05 January 2007

Another race to the bottom?

Ethanol seen gobbling half US corn output by '08
(Globe and Mail 070105)

A surge in US ethanol production will demand half the country's corn supplies in 2008, more than double the amount forecast by the US Department of Agriculture, according to the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental advocacy group. Ethanol production from existing distilleries and those under construction across the US will pull about 139 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest, Lester Brown, president of the institute, said on a conference call. Agriculture department data forecast ethanol production will consume about 23% of total US corn supplies by 2015. Rising demand for alternative fuels to gasoline will boost corn prices, which reached a 10-year high of US$3.94 a bushel in November, to $5 a bushel within the next two years. Rising demand for corn as a fuel source will reduce amounts available for animal feed or sweeteners, and reduce exports. The US is the world's largest corn producer and exporter. “We're looking at a fundamental shift in the global food economy,” Brown said. “The price of grains is going up to their oil-equivalent price. It could create urban food riots in poorer countries.” Brown recommends the US issue a moratorium on new ethanol plants, shifting to producing the fuel from switch-grass instead of corn, and improving the fuel economy of cars and trucks to reduce demand. US demand for corn used to make ethanol, a gasoline additive, will rise 34% to a record 2.15 billion bushels in the marketing year that began Sept. 1, the Department of Agriculture said Dec. 11. The 110 factories now producing ethanol in the US have boosted their annual capacity by 12% in the past six months, to 5.3 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington. An additional six billion gallons of capacity will be added in the next two years as 79 new plants or expansions are completed, the association said.

So, I guess we're going to have to make a collective decision once again, and I fear we're going to make the wrong one, again.

It disturbingly seems more apparent by the day that North Americans are determined to keep their cars and the humungous infrastructure required to run them operating at the current level of utilization, no matter what the cost to our health, our environment, our economy, or the well-being of others not so fortunate. We've become so accustomed to having our vehicles intricately woven into our social and cultural institutions that we couldn't imagine a scenario playing out without them being a main variable in the equation.

So now we're willing to forego a secure, affordable food supply for everyone just to keep our affluent (and arguably undeserving) society's cars on the road? There isn't enough arable farmland on the planet to grow enough ethanol-producing crops to run our global fleet of personal and commercial vehicles. Of course, the oil flow is not stopping tomorrow and there are other options available, but why are the politicians and capitalists continually bringing up all these pie-in-the-sky alternatives that aren't even close to being the magic elixir they are marketing and/or hoping that they'll be?

Why won't anyone speak the truth? Because the truth would cause a panic and it's unfathomable in this society of instant self-gratification that people could ever understand that they aren't and never were the center of the universe. AND THAT WE'RE ALL IN THIS CLUSTERFUCK TOGETHER.

At this point in time, some of the best and easiest-to-implement options I see are:
1) increasing efficiencies in our vehicle mileages, power generation, etc. -- all of which are technologically possible, have lots of room for massive improvements, but these initiatives are constantly fought by the manufacturers and utilities. Despite the futility of this endeavor (the Detroit piggies aren't going to make it easy), it does delay the inevitable.
2) Conservation of what we've got. If every household could decrease their consumption of power and fuel by, say, 10%, wouldn't that be huge? Very easy to do on paper, much more difficult in practice to get Joe Lunchpail with a Grade Ten education to understand the need shell out some cash to install power-saving appliances, replace power-vampire appliances, adding water collectors, low-energy lightbulbs and efficient windows, doors, etc. and of course, riding a bike or walking when reasonable.
3) Getting used to living with less. This isn't a very popular option for the capitalists since it throws their entire economic model into question, but contraction is generally inevitable in the Western countries, despite how much immigration the powers that be want to throw at the problem. Why do we need all these excesses? Why do we feel obliged to 'buy now, pay later' when we were all raised to 'buy when you have the money to do so'? It's all very strange to me how our collective justifications for our out-of-control consumption and spiralling debt loads continue to become more and more bizarre and/or indefensible, in light of the growing evidence that we're heading into some very stormy waters economically, environmentally, and socially.

AT THE VERY LEAST, the Canadian government finally appears to be ready to have a mature dialog about climate change. It's a small, but significant step. At least that blow-hole Rona Ambrose is out of the picture and now spending more time with super-awesome Stockwell Day. How appropriate....

Yes, things are heating up, new environment minister says
Last Updated: Friday, January 5, 2007 | 9:37 AM ET
CBC News
Canada's new environment minister, John Baird, isn't saying what he'll try to do about global warming, but he suggested in a CBC interview on Friday that weird weather has eliminated any doubts that temperatures are rising.

"I mean, I grew up here in Ottawa, lived here my entire life, and I can't remember a winter where I didn't have to use my boots," he told Heather Hiscox of CBC Newsworld. "I left the house without even a winter coat this morning. So that's obviously a huge concern."

John Baird has replaced Rona Ambrose as environment minister.
(CBC) Baird, who stressed that he was just 20 hours into the job and still needs to be "briefed up," replaced Rona Ambrose, who had struggled to defend the government's have-it-both-ways stand on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Under Stephen Harper's Tories, Canada remains a Kyoto signatory but rejects the main idea of the agreement, a schedule for substantial cuts in heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. A Liberal government under Jean Chr├ętien ratified the agreement in 2002.

Baird gave no hint of his thinking on the Kyoto targets, but missed no chance to accuse the Liberals of dissembling.

"Canadians … are pretty skeptical when it comes to climate change because they saw the previous government for 13 long years increase greenhouse gas emission by 30 per cent, at the same time wearing a cloak of green. So Canadians want to see some real action and one that will have results and not just rhetoric."

In his remarks on global warming, he was following the lead of Prime Minister Harper, who at times had seemed unconvinced it is a problem, but declared this week that Canadians deserve more action on both air pollution and climate change.

Baird said climate change is "a huge priority of Canadians," and one he intends to tackle as soon as he gets up to speed on the scientific and policy issues.

"Canadians want a minister who's going to be concerned," he said.

"I think [Liberal Leader] St├ęphane Dion has clearly said he's very concerned about the issue, but people aren't going to look at what you say. They're going to look at what you do, and the Liberals' record on this is pretty bad."

Dion, in a separate Newsworld interview, said his own emphasis on environmental policy may have helped to push Harper to change his tone on global warming.

The prime minister "received a wakeup call, maybe from me, but from all Canadians," but it remains to be seen how serious he is about it, the Liberal leader said.

"It will not be difficult to do more than he did last year. Last year, he cut 90 per cent of the programs for environment and climate change. Last year, he embarrassed the country with his approach regarding Kyoto on the international stage.

"So I hope we will see some improvement, even though it will stay far from what we really need to do … and if he is willing to improve even a bit what he did last year, this will be very positive."

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