November 2011

Post image for Do Biofuel Mandates and Subsidies Imperil Food Security?

Do biofuel mandates and subsidies inflate food prices? Do they increase world hunger ? There was a rip-roaring debate on the food security impacts of biofuel policies in 2007-2008, when sharp spikes in wheat, corn, and rice prices imperiled an estimated 100 million people in developing countries. Food price riots broke out in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, and Yemen.

Experts attributed the rapid rise in food prices to several factors including high petroleum prices, drought in Australia, a weak U.S. dollar, commodity speculation, and rising demand for grain-fed meat by China’s rapidly expanding middle class. But some also laid part of the blame on biofuel policies, which artificially increase global demand for corn and soy while diverting those crops and farmland from food to fuel production. A July 2008 World Bank report argued that biofuel policies accounted for as much as two-thirds of the 2007-2008 price spike. A July 2010 World Bank report, on the other hand, concluded that rising petroleum prices were the dominant factor. “Biofuels played some role too, but much less than previously thought,” the report stated.

Where does the debate stand today? Recent reports by the National Research Council (NRC), the New England Complex Systems Institute (CSI), the UN Committee on World Food Security (CWFS), and Iowa State University (ISU) all acknowledge that biofuel policies put upward pressure on food and feed prices. The NRC and ISU studies argue that U.S. biofuel policies have only modest impacts on grain prices whereas the CSI and CWFS studies indicate that biofuel policies contributed significantly to the 2008 global food crisis and/or pose significant risks to global food security today.

Links to these reports and key excerpts follow. [click to continue…]

Monday’s excerpt from Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature argued that we shouldn’t fear global warming because even if it causes resource scarcity, people will not resort to violence over scarce resources. Today’s excerpt from Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist gives another reason why we shouldn’t fear global warming—extra warmth will be good for us.

The Rational Optimist was released in 2010

If only hypothetically, it is worth asking whether civilisation could survive climate change at the rate assumed by the consensus of scientists who comprise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–that is, that the earth will warm during this century by around 3° C…

Sea level is by far the most worrisome issue, because the current sea level is indeed the best of all possible sea levels: any change–up or down–will leave ports unusable. The IPCC forecasts that average sea level will rise by about 2-6 millimetres a year (or about a foot per century). At such rates, although coastal flooding will increase slightly in places (local rising of the land causes sea level to fall in many areas), some countries will continue to gain more land from siltation than they lose to erosion. The Greenland land-based ice cap will melt a bit around the edge–many Greenland glaciers retreated in the last few decades of the twentieth century–but even the highest estimates of Greenland’s melting are that it is currently losing mass at the rate of less than 1 per cent per century. It will be gone by AD 12,000….

As for fresh water, the evidence suggests, remarkably, that, other things being equal, warming will itself reduce the total population at risk from water shortage… On average rainfall will increase in a warmer world because of greater evaporation from the oceans, as it did in many previous warm episodes such as the Holocene (when the Arctic ocean may have been almost ice-free in summer), the Egyptian, Roman and medieval warm periods. The great droughts that changed history in western Asia happened, as theory predicts, in times of cooling: 8,200 years ago and 4,200 years ago especially. If you take the IPCC’s assumptions and count the people living in zones that will have more water versus zones that will have less water, it is clear that the net population at risk of water shortage by 2100 falls under all their scenarios….

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Keystone Wisdom

by William Yeatman on November 30, 2011

in Blog

Yesterday afternoon, my colleague Myron Ebell spoke at a panel hosted by the Heritage Foundation, on President Barack Obama’s recent decision to postpone until the first quarter 2013 a determination on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline—the $7 billion, shovel-ready project to deliver up to 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. He made the case that the President subordinated significant job creation to political pandering.

Myron was joined by Heritage’s Nicolas Loris and also Daniel Simmons, of the Institute for Energy Research. Video of his presentation is available below.

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Post image for Public Policy and Regulatory Decisions Driving up Electricity Rates

Electricity rates now depend more on public policy and regulatory decisions than on actual costs.

Based on a newly released report from Oliver Wyman, a leading global management consulting firm, “There is a growing need to increase electricity prices. These rate increases are largely being driven by environmental, regulatory, and security requirements.” And they are adding to “financial strain at the worst possible moment.”

The report, designed to help utility companies deal with customer wrath, states that “the increases have been the most significant in the residential segment”—where they grew more quickly than other sectors. Despite declining pricing on some fuels, such as natural gas, electricity rates have risen 2.7% per year with some regions experiencing average price increases of 5.1% annually. In contrast, the consumer price index—excluding food and energy—rose by 1.7%.

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In Steven Pinker’s brilliant new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, he demonstrates that peace has actually increased over the course of human history, even over the past few centuries, and particularly the last few decades. In this excerpt, Pinker discusses the myth that resource scarcity increases violent conflict, and that climate change could contribute to more war, terrorism, and violence.

A 2007 New York Times op-ed warned, “Climate stress may well represent a challenge to international security just as dangerous–and more intractable–than the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War or the proliferation of nuclear weapons among rogue states today.” That same year Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their call to action against global warming because, according to the citation, climate change is a threat to international security. A rising fear lifts all the boats. Calling global warming “a force multiplier for instability,” a group of military officers wrote that “climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror.”

