Sunday, April 06, 2008


The German government reversed a decision to double the ethanol and renewable additives content of gasoline and diesel to 10 percent, a plan that threatened to boost fuel prices for millions of car drivers. Under the plan that was to go into effect in January, more than 1 million mainly foreign-brand vehicles would not be able to burn the new fuel mix, forcing drivers to fill up with more expensive "super-plus" gas, Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told a news conference in Berlin today. "We don't want to take responsibility if several million people who drive old cars only because they live on lower wages have to use expensive" fuel, he said.

Gabriel came under pressure from members of his own Social Democratic Party as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats to ease pressure on car owners who are already suffering from surging fuel prices, Bild said. As many as 3 million cars won't be able to burn the so-called E10 blend, according to some estimates, a figure well above the 375,000 vehicles that the German carmakers' association estimated.

"In light of the fact that more than 3 million vehicles are not suited to run on E10, it can hardly be expected that there would be any other outcome," Ulrich Becker, vice president of the ADAC German Automobile Association, Europe's biggest lobby group with 15 million members, said on the group's Web site today.



In the pantheon of well-intentioned governmental policies gone awry, massive ethanol biofuel production may go down as one of the biggest blunders in history. An unholy alliance of environmentalists, agribusiness, biofuel corporations and politicians has been touting ethanol as the cure to all our environmental ills, when in fact it may be doing more harm than good. An array of unintended consequences is wreaking havoc on the economy, food production and, perhaps most ironically, the environment.

Biofuels are fuels distilled from plant matter. Ethanol is corn-based, but other common biofuel sources include soybeans, sugar cane and palm oil, an edible vegetable oil. In the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, many countries have turned to biofuels, which has led to a booming business for those involved. In the United States, ethanol is the primary focus and, as a result, corn growers and ethanol producers are subsidized heavily by the government.

But it turns out that the use of food for fuel is wrought with difficulties. Corn, or some derivative thereof, is a common ingredient in a variety of packaged food products. So it's only natural that, as it becomes a rarer commodity due to the conflicting demands of biofuel production, the prices of those products will go up. The prices of food products containing barley and wheat are also on the rise as farmers switch to growing subsidized corn crops. During a time of economic instability, the last thing Americans need is higher prices at the grocery store, but that's exactly what they're getting.

At the same time, corn is the main ingredient in livestock feed and its dearth is causing prices of those products to rise as well. Farmers have had to scramble to find alternative sources of feed for their livestock and, in some cases, have had to sell off animals they can no longer afford to feed. This, in turn, has led to an increase in the price of meat and dairy products for consumers.

The hit on the livestock industry has also affected jobs, with countless employees being laid off due to the downturn. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the nation's largest chicken producer, announced in March that it was closing a North Carolina chicken processing plant, and six of 13 U.S. distribution centers, due to the jump in feed costs. Even Iowa, the state that produces the most corn and therefore the supposed beneficiary of new jobs due to ethanol production, has seen its unemployment rate rise over the past year. The plant layoffs and closings already underway due to global competition and the fluctuating market have continued unabated.

Another adverse impact of ethanol production is potential water shortage. One gallon of ethanol requires four gallons of water to produce. According to a recent report from the National Research Council, an institution that focuses on science, engineering, technology and health, "increased production could greatly increase pressure on water supplies for drinking, industry, hydropower, fish habitat and recreation."

Not only is ethanol less productive than gasoline as a fuel source, its production is hurting the environment it was intended to preserve, particularly in the Third World. The amount of land needed to grow corn and other biofuel sources means that their production is leading to deforestation, the destruction of wetlands and grasslands, species extinction, displacement of indigenous peoples and small farmers, and loss of habitats that store carbon.

Scientists predict that the Gulf of Mexico, already polluted by agricultural runoff from the United States, will only get worse as demand for ethanol, and therefore corn, increases. Meanwhile, rain forests throughout Central and South America are being razed to make way for land to grow biofuel components. Tortilla shortages in Mexico, rising flour prices in Pakistan, Indonesian and Malaysian forests being cut down and burned to make palm oil, and encroachments upon the Amazon rainforest due to Brazilian sugar cane production - all these developments indicate that biofuels are turning out to be more destructive than helpful.

The latest issue of Time magazine addresses the subject in frightening detail. Michael Grunwald, author of the cover story, "The Clean Energy Scam," posits a worldwide epidemic that could end up being a greater disaster than all the alleged evils of fossil fuels combined. As he puts it:

"Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all current carbon emissions. So unless the world can eliminate emissions from all other sources - cars, power plants, factories, even flatulent cows - it needs to reduce deforestation or risk an environmental catastrophe. That means limiting the expansion of agriculture, a daunting task as the world's population keeps expanding. And saving forests is probably an impossibility so long as vast expanses of cropland are used to grow modest amounts of fuel. The biofuels boom, in short, is one that could haunt the planet for generations - and it's only getting started."

