GOP Puppet Group AAPS Moves to Block Ethanol and Biofuels

 

Every once in a while, I read something that doesn’t quite jive.  Sometimes it’s a simple typo or a misplaced decimal point, and a quick double-take + common sense will straighten things out.  Other times, like when I read a report on Autoblog Green about the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) predicting a move to ethanol-based bio-fuels “could kill 200,000 people a year”, something more sinister (or possibly just “more stupid”) is behind the apparent disconnect.

Reading the article (which I encourage everyone to do), the argument the AAPS is making essentially “boils down” to a single passage, which reads –

Increased production of biofuels increases the price of food worldwide by diverting crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles. Higher food prices, in turn, condemn more people to chronic hunger and “absolute poverty” (defined as income less than $1.25 per day). But hunger and poverty are leading causes of premature death and excess disease worldwide. Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.

–  got that?  At first glance, it might seem like solid reasoning.

It’s not.

Before I get down to the business of analyzing the logic behind that argument critically (i.e., like a good little philosophy major) I’m going to play a little “logical argument game” with the AAPS.  Mind you, this little game will not actually refute the argument in any way (but we’ll get to that, I promise) and serves no grander purpose than letting me vent about something that irks me, but play along.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Logical argument game:  attack ad hominem.

Generally speaking, the validity of a given argument is independent of the arguer – which is to say:  it doesn’t matter who says “2+2=4”, the statement is either true or false on its own merit.  So, when an ultra-conservative GOP lobby calling itself “the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” says things like “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS”, “the homosexual lifestyle reduces lifespan by 20 years”, and that “human activity has not contributed to climate change”, these shouldn’t take away from the group’s credibility.

So, despite the fact that other medical and scientific journals have claimed that the AAPS “is waging a war on science- and evidence-based medicine in the name of its politics” and that the New York Times described AAPS’ members as an “ultra-right-wing … political-economic rather than a medical group”, that shouldn’t influence our reading of the AAPS’ “biofuels kill” argument (in gray) above.

So, while the AAPS are (op-ed comment in 3 … 2 … 1 …) a malicious, racist, and homophobic bunch of douchebags, their malicious, racist, and homophobic douchebaggery is not a logically valid reason to automatically disbelieve what they’re saying about biofuel production being causally related to 200,000 deaths each year.

See?  That was fun!  Sophomoric, sure, but still fun.  Besides, we don’t need to go after the AAPS’ own creditability to cast doubt (if not totally dismantle) their “biofuels kill” argument.  From here on out, we’ll apply sound, 101 “intro-logic” level reasoning to the argument and see how it stands up.

Let’s start with the first sentence of the AAPS’ statement, which reads “Increased production of biofuels increases the price of food worldwide by diverting crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles.”  The sentence itself, as a grammatical English sentence, is really a compound sentence, making a first point (increased production of biofuels increases the price of food), whose truth is implied by a second point (biofuel production diverts crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles).  As a logical argument, the compound sentence could be rewritten as “If you divert crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles (by increasing production of biofuel), then the price of food worldwide would go up.”  If you look at it that way, you can see a few major problems.

  1. There are plenty of ways to produce biofuels from sources that aren’t food, ranging from non-food algae to non-edible fish waste, shrimp shells, poop-filled diapers, and landfill waste … surely increased production and implementation of landfill waste and poop won’t divert existing food away from people (excepting the AAPS’ members – who are so full of it that they may actually be full of it).
  2. The availability of crops and croplands is just one of several factors influencing the global cost of food (per this 2008 DoE report).  Another (volatile!) factor in food prices?  The price of oil (which is required to plant, harvest, store, transport, and distribute food) is a major factor in end-user food prices (indeed, the Wall Street Journal presents the connection between high oil prices and food prices as causal).
  3. According to the US Department of Energy under George W. Bush, increased biofuel use reduces both the demand for and price of gas and diesel fuels, which could (per no. 2, above) actually decrease global food costs.
  4. Even if you do divert some crops and croplands to product biofuels, doing so could just as likely save lives as end them, even if you accept the hyperbole of the AAPS.  How so?  Look at the picture at the start of this post, and consider the number of people killed in war – not only ideological wars but (especially) resource wars …

