Archive for May, 2006
Tradable carbon-emissions credits could be a good policy tool, but there are many ways to institute them, and there’s no good reason to ignore issues of economic fairness in their distribution. Also, see the Sky Trust concept as a semi-alternative. But anyway, the main point is…
The New York Times
May 24, 2006
Finally Feeling the Heat
By GREGG EASTERBROOK
TODAY “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s movie about the greenhouse effect, opens in New York and California. Many who already believe global warming is a menace will flock to the film; many who scoff at the notion will opt for Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. But has anything happened in recent years that should cause a reasonable person to switch sides in the global-warming debate?
Yes: the science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous. As an environmental commentator, I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data I’m now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I support the use of biodiesel. But as with every good idea, it falls short of being a panacaea. I’ve argued with some biodiesel proponents who are so interested in finding alternatives to petroleum that they seem willing to ignore the negatives that can come from biodiesel. Common Dreams relays an article on one of those — the threatening extinction of orangutans resulting from expansion of palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s not that the palm oil is being used primarily for biodiesel, but as biodiesel grows as an industry, it is more and more likely to be a part of growing demand for palm oil. Gotta keep the big picture in mind.
Ethanol’s been in the news a lot lately, given a real boost by Bush’s mentioning it in his state of the union speech. Ethanol has a sketchy history. Production in the 70s and 80s was apparently a net energy loser (that is, more fossil fuel energy was required to create a gallon of ethanol than that gallon could displace), and while its reputation as an energy loser remains, more recent evidence seems pretty convincing that ethanol is now a net energy winner. There’s a rundown of the debate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s “New Rules” website. A recent analysis of ethanol energetics [175 kb PDF file] was published in Science. The authors come to a very interesting conclusion, that while producing ethanol is a distinct energy saver compared to producing gasoline, the net greenhouse gas release into the atmosphere is not much better for ethanol under current technology. Their model predicts that the adoption of “cellulostic” ethanol technology will lead to meaningful reductions in GHG releases, relative to gasoline. (Virtually all ethanol today is derived from corn because of corn’s high sugar content. Cellulostic ethanol is derived from plant materials, like the now fast-becoming-famous switchgrass, that don’t have much or any sugar content.)
One thing that I noted previously is that using plant cellulose for ethanol production means that plant material is not being allowed to return to the soil. This can result in reduced soil quality. It can also be a problem from the point of view of GHGs, because adding organic matter to soil is a terrific way to sequester carbon, removing it from the atmosphere. (Yet another reason to support farms that rely on compost and manure for their fertilizers instead of industrial NPKs.) I’m sure there’s some ideal balance between using some portion of a crop for ethanol and leaving the remainder on the farm, but it’s something that will have to be figured out.
The ILSR brings up another issue regarding ethanol: the changing status of its economics. Until now, ethanol has been only a moderately sized business, and many ethanol factories are relatively local facilities owned as farmer co-ops. That meant that the value-added in converting corn to ethanol went back, at least in part, to the farmers. However, with an ethanol boom in the offing, new facilities are planned that are mega huge, requiring outside investing. The result is likely to be that Wall Streeters will get the profits from the value-added, while the farmers will be back to square one as mere suppliers of a commodity input. ILSR’s David Morris writes on how to “ensure a biofuels industry that truly benefits rural America.” [large file: 1.4 meg PDF]
Our man Lakoff, in the language trenches:
May 22, 2006
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson
Framing is at the center of the recent immigration debate. Simply framing it as about “immigration” has shaped its politics, defining what count as “problems” and constraining the debate to a narrow set of issues. The language is telling. The linguistic framing is remarkable: frames for illegal immigrant, illegal alien, illegals, undocumented workers, undocumented immigrants, guest workers, temporary workers, amnesty, and border security. These linguistic expressions are anything but neutral. Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and the hence constrains the solutions needed to address that problem.
The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, we will analyze the framing used in the public debate. Second, we suggest some alternative framing to highlight important concerns left out of the current debate. Our point is to show that the relevant issues go far beyond what is being discussed, and that acceptance of the current framing impoverishes the discussion.
* * *
On May 15th, in an address from the Oval Office, President Bush presented his proposal for “comprehensive immigration reform.” The term “immigration reform” evokes an issue-defining conceptual frame — The Immigration Problem Frame — a frame that imposes a structure on the current situation, defines a set of “problems” with that situation, and circumscribes the possibility for “solutions.”
“Reform,” when used in politics, indicates there is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed — take “medicare reform,” “lobbying reform,” “social security reform.” The noun that’s attached to reform — “immigration” — points to where the problem lies. Whatever noun is attached to “reform” becomes the locus of the problem and constrains what counts as a solution.
Thousands of Iowa’s Corn Farmers See the Future in Fuel
Growers Investing In Ethanol Plants Across the State
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 21, 2006; A03
GOLDFIELD, Iowa — The complex looks like a refinery and smells like a bakery. From a pipe at the back flows a clear liquid that could be confused with vodka, except it can power an automobile and, its backers hope, propel ordinary Iowans into biofuel heaven.