Accordingly, the United Nations has expressed skepticism about ethanol and other biofuels. But the European Union seems to have bought into the biofuel craze with proposed legislation to mandate its use. This proposal has set off alarm bells in the United Kingdom, particularly with the British government's chief science advisor, Professor John Beddington, who has warned that a food and deforestation crisis is likely to overtake any climate concerns. "The idea that you cut down rainforest to actually grow biofuels seems profoundly stupid," he stated. Similarly, the British government's top environmental scientist, Professor Robert Watson, called the policy "totally insane."

Some British environmentalists apparently agree, as do members of the American environmental movement. As noted in the aforementioned Time article, the Natural Resources Defense Council's Nathanael Greene, the author of a 2004 report that rallied fellow environmentalists to support biofuels, is "looking at the numbers in an entirely new way," now that biofuel production exists on such a large scale.

None of this has deterred American politicians from jumping on the ethanol bandwagon. No doubt, they see it as a means of garnering political support from the farm lobby and in particular ethanol producers, to whom they have provided generous federal subsidies. Indeed, President Bush, who according to his 2006 State of the Union address is a switchgrass enthusiast, has signed a bipartisan energy bill that will greatly increase support to the ethanol industry, as well as mandating the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022.

In an election year, there has been no shortage of environmental platitudes aimed at voters and, inevitably, ethanol has been a mainstay. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been singing the praises of ethanol in Iowa, while her rival, Barack Obama, merely criticized her for not doing so earlier. Republican candidate John McCain, once an ardent opponent of ethanol, has suddenly become a convert.

The motto among both Democrats and Republicans on this issue seems to be "If it sounds good, push it," and a gullible public - seduced by climate change hysteria and a "Going Green!" advertising onslaught - is buying into it.

While the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, and in particular the dependence upon foreign sources thereof, is laudable, future avenues must be considered more carefully. As the looming ethanol disaster has demonstrated, yet again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.



A spring gale is lashing orthodox climate policy. This week, an article was published in Nature that should shake the certainty of anyone who assumes that the Kyoto protocol approach is the sensible way to go, and that signing the accord is a responsible step for the United States to take.

Three climate experts offer some inconvenient truths. Roger Pielke, Tom Wigley and Christopher Green are far from being climate change sceptics, but they are vigorous heretics about some of the orthodoxy of the debate. They show it is even more urgent than we thought to abandon the failed Kyoto strategy and move quickly to policies which might actually reduce carbon emissions. Any workable strategy has to include India and China: Kyoto did not. As they rapidly industrialise and reduce poverty, their CO2 emissions will rise steeply - by as much as 13% a year for the period from 2000 to 2010, in the case of China.

The Nature piece is titled "Dangerous assumptions". The most dangerous assumption is how all the scenarios that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published have a built-in assumption that misleads us about the magnitude of the emissions challenge. It shows that the technological challenge is at least twice as big as people believe. So this is where the rubber hits the road.

The IPCC has assumed that about three-quarters of the emissions reduction required to stabilise CO2 will occur "spontaneously". It would arrive as a free rider on the back of the well-documented trend which indicates that, after an initial upswing, the energy intensity of industrial societies has a record of impressive and continuous decline. What does that mean?

Energy intensity is an elegant and potent function which shows the relationship, over time, between a standardised unit of production - say œ1,000 of gross domestic product - and the amount of energy used to make it. Until recently, mature industrial economies have become less energy-intensive: through greater efficiency they have used less and less energy per unit of production during the later 20th century. Japan is the world leader in this respect.

But "Dangerous assumptions" shows that, globally, this is no longer the case. Principally because of the rapid industrialisation of India and China, reduction in energy intensity has levelled out or reversed in recent years. The global economy is not decarbonising - it is recarbonising. This was noticed by the experts in the IPCC but not reported in its Summary for Policymakers, the politically negotiated document mostly read by politicians and journalists. If the free rider of decarbonisation is not available, the challenge to move quickly to a radically different type of global climate policy is all the greater.

What would a materially effective policy do? It would break the link between poverty reduction and carbon emission. It would recognise that the developing world needs to consume - and will consume - more energy, not less. It would recognise that attempting to control human-created carbon emissions by setting binding output targets and relying on artificial carbon markets and dodgy offsets, as Kyoto does, has not and never will work.

Such policy would shift to the input side, and concentrate on radical improvements in the production and use of energy. It would focus first on the sectors of all economies that are the heaviest consumers of energy: power generation, building, cement and metals production. The sectors that western environmentalists have prioritised hitherto, such as road and air transport, should be much further down the list. If all automobile use in the US stopped tonight, the reduction in global emissions would be less than 6%. Instead, there must be a much larger commitment to fundamental energy technology research and development.

Is there any hope of this happening? Fortunately, there is. At the Bali climate conference in 2007, the geopolitical centre of gravity for climate policy shifted decisively away from the Kyoto enthusiasts, such as Al Gore and the EU, to the Pacific. Despite the headlines about the superficial isolation of the US because of its continuing refusal to sign Kyoto, on deeper matters the US was not alone, and certainly not on the need for a fundamental rethink of climate policy, of which all the presidential campaigns are becoming aware.

