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The Real Scoop on Biofuels
Brian Tokar, Common Dreams
…Biofuels may still prove advantageous in some local applications, such as farmers using crop wastes to fuel their farms, and running cars from waste oil that is otherwise thrown away by restaurants. But as a solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits. The solution lies in technologies and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce energy use and consumption, something energy analysts like Amory Lovins have been advocating for some thirty years. From the 1970s through the ‘90s, the US economy significantly decreased its energy intensity, steadily lowering the amount of energy required to produce a typical dollar of GDP. Other industrial countries have gone far beyond us in this respect. But no one has figured out how to make a fortune on conservation and efficiency. The latest biofuel hype once again affirms that the needs of the planet, and of a genuinely sustainable society, are in fundamental conflict with the demands of wealth and profit.
Brian Tokar directs the Biotechnology Project at Vermont’s Institute for Social Ecology, and has edited two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering, Redesigning Life? (Zed Books, 2001) and Gene Traders (Toward Freedom, 2004).
(1 Nov 2006)
As Investors Covet Ethanol, Farmers Resist
Alexei Barrionuevo, NY Times
MALTA BEND, Mo. – Farmers do not see fast money very often. But with big profits gushing forth from ethanol plants, dozens of Wall Street bankers, in loafers and suits, have been descending on the cornfields of the Midwest promising to make thousands of farmers rich overnight.
Most of them, though, are proving surprisingly reluctant to cash in.
In this sleepy town of 250, for example, people have lived on the edge of despair for decades, dreaming of a way to make their corn worth more than $2 a bushel. Seeking a way out, a group of farmers from here and surrounding communities scoured the state three years ago to raise the money for a $60 million plant that would turn some of their corn into ethanol for cars and lift their incomes.
When ethanol prices soared to more than $4 a gallon this summer, the plant became a roaring success.
And that is when the big money types came knocking. New offers – some as high as $275 million – have rolled in just about every week from an investment bank or hedge fund seeking to buy the plant. For the farmers, particularly those who borrowed part of their investment, a sale could have meant a profit of as much as 10 times what they put in.
So far, however, the plant owners have said no. To them – and to many other farmers who have invested in ethanol around the country – the ethanol plants represent more than a winning lottery ticket. Instead, they signify an emotional investment in the future of their farms and communities, a chance for greater independence and a sense of pride that they are helping make America less dependent on foreign oil.
(2 Nov 2006)
McCain’s farm flip
Jon Birger, Fortune Magazine
The senator has been a critic of ethanol. That doesn’t play in Iowa. So the Straight Talk Express has taken a detour.
John McCain has a problem with alcohol – ethyl alcohol, to be precise.
Ethyl alcohol is the fuel better known as ethanol, and over the years, the Arizona senator has made a habit of ripping ethanol subsidies as corporate pork for agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland.
McCain has argued that government support for ethanol actually raises gasoline prices. He has claimed ethanol does nothing to make the U.S. more energy independent. He has even questioned the science behind making fuel from corn – contending that ethanol provides less energy than the fossil fuels consumed to produce it.
Putting ethanol in the fast lane
Those may be reasonable positions for a senator from a nonfarm state like Arizona. They may even fly for a presidential candidate running as a straight-shooting maverick, as McCain did in 2000.
But for a front-runner – one presumably interested in getting his as-yet-undeclared 2008 Republican presidential campaign off to a winning start – opposing ethanol is political lunacy.
(31 Oct 2006)