… I’m going to take a bit of a side-track here and point out that 3,976 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2010 as a direct result of what many have called a war for oil.  That was 2010, which was an improvement compared to the 4,680 civilians killed in 2009.  This war has been going on for nearly 10 years now, and the heaviest fighting was early on.  How many deaths, then, were directly caused by just this one war, even if you exclude combatants?  40,000?  50,000?  That’s not worldwide, that’s just this one war in Iraq!  What’s causing those deaths?  Tanks, Hummers, planes, etc. all had their role – and the continuous wartime operation of all these vehicles is adding to the demand for oil to the tune of 40 million barrels a year over and above peacetime ops (395,000 barrels per day, according to the DoD).  This sort of massive oil use is driving up costs according to exactly the same “supply/demand” model the AAPS applies to crops and biofuel – which begs the question:  How many deaths were caused by the rise in oil prices that were a direct result of feeding the war for oil machine?

“Too many.” is the correct answer.

Note, also, that these are not hypothetical deaths – these deaths are happening now, and they are happening precisely because we haven’t shifted our focus away from petroleum fuels.  The AAPS doesn’t care about these deaths, however – because these deaths don’t advance the AAPS’ agenda …

… before we get back to the (super fun!) attacks ad hominem, though, let’s get back to the AAPS’ “biofuls kill” argument.  We’ve already shot a few holes in the reasoning and consequences laid out in the first part of the argument, but what about its second half – wherein the AAPS’ writers are “leading” us to their conclusion?  That conclusion being, “Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.”  Again, this is based on the validity of the first sentence in the argument (the one we already beat down) so, in a pure “classroom” sense, we can ignore this completely.

This isn’t a classroom, though, so I’ll make it as clear as I can:  because it is not immediately clear that increased biofuel production would directly cause an increase in food prices (see items 1, 2, 3, and 4, above) it is not possible to causally connect higher biofuel production with increased death and disease.

For objectivity’s sake, the AAPS’ full press release is included below.

TUCSON, Ariz., March 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — U.S. and European policy to increase production of ethanol and other biofuels to displace fossil fuels is supposed to help human health by reducing “global warming.” Instead it has added to the global burden of death and disease.

Increased production of biofuels increases the price of food worldwide by diverting crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles. Higher food prices, in turn, condemn more people to chronic hunger and “absolute poverty” (defined as income less than $1.25 per day). But hunger and poverty are leading causes of premature death and excess disease worldwide. Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.

Research by the World Bank indicates that the increase in biofuels production over 2004 levels would push more than 35 million additional people into absolute poverty in 2010 in developing countries. Using statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Indur Goklany estimates that this would lead to at least 192,000 excess deaths per year, plus disease resulting in the loss of 6.7 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) per year. These exceed the estimated annual toll of 141,000 deaths and 5.4 million lost DALYs that the World Health Organization attributes to global warming. Thus, developed world policies intended to mitigate global warming probably have increased death and disease in developing countries rather than reducing them. Goklany also notes that death and disease from poverty are a fact, whereas death and disease from global warming are hypothetical.

Thus, the biofuel remedy for global warming may be worse than the disease it purports to alleviate.

Sources:  too many to list, but clicking on the embedded hyperlinks above will get you there, and I encourage anyone with even the slightest bit of interest in politics and environmental policy to do just that.

Photo:  Associated Press.





About the Author

I’ve been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.

  • None of your fine argument takes anything away from the reality that ethanol from corn is catastrophically stupid. Which loby do you prefer, Big Oil or Big Ag? Both should probably be taken out back and shot in the neck.

    • As stated in the article: There are plenty of ways to produce biofuels from sources that aren’t food, ranging from non-food algae to non-edible fish waste, shrimp shells, poop-filled diapers, and landfill waste … surely increased production and implementation of landfill waste and poop won’t divert existing food away from people.

      Let’s read the whole thing before we decide to disagree, K?

  • Aj

    Any fuel derived from food is an extremely stupid idea. If anyone doesn’t understand the consequences of this stupidity should read about 2008 food crisis in latin america.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007%E2%80%932008_world_food_price_crisis). Would I like to fuel my car with food from starving countries ? definitely not, just as I won’t like to fuel my car by invading other countries for oil.

    • Aj

      Having said that, this would be my ideal choice for replacement of oil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatropha#Oil_and_biodiesel).