The shape of the future agenda may reside with Japan. Supported by other Pacific powers, it is leading a profound shift to an approach emphasising radical improvements in energy intensity. This concentrates initially on the most energy-intensive sectors, with ambitious plans for both technology research and development and technology transfer to help China and India reduce the impact of their programmes of coal burning, which are an inescapable feature of the next 30 years. CO2 targets, which evidence shows do not work as mandatory drivers of policy, can remain as helpful indicative guides.

This strategy will be a centrepiece of July's meeting of the G8 near Hokkaido. The vital importance of the tree-shaking analysis in Nature is that it gives reasons for anybody who takes climate policy seriously - and not just as a surrogate for playing other sorts of political games - to welcome and follow these Japanese guides, travelling the hard but necessary road from Kyoto to Hokkaido.



An email from Donn Dears [] of TsAugust

Quirin Schiermeier commented on the work done by Roger Pielke Jr. et al, and reported on the challenges associated with developing technologies needed to combat climate change. This has been our concern and is the thrust of our recently published book, "Climate Folly".

"Climate Folly" is short, but highlights the key issues in a non technical format targeting the everyday reader. It establishes that we currently do not have the proven technologies needed to achieve a substantial cut in CO2 emissions. The exception, of course, is Nuclear, but it's highly unlikely the United States will build enough nuclear power plants to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

It emphasizes we should wait to enact Cap & Trade regulations until we have demonstrated that the technologies will really work on the necessary scale. Wind, for example, does not have sufficient scale, even if it was economically justifiable. Indur Goklany's comments support this view.

Much of the debate in the media in the United States has focused on the purported science surrounding global warming. While the scientific arguments are difficult to follow and cause many people to accept the headlines, the idea that we do not have the technologies available to accomplish significant cuts in CO2 is something non-scientists can readily understand.

"Carbon Folly" is an effort to involve the average person in the issues affecting them directly, i.e., no electricity-no jobs, etc. Da Vinci believed man could fly and designed wings to be strapped to a person's body. But, only a fool would jump off a cliff before proving the technology would work.


The Greenies are trying to cover their asses

Global temperatures this year will be lower than in 2007 due to the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. The World Meteorological Organisation's secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer. This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory.

But experts have also forecast a record high temperature within five years. [Prophecy trumps reality?]

La Nina and El Nino are two great natural Pacific currents whose effects are so huge they resonate round the world. El Nino warms the planet when it happens, La Nina cools it. This year, the Pacific is in the grip of a powerful La Nina. It has contributed to torrential rains in Australia and to some of the coldest temperatures in memory in snow-bound parts of China. Typically lasts for up to 12 months and generally less damaging event than the stronger El Nino

Mr Jarraud told the BBC that the effect was likely to continue into the summer, depressing temperatures globally by a fraction of a degree. This would mean that temperatures have not risen globally since 1998 when El Nino warmed the world.

A minority of scientists question whether this means global warming has peaked and the earth has proved more resilient to greenhouse gases than predicted. But Mr Jarraud insisted [empty assertion?] this was not the case and noted that 1998 temperatures would still be well above average for the century. "When you look at climate change you should not look at any particular year," he said. "You should look at trends over a pretty long period and the trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of warming." [Even if it hasn't warmed for 10 years??] "La Nina is part of what we call 'variability'. There has always been and there will always be cooler and warmer years, but what is important for climate change is that the trend is up."

Experts at the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre for forecasting in Exeter said the world could expect [and it could not expect too] another record temperature within five years or less, probably associated with another episode of El Nino.



How pesky for the Greenies!

Lloyd's of London warned yesterday that an absence last year of natural disasters or man-made accidents was putting pressure on firms to reduce premiums in 2008. The world's oldest and biggest insurance market said that though the lack of major disasters had allowed firms to push up profits 5% in 2007, underwriting margins were being squeezed.

Almost half of the 320-year-old market's business was conducted in the US last year. It is a major insurer of the Florida seaboard and oil rigs in the gulf of Mexico. In 2005, a series of natural disasters culminated in Hurricane Katrina clattering into New Orleans. The clean-up bill pushed Lloyd's into a 103m pound loss.

However, two years of relatively few claims for environmental damage have increased competition in the sector. "On the back of a good performance in 2007 we need to sound a note of caution for 2008 because of softening market conditions and because of the financial turmoil we have seen," said Richard Ward, chief executive of Lloyd's.


NOTE: Here's a reminder of another warning less than 2 years ago:

"Lloyd's of London, the oldest insurance market in the world, yesterday urged its members to start taking global warming more seriously, by increasing prices to avoid being "swept away" in a sea of future financial claims. Premiums will have to rise and some risks might even be classed as uninsurable due to greenhouse gases and rising sea levels, warned Lloyd's in a report entitled Climate Change, Adapt or Bust. "Climate change is today's problem not tomorrow's. If we don't take action now to understand the changing nature of our planet we will face extinction," said Lloyd's director, Rolf Tolle."


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