I’m reading a great book right now called Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, by Bjørn Lomborg. Lomborg’s premise is simple: global warming is real and we contribute to it significantly, but our understanding of its impact and our clunky, government-driven solutions are impractical and, quite often, very harmful. A good example is biofuel. Here, David Strom explains why, with regard to biofuels, government backed plans to convert our fuel sources from petroleum to corn are increasingly problematic and, as is usually the case, hit the poorest people hardest:
A new coalition of—believe it or not—environmentalists and advocates for the poor have started raising tough questions about the tax breaks, subsidies and mandates that have fueled the growth of the Ethanol and biodiesel industry.
Ethanol, it turns out, may be great politics in Midwestern corn growing states, but it is terrible environmental and economic policy. As more and more food is diverted from human consumption to producing fuel, prices for basic food are skyrocketing around the world. Deforestation is on the rise as third world countries try to cash in on the boom, and violence has broken out as small landholders are being kicked off their land to make way for large palm oil farms.
A coalition made up of Oxfam, the World Wildlife fund, and other groups is raising concerns about the current rush to replace fossil fuels with biofuels. Increased Ethanol production has led to a spike in corn prices that has caused food shortages in third world countries, including our neighbor to the South, Mexico. African and Asian countries that are currently unable to produce enough food for their own populations are clearing cropland to supply Ethanol for Europe’s new mandate of 10% Ethanol in all their gasoline.
The environmental benefits of using Ethanol are miniscule to non-existent—some estimates even show that it takes more fossil fuel to make a gallon of Ethanol than it yields as a fuel. Water resources are being stretched to the point of disaster, and food prices are spiking across the world. The Japanese car companies warn consumers to avoid biodiesel as it lowers the life-span and efficiency of their engines.
I’ll say again what I’ve said before: I would love to see us released from our addiction to Middle Eastern oil, especially because that addiction means that we’re paying the costs for those who plan our destruction. However, that doesn’t mean that our response to decreasing the addiction should be to embark half-cocked on a plan that will also destroy the environment, while starving many of us to death. To that end, I love Strom’s last word on the subject:
As usual, government “solutions” to our woes have made things worse, not better for the average person. When government gets into the job of picking winners and losers, you can almost be certain that the loser will be you.