      “In 2007 Goldman Sachs cited Jatropha curcas as one of the best candidates for future biodiesel production.[2] It is resistant to drought and pests, and produces seeds containing 27-40% oil,[3] averaging 34.4%.[4] “

      • Not sure I trust Goldman Sachs as a source for anything other than “how to con billions of dollars out of the American people and not give back a dime”, but jatropha seems promising.

        Even so, from what I’ve read it’s highly toxic, so suddenly introducing vast fields of jatropha into an ecosystem seems irresponsible. I say we use what’s already there: bio waste products, farm waste, compostable trash, human waste, etc.

    • As above: plenty of untapped biofuel resources that are NOT directly related to food, AND plenty of reasons to believe that some food-to-fuel conversion would actually decrease net food costs for millions of people.

      Do I want to fill up my car with food form starving countries? No.

      Is the primary force behind recent “food, not fuel” arguments crooked political scamming, rather than humanitarian compassion? Absolutely.

      • Aj

        Though I agree that food prices are related to price of oil. And any drop in oil price will drop food prices. But its highly unlikely that substituting oil by converting food into fuel is going to drop food prices. And having already seen the effects of this I for one do not buy any food-for-fuel arguments. However, biofuels from non-food sources like jatropha or any other plant growing on non-fertile land is a brilliant idea and should be invested in. Imagine growing your fuel locally in an otherwise useless arid/desert land. It will only boost any local economy.

  • Wow…that was one of the most convoluted arguments ever.

    Forget about environmental policy, philosophy and politics for a moment…let’s talk physics:

    The EROEI of most biofuels is less than one, requiring more energy input to produce than the energy you receive by burning the end product.

    Algae, jatropha switchgrass…all sound great in theory and may work in the lab, but NONE has been accomplished on a large scale basis.

    Ethanol? One of the biggest scams ever…end the subsidies now.

    To quote James Howard Kunstler, it’s all just blowing green smoke…

    http://kunstler.com/blog/2011/04/blowing-green-smoke.html

    • I’m not disagreeing with you (here, anyway), but your point is irrelevant to the AAPS’ argument. Whether EROEI is 1, 2, or. .01 is irrelevant to whether or not a large-scale transition to biofuels will lead to higher fuel prices.

      Remember: that energy that is spent to extract ethanol is not necessarily fossil fuel energy, and can come from solar, hydro, or wind energy, as well as nuclear (which, obviously, is not ideal). Converting those non-combustible energies into something that can be used as a combustion fuel for millions of vehicles THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN BUILT is a huge net energy gain relative to manufacturing millions of new, “fresh” EVs.

      • OK, I guess I *AM* disagreeing with you there! LOL!!

        • Here’s a link to an open source document that goes into great depth on EROEI…it’s a great analysis on how to compare different energy sources:

          http://www.howtoboilafrog.com/docs/eroi.pdf

          • You’re missing the point with EROEI, Dean. I can’t collect solar or wind or hydro electric energy in a jar and pour it into my ICE car. I *CAN* however, pour ethanol into a car and motor on down the road. Even if more energy (electrical, kinetic, whatever) goes into making a gallon of E100 than will ever come out of it, it is USEFUL energy, rather than “free” (read: untamed, wild, useless) energy.

    • read your own article “For instance, fuels such as corn-based ethanol that have marginally positive EROIs (1.3: 1)”
      1 energy in 1.3 energy out.
      And that new form of energy works in my car. The old form may be a waste product like old tires burned to produce fuel for my car.
      One unit of the old form doesn’t move my car, 1.3 unit of new form moves my car. I think we have a winner.

  • Wow. This ‘article’ is so pathetic I don’t even know where to start. I’m not even interested in dissecting your rambling, convoluted attack on some supposed political group I’ve never heard of. It’s not our responsibility to feed 3rd world countries so I dismiss their concerns and their data. However, your retort that using corn to make fuel doesn’t drive up the price of food is just plain incorrect. Any claim to the contrary must attempt to defy basic economics. More uses for corn means more buyers for corn means more demand for corn means prices go up. Yes more corn is being produced but you see there is this little problem in that arid-able land is an ‘inelastic’ commodity i.e. they aren’t making more of it. More land in corn also means less land for other crops like fruits and vegetables which means prices for those staples go up as well.

    Please don’t reply with your ‘there are plenty of ways to produce biofuels’ non-sequitur. It is sheer fantasy to believe we are producing, or are capable of producing, anything more than a trivial amount of fuel from lawn clipping, wheat straw and human garbage.

