil country.
As this all-or-nothing mentality on biofuels takes hold, it diminishes rational and nuanced discussion of what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s a dense study, for instance, from Texas A&M, closely examining "The Effects of Ethanol on Texas Food and Feed." It measures the influences, of oil, speculative trading–and ethanol–on crop prices. It sees some ethanol effect, especially on the livestock industry, a direct competitor for corn. But as it says in the executive summary:
The underlying force driving changes in the agricultural industry, along with the economy as a whole, is overall higher energy costs, evidenced by $100 per barrel oil.
The debate over making most of fuel ethanol from corn or biodiesel from soybeans is a necessary one. So is discussion of conservation vs. renewable fuels vs. electric cars, and so on. But trashing the very idea of biofuels, even if they’re made locally from human trash or industrial wastes, simply feeds the petroleum economy.