The Case for Correct Logic

Biofuels & Climate Change

Michael Grunwald of Time Magazine recently published a new, rather self-serving article in the Washington Monthly, filled with distorted logic and mangled facts.

His portrayal of Tim Searchinger as a humble lawyer who experienced an epiphany about biofuels is disingenuous at best. While now a visiting scholar at Princeton University, Tim Searchinger was formerly a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Action Fund and was intimately involved in lobbying key Members of Congress during the drafting of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today characterized the inclusion of indirect land use as “an eleventh-hour, backroom change to the energy bill.”

One of Grunwald’s more egregious claims is that biofuels have “ratcheted up deforestation rates through a chain reaction that Searchinger and I witnessed on a visit to the Amazon.” How precisely does one “witness” a claimed indirect effect, occurring on a global scale, through a visit to the Amazon? This claim is as unsupported as that made by the EPA in its Notice of Proposed Rule:

there is considerable overall certainty as to the existence of the land use changes in general, the fact that GHG emissions will result, and the cause and effect linkage of these emissions impacts to the increased use of feedstock for production of renewable fuels.”

The EPA certainly hasn’t footnoted this assertion. And the paragraph that follows it maintains that the EPA is confident of the cause and effect connection due to the modeling (See Federal Register, Vol. 74, No. 99, Tuesday, May 26, 2009, Proposed Rules, p.25024). But the causal connection is one of the assumptions of the model; it would create circular logic then to claim that the model was proof of the causal connection.

According to Grunwald, Searchinger’s previous epiphany was that “in a world with 6.7 billion mouths to feed, when you use an acre of farmland to grow fuel, somewhere an acre of something else is probably going to be converted into new farmland to grow food.” And Searchinger’s latest epiphany is that as world population increases to 9 billion, “we’re going to need the world’s farmland to produce as much sustenance as possible on as little ground as possible, so that we can leave the Amazon alone.” Therefore, he concludes, we need to consolidate agricultural production and oppose biofuels.

The problem with that logic is that the Amazon and other rainforests exist in places where population is growing fastest. If agricultural production is consolidated in the United States or in Brazil, how would those growing populations afford to buy it? This particular “epiphany” courtesy of Karl Marx has stood the test of time pretty well. I guess we can be thankful he was an economist and not a lobbyist.

Oversimplification of the relationship between biofuel production and deforestation ill-serves efforts to protect the rainforest. Grunwald’s argument that “we’re better off burning gasoline on a warming planet than using land as a substitute” would be true if and only if stopping biofuel production could directly prevent deforestation. There are too many direct causes of deforestation — including land clearing for subsistence farming to feed growing populations who have no other way of feeding themselves — standing in the way.

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2 Responses to The Case for Correct Logic

  1. Aureon Kwolek says:

    House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson criticized the EPA for restricting the biofuels industry, without holding the oil industry to the same high standards. Peterson reacted strongly to EPA’s unfair application of “Indirect Land Use Change”, an unproven theory riddled with false assumptions, introduced by an attorney. Thousands of scientists have scoffed at it.

    Apparently, it’s OK to clear-cut domestic forests for lumber and paper pulp, and to consume forests and farmland for urban sprawl, interstate highways, coal, oil sands, and oil shales, etc. – because nobody is trying to shut-down these activities. Indirect Land Use Change theory falsely blames biofuels, because they threaten the replacement of petroleum based fuels and the lucrative oil monopoly.

    Indirect Land Use Change theory is flawed. What was omitted is that every acre of U.S. field corn, used to make ethanol, also produces roughly 50 bushels of high-protein distillers grain animal feed. This is used to produce food. On the other end, in Brazil, if an acre of land is used to produce soybeans, only 20% of that acre of soybeans would be the oil pressed from the bean. And the use of that oil would be pro-rated between cooking oil and biodiesel. The remaining 80% goes to high-protein animal feed that produces food. Searchinger followers falsely claim that the entire acre of corn or soybeans goes to biofuel.

    Nobody is starving because we’re taking only the starch from 25% of the feed corn crop, which is not suitable for human consumption. We have a surplus of corn and soybeans. You can buy corn anywhere in the world for 7 cents a pound. That is, if you can afford the shipping cost, which fluctuates with the price of crude oil. Ship a ton of corn from Iowa to South Africa and see what happens to the price, next time oil goes over $120 a barrel. Even if the price of corn doubles, compare that to the long-distance shipping cost, which could triple or quadruple the original cost of the grain.