    We are now to the point where the price of oil at some level determines the price of corn. This is not good. With unrest in the middle east driving up oil prices this in effect drives up corn prices, since ethanol producers buy more corn to make ethanol since prices are good. It is a viscous cycle. Food prices go up. More unrest ensues. Ethanol was supposed to help free us from middle eastern oil and middle eastern problems but it hasn’t. It has in a very real way made us even more in tune with them. That’s too bad.

    There is plenty of good fuel under our feet. It’s a shame we don’t exploit them more. I hate oil as much as anyone else but we need it and we may as well get it where it’s close by and secure.

    • I’m going to keep posting No. 2 from the article above into every comment that starts in on corn. Here you go: There are plenty of ways to produce biofuels from sources that aren’t food, ranging from non-food algae to non-edible fish waste, shrimp shells, poop-filled diapers, and landfill waste …

      Regarding your “It is sheer fantasy to believe we are producing, or are capable of producing, anything more than a trivial amount of fuel from lawn clipping, wheat straw and human garbage.” comment: I’ll concede your point when I see some numbers. I will also add that most of the EU is now looking to shut off the nuclear plants they have and move towards wind, hydro, and bio-based energy initiatives – they have billions and Lord knows how many PhDs telling them it’s possible – and they’ve convinced Germany, already, so before you convince me, at least cite a reference.

      Note: that isn’t meant to be combative in any way, just letting you what it will take to convince me. Send me some links, and I will definitely post your side here on this forum.

      • Actually you are the one who keeps repeating an non-cited fallacy so the onus is on you. Produce proof that that we are or are capable of producing a significant amount (i.e. around what corn ethanol is already producing) of biofuel from lawn clippings, garbage, and fish guts etc. (By the way many of these things already have wonderful uses.. fish guts and composted lawn trimmings are used quite extensively in organic farming).

        Good Luck.

        • To paraphrase from the Princess Bride: I don’t think that means what you think it means. A “fallacy” is incorrect reasoning in an argument, which renders the argument logically invalid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy) it’s not a “fact” or “claim” to be cited. Your next comment about significant amounts of biofuel from waste was cited in the articles that my post linked to, and have enough credibility to have received both private and federal grants, which means the companies and methods involved had to meet sufficient rigorous testing (scientific rigor, as defined here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Scientific+rigor not “really hard tests”) to qualify for those grants, and ALSO beat out other grant candidates who ALSO held sufficient rigor. Finally, you invoke the “onus of proof”, which is a legal term basically boiling down to “innocent until proven guilty” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_burden_of_proof). Since I am claiming that the argument used to justify the conclusions of the AAPS are invalid, the only “onus probandi” I have to meet is whether or not the argument is invalid – showing that the “A” in their “if A then B” argument is not immediately obvious (as I did by providing several examples of alternative biofuel sources and contradictory conclusions in the same studies and source materials the AAPS cited) casts doubt (at least) on their “A”, leading us to “not A, so not B”.

          I hope you enjoyed the lesson.

          • I’m not arguing with the idea that agricultural waste etc can be turned into bio fuel. Indeed it is already being done. I know of one plant in Idaho that uses wheat straw, among other things, to make ethanol.

            I must point out that straw wasn’t being burned in the fields or left to rot before this ethanol plant was built. Straw already has many uses including as animal bedding and feed (yes they feed straw, despite it’s energy deficiency) to cattle. So you see getting back to your original argument, which is that non corn ethanol can be produced with stuff that don’t compete with ‘food’ isn’t necessarily true as currently applied.

            The United States is the worlds largest producer of ethanol, virtually all of it from corn. This is driving up the price of corn which is raising the world price for virtually all foods, not just corn. The lack of cheap food is a cause of much civil unrest in the middle east. In some 3rd world countries is it almost undoubtedly causing some to go without.

            Right now fuel from fish guts (which can be composted to make fertilizer), wheat straw and other agricultural wastes represents a blip on the total output of ethanol and at any rate doesn’t necessarily solve one of the big problems of corn ethanol which is the food vs fuel debate.

  • Forget the food.

    I think we can agree that Brasil is the only economy that has made a decent fist of producing an alternative to fossil fuels. As a regular visitor Brasil I can tell you that “Alcool” is available at very filling station and can be used in most cars. The Sales Director of my client uses it every other fill in his 2009 Civic.

