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The Economist agrees with Castro on America’s ethanol drive

The Economist
IT IS not often that this newspaper finds itself in agreement with Fidel Castro, Cuba’s tottering Communist dictator. But when he roused himself from his sickbed last week to write an article criticising George Bush’s unhealthy enthusiasm for ethanol, he had a point. Along with other critics of America’s ethanol drive, Mr Castro warned against the sinister idea of converting food into fuel.

…corn-based ethanol, the sort produced in America, is neither
cheap nor green. It requires almost as much energy to produce (more,
say some studies) as it releases when it is burned. And the subsidies
on it cost taxpayers, according to the International Institute for
Sustainable Development, somewhere between $5.5 billion and $7.3
billion a year.

…Ethanol is not going to solve the world’s energy problems on its own.
But its proponents do not claim that it will. Ethanol is just one of
a portfolio of new energy technologies that will be needed over the
coming years. Good ethanol, that is-not the bad stuff America is so
keen on.
(4 April 2007)
The original article is behind a paywall at the moment. It has also been posted at Marxmail. -BA

City on Fire

David Dubyne, Chiang Mai News (Thailand)
Driving home after work during the second week of March, the setting sun was spectacular: a molten, pink-red globe, its colours intensified by a thick shroud of smog. ‘There is a price to pay for skies that look like this,’ I couldn’t help but think. I had seen a similar sunset over 10 years before, in South Africa, when a spate of brutal forest fires had ravaged the mountains encircling Cape Town. In that instance, payment was made in the form of a massive loss of plant and animal life, as well as a number of houses that met a fiery demise at the tongues of the inferno. This time, public health paid the price.

…When The Nation published an article stating that air pollution is more than twice the normal average in Chiang Mai, you would have thought local politicians would have started discussing the issue. Sorry, no. In Thailand it comes down to citizens in the community that want to help on a local level, not government.

Enter Dr. Anucha Promwungkwa, Assistant Professor for the Energy Management and Conversation Centre (EMAC) in Chiang Mai University (CMU), a visionary man who wants to improve air quality and reduce Thailand’s energy dependence from foreign nations through the use of bio-diesel produced locally. Together with EMAC he has started a Used Vegetable Oil (UVO) collection programme that accepts donations of cooking oil or animal fat from factories, slaughter houses, restaurants, fresh markets and individual family households around Chiang Mai. Initially he was looking for solutions to reduce the amount of waste oil dumped into the sewers which clogged pipes and required cleaning by hand or the addition of chemical solvents to remove the sludge.
(4 April 2007)

What is the real cost of corn ethanol?

Ronald R Cooke, Financial Sense ONline
..Thanks to Federal mandates and subsidies, corn used for the production of corn ethanol is expected to increase from ~ 700 M Bushels in 2000/2001, to 3.2 B bushels in 2007/2008 – an increase of 357 percent. On December 11, 2006, the USDA estimated 2006-2007 U.S. ending stocks would be 935 million bushels, down from 1.97 billion bushels in 2005-2006. That decreases the ending stocks by more than 50 percent and puts the ending stocks to use ratio at 8%, – the lowest in 11 years.

It should be obvious to all, we are going to need a lot more acreage and big yield improvements if corn production is going to keep up to demand. Prices could exceed $4.50 per Bu by the end of 2008. That’s a price increase of 125% over 2005/2006 season prices.
Score one for the agribusiness lobby. ..
(2 Feb 2007)
Some readers may tire of reading about the problems of corn-ethanol in the US, as we’ve certainly run plenty of articles about them. Unfortunately the gross subsidies and their consequences are still increasing, so we must persist. Ron Cooke challenges all the benefits claimed by the industry and makes important points on ‘Who Benefits’ from the current bonanza. -LJ