The pungent liquid called ethanol, made from corn, has Iowa farmers giddy. Inspired by high oil prices and changing sentiment in Washington, thousands of investors are pouring tens of millions of dollars into new facilities, such as the gleaming $90 million plant here.
“We’ll be the Arabs of the Midwest,” mused John Becker, manager of a farm cooperative in Craig.
Ethanol prices are surging across the country as legislators add incentives to spur usage and fleet owners rejigger their fuel orders to cope with $3-a-gallon gasoline. The boom has meant profits for early investors, corn farmers, truckers and suppliers, even as financial analysts and government officials hurry to assess the fuel’s staying power and its impact on such matters as farm subsidies and national security.
With national capacity more than doubling in the past three years and set to grow an additional 50 percent by the end of 2007, the wave is moving fast — from New York, where Gov. George E. Pataki (R) this month announced construction of the state’s first ethanol plant, to California, where Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates recently invested $84 million in Pacific Ethanol Inc.
Iowa, the top corn-producing state, is the nation’s ethanol leader, generating 25 percent of U.S. ethanol in towns such as Coon Rapids and Steamboat Rock. In addition to 22 ethanol refineries in operation, the state has seven under construction and at least 20 are being planned.
The boom here has largely been a grass-roots phenomenon, fueled by clusters of growers, bankers and small-town professionals. Aspiring biofuel plant owners have been barnstorming the state, delivering investment pitches in firehouses, schools and community centers.
Six thousand farmers have bought in.
“There’s quite a bit of exuberance for the ethanol plants. They’re paying real good dividends,” said Rockwell City farmer Keith Sexton, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and an investor in four biofuel refineries. “It’s coming on board almost faster than a person can keep up, unless that’s your day job.”
The state legislature this year passed incentives designed to increase the percentage of ethanol and biodiesel in Iowa fuel sales to 25 percent by the end of 2019. Three of every four gallons of gas sold in the state contain at least 10 percent ethanol, although most of the state’s production is shipped elsewhere.
Ethanol is the fuel Henry Ford originally envisioned for his mass-produced Model T automobile. It is blended into three of every 10 gallons of gas sold in the United States, although its percentage of the overall national fuel supply remains tiny. The clear liquid burns more cleanly than gasoline and, unlike that of crude oil, the potential supply is virtually unlimited and close to home.
In signs that big-time players are betting on ethanol’s future, Illinois-based agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. recently announced a large expansion, while car makers are increasing their commitment. General Motors Corp. says it will manufacture 400,000 more flex-fuel vehicles, which will join more than 5 million on the road.
Big manufacturers are also making engines that can run on biodiesel, a smaller but fast-growing segment of the industry.
It’s nice to be ahead of the curve, and it’s nicer still when the curve points towards decency and a better world.
Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility
A Different List Of Moral Issues
By Caryle Murphy and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 20, 2006; A01
The religious left is back.
Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members.
In large part, the revival of the religious left is a reaction against conservatives’ success in the 2004 elections in equating moral values with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement.
“The wind is changing. Folks — not just leaders — are fed up with what is being portrayed as Christian values,” said the Rev. Tim Ahrens, senior minister of First Congregational Church of Columbus, Ohio, and a founder of We Believe Ohio, a statewide clergy group established to ensure that the religious right is “not the only one holding a megaphone” in the public square.
“As religious people we’re offended by the idea that if you’re not with the religious right, you’re not moral, you’re not religious,” said Linda Gustitus, who attends Bethesda’s River Road Unitarian Church and is a founder of the new Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture. “I mean there’s a whole universe out there [with views] different from the religious right. . . . People closer to the middle of the political spectrum who are religious want their voices heard.”
Why peak oil isn’t happening anytime soon, and stuff like that.
Well, I’m not particularly convinced. Absurd suggestions like getting oil from tar sands are, well, absurd. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just that it’s insane. You expend so much more energy squeezing the oil out of the sand than you get in the resulting oil. And, um, is there a reason that climate change is never mentioned? Can you talk about future energy use without mentioning climate change? Why would you want to? I mean, who gives a rat’s putootie if there’s enough cheap petroleum to last 100 years–the externality cost is growing with every passing moment and totally swamps any benefits. And cetera.
Live near Amherst, Mass? Or will be round there June 8th? Got a couple of hours available? Wanna talk with people about changing the world?
SAGE & The Center for Popular Economics invite you to a participatory workshop on
Globalization and Economic Alternatives
Thursday, June 8, 7:00-9:00
Bangs Community Center, Rm 101
70 Boltwood Walk, Amherst, Massachusetts
Topics will include:
- Globalization, Neoliberalism = inequality, unsustainable growth
- Why we need an alternative economy
- Stepping stones to an alternative economy