    The source of this “Alcool” is sugar cane. Sugar cane is grown on marginal land that cannot sustain proper nutritional food. For humans excess sugar is a major health problem so surely no one is going to call it food.

    So 2 points here one directly pertinent and the other interesting.

    Alternative fuels are sustainable without effect on real food production and in it seems that a Sales director of a 100M USD company can be content with a Civic as is the norm in Brasil (think how much fuel that would save in the US, all these arguements would be irrelevant). Perhaps we have something to learn from our Latin American friends

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  • Drink a lot of Kool-Aid, Jo?

    For every drop gallon of Ethanol-based fuel, the government is paying $1.50 subsidy to produce it. If straight gas is $3.80 and ethanol-gas mixture is $3.50 at the pump, you saved $0.30 a gallon, right… Yeah, but it cost the American tax-payer $1.50 – assuming you’re an American tax payer, that means your $3.50 fuel actually cost you $5.00 a gallon, $1.20 more than imported gasoline. Where is the economy in that?

    If we drilled here, we would have a steady supply of oil for many years to come, while we could be actually developing the next great power source and continuing to feed the world with our bounty.

    • We do drill here. It works really well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill

      • Oh, man, that was hilarious HA-HA-HA… BTW, BP is a British company. Between the idiotic response of BP, etal. and the Feds, what should have been stopped in a week or two, with minimal damage was allowed to go on for a ridiculous period. However, that being said, the overall damage, according to the scientific investigators of the spill has been, relatively, and I repeat the world relatively, minor – not non-existent, but minimal, considering the amount of oil that leaked.

        But, of course you failed to address my primary issue with alcohol as a fuel. As a secondary concern, I wonder about the level of harmful by-products that are created as the result of burning alcohol.

        In an engine that would optimized for alcohol combustion, the compression ratio of the engine would of necessity need to go up. Raising the compression ratio of an engine automatically increases the creation of nitrogen pollutants, which are the primary cause of the ugly orange haze that used to hang above the LA basin.

        When Henry Ford perfected the internal combustion engine, he did so without one cent of government aid. When Edison invented the light bulb, movie pictures, the wire recorder, etc, he did so without one cent of government aid. When Bill Gates invented DOS and later Windows, he did so without one cent of government aid. I could go on, but the point has been made.

        It does not require the interfernce of the government, through incessant meddling and financial incentives to create the next great leap in transportation technology – only fools and nanny state schills think that it does…

        • Not sure what prompted you to start believing PR = history, but this “self-made billionaire” BS you’re pushing is way off.

          Ford sold tens of thousands of Model Ts to government offices, officials, and the US military … who paid for all that? Oh yeah! THE GOVERNMENT. I get your point, though, you got it wrong about Henry … Billy Gates will help your case, though. He didn’t get big by taking government funds at all, except that it was the government contracts that funded IBM, and it was IBM that bundled Microsoft’s DOS software with its already monopolistic market share – again, who paid for that? Who paid for the development of early computers, smaller, cheaper tech, the DARPA net, and virtually all the early infrastructure necessary for a company to come along start charging big money for software (which could reproduced at virtually zero cost)? That’s right again, kids: THE GOVERNMENT.

          As for “In an engine that would optimized for alcohol combustion, the compression ratio of the engine would of necessity need to go up.” that’s simply misleading. You’re using the word “optimize” in an intentionally obscurantist manner here, implying that you MUST increase compression to burn the fuel usefully. BALONEY, sir, and I suspect (from a quick Google search) you know it.

        • Just a quick question: are you the same Steve Shurts that’s the CEO of East Central Energy? It comes up if you Google the name.

          I assume you’re NOT the same guy, however, since that company was founded with federal dollars under an FDR program. It’s on the company website: http://www.eastcentralenergy.com/whatisacoop.aspx … if you ARE the same guy, though, please tell me – it would be delicious fun to share this libertarian rant with the rest of the energy co-op.

          🙂

    • @ Steve

      We’ve been drilling in the U.S. for over 100 years. The “next great power source” is not going to just crop up without government aid, when oil and coal are so well entrenched.