    I’ve got news: Indirect Land Use Change theory has been invalidated. During the past few years, the rate of rain forest deforestation has actually gone down, while biofuels production has gone up. The ravenous paper pulp industry in Indonesia, and the illegal hit and run timber taking in the Amazon Rainforest are the origins of deforestation, not biofuels. Palm plantations are another factor in Indonesia, however, over 70% of palm oil is used for human consumption, not biofuels. The majority of rainforest that has been destroyed in the Amazon, is being used for cattle ranching and subsistence farming, not biofuels. This has been going on for decades, long before biofuels expanded. See “Deforestation Debunked”, by Jackie Helling. Green Peace reports the same findings. Yet the EPA has embraced Indirect Land Use Change theory, and woven it into new regulations, before it has been scientifically proven. This looks to be something that was pre-meditated and deliberately planted into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

    The EPA has also been caught following UN policy, rather than its own domestic policy. This is a strategy that covertly favors big oil, by falsely blaming competing biofuels for Climate Change. EPA policy should not be based on UN policy. It should be based exclusively on balanced, in-house-verified scientific evidence. Collin Peterson and many others do not want the EPA restricting our growing domestic biofuels industry, an important part of National Security, Energy Independence, and Climate Change Mitigation.

    Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are derived from “recycled CO2” which is already in the air. That’s what sets them apart from petroleum based fuels. Biofuels also release far less particulate soot.

    In contrast, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil, kerosene, and bunker fuel – all extracted from crude oil – are constantly bringing-up new CO2 from deep underground. Thus, fossil fuels are causing additional CO2 to accumulate in the atmosphere. Biofuels are not. The EPA fails to make this distinction – It fails to credit the footprint of biofuels for replacing “newly mined CO2” with “recycled CO2”. These two types of CO2 belong in two different categories.

    Collin Peterson also criticized the EPA for “being in bed with the oil industry”. One thing is for sure – The EPA is secretly playing games and twisting information:

    See “EPA Official Wrong on Ethanol and Biodiesel Yields” by Cindy Zimmerman, Domestic Fuel: Margo Oge, the EPA official responsible for regulating the entire U.S. biofuels industry for emissions, cannot tell you how many gallons of ethanol you get out of an acre of corn, or how many tons of byproduct livestock feed you get. Yet when it comes to calculating emissions, those figures are vital. It appears that the people in the shadows of the EPA are spoon-feeding Margo Oge. When it comes to basic biofuel facts, she doesn’t have a clue.

    A bigger story exposing the EPA recently broke: “Suppressed EPA scientist breaks silence, speaks on Fox News”, by Mark Tapscott. Expert senior research analyst, Dr. Alan Carlin, having worked at the EPA for 38 years, wrote an in-house report criticizing the agency’s stance on Global Warming. Carlin’s report was suppressed by fellow EPA officials, who also instructed him to remain silent and not to talk to the press.

    Carlin went ahead and broke his silence anyway. His banned in-house report exposed the EPA for following UN policy, instead of policy based on its own research. Regarding unproven Indirect Land Use Change theory and Global Warming, UN policy has become an instrument infiltrated by big oil – to blame biofuels – using manipulated information and false conclusions. Contrary to Global Warming CO2 theory, Carlin presented evidence that global temperatures have actually been dropping slightly over the years, not warming. So, why is the EPA regulating CO2 with inconclusive data, when something else is the cause?

    The EPA is also playing the omission game. EPA way underestimates the cost and the environmental impact of petroleum based fuels – as they compare to biofuels. By omission, the EPA fails to factor-in what it takes to secure and protect American Foreign Oil Interests. A Rand Report called “Does Imported Oil Threaten U.S. National Security?” states that protecting America’s Middle East oil interests costs the United States 12-15% of its entire defense budget every year – A huge amount of money, resources, bunker fuel and diesel fuel burned, and a long-distance supply line to protect foreign oil. This problem can be solved by implementing alternative energy, including domestic biofuels.

    The EPA also disguises the true environmental impact of Petroleum based fuels by using old or slanted information. For the footprint of petroleum, the EPA used pre tar sands data. This does not reflect more recent crude oil extracted from Canadian tar sands – which consumes twice the energy of conventional ground wells. And we import more crude oil from Canada than any other country. Tar sands oil extraction is also a major source of deforestation. Shale oil and deep water offshore drilling is also more energy intensive. Yet the EPA low-balls the environmental footprint of petroleum based fuels, and gives them preferential treatment.

    Imported Oil is also transported thousands of miles – from the Middle East and numerous foreign countries – by ocean going ships burning Bunker Fuel, a major cause of global pollution and Black Carbon Soot. Compare this with cleaner burning domestic biofuels that can be produced and consumed locally. The EPA has no accounting method for that comparison. See “Commercial Shipping Emits Almost Half as Much Particulate Pollution as Total Released by World’s Cars”. Ocean going ships burning bunker fuel are showering the water’s surface with black soot, which absorbs heat, rather than reflecting it.