      The government is already spending between $5 billion and $8 billion subsidizing corn, which is around 1/3 of all the farm subsidies the U.S. government doles out every year. Now we can take those subsidies away, but food prices will skyrocket overnight when the price of corn-based food (i.e. damn near everything) is affected.

      Oil more drastically affects the price of food than ethanol and other biofuel processes, and as Jo has mentioned, multiple times, ethanol does NOT have to come from corn. There are literally hundreds, probably thousands of different plants and organisms that we can produce fuel from. But oil needs to step aside. I think ethanol will have its deserved place in helping keeping oil prices from spiraling out of control, but in order to head off European levels of gas prices, we need to act now.

      The whole point of this article, though, is to show that this study is at best dubious and poorly researched, and at worst a thinly-veiled attempt by the petroleum institute to impede the progress of biofuels. I try to stay away from politics personally, but had Jo not beat me to it, I would have written a very similar article. This study just reeks of bias, and completely avoids the mention of how many millions of people have been affected by oil (though I think invading Iraq was more about correcting Daddy W.’s mistakes than for oil, and I’m all for taking down dictators any day of the week.)

      • As I write this the May 2011 contract for corn sits at $7.68/ bushel. Although not an all time high (that occurred the last time oil spiked, not coincidently) this represents a good $3+ / bushel premium over recent prices. Subsidizing corn at this point is completely unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars. There are so many ubiquitous and competing uses for corn that ending the subsidy would have almost no effect. What would, however, be problematic for corn prices would be ending the tax subsidy for corn based ethanol production. This would quickly destroy corn ethanol production as it is completely non competitive with oil if left to its own devises. Having said that we should definitely end the subsidy for corn ethanol as well.

        • I don’t think you’ll find many people here who disagree with you on THESE points.

      • Don’t bother reasoning with him, Chris. He’s defending the Deepwater Horizon spill and trying to blame it on the fact that BP is a British company (apparently hoping we’ll all forget the company is formally called BP / Amoco – for AMERICAN oil company).

        For giggles: http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9014823&contentId=7027814

  • DB

    Let’s clear something up: When this-or-that-guy mentions corn-based ethanol, they aren’t talking about taking cans off the shelf or bags out of freezers. Ethanol production relies on the starch content of the grain and high starch corn not only doesn’t taste good, it’s almost indigestible by humans (not the case with ruminants, though whether or not it is ok for them to eat is arguable).
    The EPA shows that in 2000 only 12% of the corn grown ends up being consumed directly, while 80% ends up as feedstock for domestic and foreign animals (1). In addition, the process of ethanol production doesn’t require the comestible part of the plant. Cellulosic ethanol uses the stalks, leaves, and other woody (read: non-edible) parts to create usable fuel. This means that one can grow BOTH food AND fuel on the same land. Also, cellulosic ethanol is producible from a variety of “woody” stocks including the paper and sundry items in our garbage.
    As current as I could find information for (2006), the cost of production of 1 US gallon of ethanol was $2.20 (2). Oil is much harder to find a dollar value on because of the tax incentives and subsidies involved. Finally, cellulosic ethanol also provides 80% more energy than it takes to produce it (3).
    I’m not arguing for an ethanol-based (or corn-based) and certainly not an oil-based economy. I do think that we, as a group, should avoid putting all our eggs in one basket, as we have with oil-rich nations (and would if we expanded drilling here). My intention here was to clarify things that were not being said and to point out something else: If oil companies are recording profits in the hundred-billions, why are we subsidizing them in excess of 4 billion (a value the Obama administration wishes to cut) (4)? Instead of subsidizing other people’s resources, how about we subsidize something we can produce and control here? And that “something” is much more than just corn.

    (1) http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/cropmajor.html
    (2) Weeks, J (2006). “Are We There Yet? Not quite, but cellulosic ethanol may be coming sooner than you think”. Grist Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-08
    (3) Ratliff E (2007). “One molecule could cure our addiction to oil”. Wired Magazine 15
    (4) Froomkin, Dan. (2011) “How The Oil Lobby Greases Washington’s Wheels” Huffington Post 2011-04-06

    • Hey Jo, love the article. I was browsing the web the day that came out and I absently felt the notion of a fallacy brewing. I feel your take was well made, well thought out and clever.

      As for the fiesty peeps who you’ve had to remind of the MANY alternatives for biofuel; I as a Canadian laugh at them. We see the corn-biofuel agenda as a big political shenanigan. Seeing the Americans angrily shake their fists at their leaders over everything is kinda funny. Not saying Canada is politically superior. The rest of the world has already dropped that corn-fuel notion. Scientists, labs, universities, hobbyists, energy corporations all have better ideas.

      Substantially better ideas. So good in fact they make fiscal sense as a business.

      One idea I want brought to the market would be cheap biofuel manufactory to households. Waste vegetable oils, human (and pets) excrement, etc… all diverted to an outside/basement system. If we (theoretically) all drove Chevy Volts the extended range engine is environmentally neutral using the household supplied biofuel. The electricity for it’s battery from renewable resources. Except for the vehicle manufacture process it’s all good and green.

      Units would be optional like solar panels, additional water heaters and the like. Some companies are already doing this, but are expensive. There are estimations that can be done to determine when it’s paid for itself.

      It’s a pipe dream.

      http://www.dragonflybiofuel.com/BiofuelSystems.htm

      Most of Canadian provinces haven’t even legally acknowledged gray water recycle systems for houses. Let alone a biofuel system. A house for sale that has a gray water system must have it removed because there’s no regulatory body to ensure it’s operation is sanitary. So slow the law is.

      • I love this comment so much I want to hug it.

  • trash turn into synthetic gasoline and diesel would make dent in our oil used. We trow away hundreds of tons of trash. we tech to do it now and at currant gas price it would be economic to do so.

  • StaticKlingon

    We have a lot of tricks in the bag as far as organizing our lives to be more efficient. A third of us could work online rather than sitting in traffic jams every day of the week. Sun Belt residents could heat their bath water and pools with solar. It pays for itself quickly. Composting toilets save tons of water and the trees love the output. Switching to propane or CNG for autos works great. Growing more of our own food helps in a lot of ways. Stay off the roads and grow a garden…depending on what you plant the investment can pay off 10 to 1….(talking fruit and vegetables here…you herb growers probably do better) 🙂
    I agree that using corn for fuel is indeed catastrophically stupid. Nothing burns out soil quicker than corn, and let’s not even get started on the anhydrous ammonia, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and trips across the field with high-powered diesel equipment. Millions of tons of antibotics, hormones, and steroids added to it when it’s turned into animal feed is a whole other dismal tale. Support a local farmers market by buying what you don’t have and selling the excess you do have. Big Oil and Big Ag are only able to pick your pockets clean if you bend over and let them. Convenience is highly overrated and overpriced. Git ‘er done! 🙂

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  • larry hagedon

    My oh My, what a case of the blind blindly condeming the blind.

    The proper way to use corn is to process it for best uses. Corn is a complex feedstock used for food, feed, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, industrial chemicals, plastics and fuels. Were we to stop processing it for best uses and only use it for food, we would be forced to cut back on world corn production by half or more. The economic results of doing so would be catastrophic.

    Here is a corn processing plant that is doing it right, and making some 30 products from corn.
    http://iowabiocenter.com/

  • Billy Nichols

    The United States has been dependent on gasoline ever since the prohibition. Henry Ford actually used ethanol as his original fuel before the 19th amendment banned the sale of alcohol. I, as a obsessive car mechanic and a horsepower junky don’t want to see the day that muscle cars are a thing of the past but I also don’t like the fact that oil and its derivatives clog engine parts and destroy the atmosphere. Ethanol gives more horsepower than gasoline, but i don’t think we need just one or two fuels, another good fuel to look into is hydrogen( not the fuel cell, thats a piece of crap) i mean burning hydrogen in an ICE, so look into it, really liked your article!

    • That’s right! I can’t believe I forgot about that – it was the prohibition nonsense that made gasoline a thing! They used to dump it into rivers as WASTE from oil refineries before that!!

      EXCELLENT comment! +1 internets for you!!

  • RWS

    “Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.”

    Well,since overpopulation is the root cause of probably 90% of human and ecological problems, perhaps some extra deaths should be encouraged?
    I know that “population reduction” is verboten, not-to-be-spoken-about, un-PC, smacks of eugenics, and other low-level criticisms… nevertheless, overshoot (http://dieoff.org/page15.htm) and die-off (http://tinyurl.com/cgaol86) is the way of nature in these matters.

    • Wow. You are a horrible, evil f***er. I hope you become inspired to make the world a better place and kill yourself.

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