    Our concept of Global Warming itself is flawed. A one or two degree air temperature change, every thirty years, is not going to melt glaciers and polar ice caps. We should take a closer look at the causal effects of black carbon soot falling on ice, snow and water.

    According to Robert Felix, “Global Cooling: Bad News for Global Warming Alarmists”, 90% of glaciers are growing, not receding. Yet isolated cases of melting glaciers have been touted as evidence of Global Warming, and global temperatures have dropped slightly, since Al Gore became a pseudo-hero. Based on biased information, we have been making the assumption that glaciers and ice caps have been melting, due to excessive CO2 suspended in the atmosphere. That may be a factor, but it’s not the main cause. CO2 is being mitigated naturally by plants, forests, algae and seaweed, agricultural crops, and rain. See “UN IPCC Scientist Says Global Warming Big Deception”. Thousands of scientists and scholars do not believe that CO2 is the main cause of Global Warming. Then what is the main cause?

    The EPA has kept quiet about the primary cause of Climate Change – Black Carbon – the artificial airborne residue from burning Dirty Coal, Dirty Bunker Fuel, Dirty Diesel Fuel, Dirty Jet Fuel, partially burned Gasoline residues, and anything that projects particulate SOOT into the atmosphere – Soot that constantly precipitates out of the air and onto the surface of water, snow and ice.

    VERY IMPORTANT NEW INFORMATION: See “Sulfate Lens Enhances Climate Warming Properties of Atmospheric Soot” Green Car Congress. This report explains how we are releasing massive amounts of black soot particles into the air, which are absorbing the heat of the sun. While black soot is suspended in the air, it heats the atmosphere. Then, wherever it lands, it forms a layer of solar-thermal absorption, on the surface of water and on the surface of ice and snow. The heat of the sun is absorbed by this layer of Black Carbon, and this is what is melting snow and ice and raising surface water temperatures – Not the levels of CO2 we have today.

    Suspended Black Carbon Soot is also a much bigger factor in violent storms, floods and tornados, because man-made soot becomes the nucleus around which ice crystals and rain drops form. Whereas carbon dioxide either stays suspended indefinitely, or is naturally recycled as a gas.

    Passing laws to control CO2 is Not going to get the job done. The unintended consequence will be SLOWING the GROWTH of plants, forests, algae, seaweed, and agricultural crops. The best bang for the buck is to reduce and mitigate Black Carbon Soot. That won’t be easy, as long as the EPA and the UN are cooking the books on the fuels that are producing it, and instead, fingering the biofuels which replace them.

    We are rushing into climate change legislation based on misleading information from Spin Doctors like Big Al, the EPA, and the UN. There is no unanimous concrete proof of Indirect Land Use Change or Global Warming based on CO2. What we have is inconclusive and conflicting information, skewed by hidden agendas and cap and trade politics. The EPA has “cherry-picked” the data, in order to portray CO2 as the cause of Climate Change, when the real cause is BLACK CARBON SOOT.

    If we want transparency, we must start by cleaning-up the EPA. And, as long as thousands of Scientists and Scholars still believe that CO2 is not causing Climate Change, the issue is still subject to debate.

  2. The discussion appears to consider that we, as a species, have a great deal of choice.

    Climate Change is that cleverly worked representation of reality.

    The leveraging of carbon emissions reductions with the promotion of alternative energy from bioengineering is part of a range of solutions that simply have to be discovered.

    Not because the world is getting hotter (even if it is!) not because the seas will rise or the weather is to become horrific, not because we actually care that much about the conservation of wildlife or nature in general.( Most give lip service but could give a damn).

    No, we have these sentiments yet the fact is we are steely eyed about keeping our mobility, creature comforts; or ways of life.

    The fossil fuel highway is coming to an end. Not tomorrow, not in my life time.

    The costs of fuel will continue to rise as demand for their use persists. Right now there is hardly a hope in hell that bioenergy can compete economically, socially or environmentally (in energy or market terms) with fossil derived fuels.

    We actually need massive investments around the glob into professional agricultural extension, farm practice management, water management at all levels and above all land use management. If we are keen to preserve the worlds wildlife, oceans, natural resources etc etc then we have to think about the humongous requirement to invest in bio derived energies.

    Still need wind, still need solar, still need nuclear. That is until one of our brightest and best individuals or teams comes up with a revolutionary energy source that can drop into the current major distribution systems that have evolved this past 80-90 years.

    We don’t have to worry about land use change, fuel for food debates or the like. We have to be concerned that changes away from fossil fuels will change the balance of energy around the world over the next 100 years. It is very possible that this will have the most positive impact upon the least developed regions of the world

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