Once again it seems to me that the appropriate response is “maybe, but maybe not.” Though climate change can cause plenty of misery… it will not necessarily lead to armed conflict. The political scientists who track war and peace, such as Halvard Buhaug, Idean Salehyan, Ole Theisen, and Nils Gleditsch, are skeptical of the popular idea that people fight wars over scarce resources. Hunger and resource shortages are tragically common in sub-Saharan countries such as Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania, but wars involving them are not. Hurricanes, floods, droughts, and tsunamis (such as the disastrous one in the Indian Ocean in 2004) do not generally lead to conflict. The American dust bowl in the 1930s, to take another example, caused plenty of deprivation but no civil war. And while temperatures have been rising steadily in Africa during the past fifteen years, civil wars and war deaths have been falling.

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Post image for Climategate 2.0 – Another Nail in Kyoto’s Coffin

The individual (or individuals) who, in November 2009, released 1,000 emails to and from IPCC-affiliated climate scientists, igniting the Climategate scandal, struck again earlier this week. The leaker(s) released an additional 5,000 emails involving the same cast of characters, notably Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, and Michael Mann, creator of the discredited Hockey Stick reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere temperature history. The blogosphere quickly branded the new trove of emails “Climategate 2.0.”

The timing in each case was not accidental. The Climategate emails made painfully clear that the scientists shaping the huge — and hugely influential — IPCC climate change assessment reports are not impartial experts but agenda-driven activists. Climategate exposed leading U.N.-affiliated scientists as schemers colluding to manipulate public opinion, downplay inconvenient data, bias the peer review process, marginalize skeptical scientists, and flout freedom of information laws. Climategate thus contributed to the failure of the December 2009 Copenhagen climate conference to negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. Similarly, Climategate 2.0 arrives shortly before the December 2011 climate conference in Durban — although nobody expects the delegates to agree on a post-Kyoto climate treaty anyway.

Excerpts from Climategate 2.0 emails appear to confirm in spades earlier criticisms of the IPCC climate science establishment arising out of Climategate. My colleague, Myron Ebell, enables us to see this at a glance by sorting the excerpts into categories. [click to continue…]

A week has passed since President Obama made his shocking announcement delaying the Keystone XL pipeline decision until after the presidential election. The news has been met with cries of victory and sighs of disappointment, but the tactic shouldn’t have surprised anyone as it totally fits with his ideology.

Additionally, TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, handed the environmentalists a win.

First, we all know that the President is fundamentally opposed to all carbon-based fuels (think Solyndra, et al)—so the pipeline’s approval was a longshot. But it would have created thousands of true shovel-ready jobs without a dollar of taxpayer money—many of which would have been union (not to mention the spin-off jobs).

The pipeline’s approval would have made the unions happy, while angering the environmentalists. Two of Obama’s solid funders were in conflict—one shouting in one ear, the other in the other ear (drowning out the voice of the American public). Waiting for the decision, watchers wondered which base held more sway.

The delay announcement, however, is a possible fundraising coup.

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Yesterday’s excerpt from Mark Pennington’s Robust Political Economy showed why it might not be a good idea to trust government with environmental protection. Pennington argued that government has no strong incentive to actually protect the environment, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know the best ways to balance environmental protection with other priorities. Canadian think-tank Environment Probe’s Elizabeth Brubaker’s Property Rights in the Defence of Nature gives many examples of how property rights rather than legislation were used to prevent pollution.

On April 31, 1950, An Act respecting The KVP Company Limitedreceived royal assent. With one stroke of the pen, the Ontario government wiped out an entire community’s property rights, and with them, citizens’ power to protect their river from an upstream polluter. The story of the KVP Act dramatically illustrates the significance of common law rights to clean water and governments’ willingness to override these rights in the name of the “public good.” It is a story about a community’s struggle for a clean river – a struggle against the pulp mill that dumped its wastes into it. The courts tried to protect the river; the government protected the pollution.

…By the 1940s, the abundance of game fish had made the river and its surroundings a popular tourist resort area. The opening of the KVP plant in 1946 changed all that. Repulsive odours, often likened to the stench of rotten cabbage, permeated the river’s 35-mile course to Lake Huron’s north channel; they were even detectable ten miles out into the channel. Farm animals found the water repelling. People living beside the river could no longer draw their drinking water from it. Even boiled water tasted and smelled so bad that it couldn’t be used for cooking or washing.

Sadly, much of KVP’s pollution was unnecessary. Kraft mills elsewhere used alternative methods – settling basins, for example – for effluent disposal. Before the mill had started up, a downstream landowner had urged its manager to pipe the effluent to sand flats nearby. But the manager had refused. “It is,” he had said, “a matter of economics.

Supported by the downstream community and by local wildlife organizations, six men, all of whom owned land along the Spanish River, launched five lawsuits against KVP…High Court Chief Justice McRuer found that the KVP Company had both violated the plaintiffs’ riparian rights and committed a nuisance. He awarded damages totaling $5,600 and issued an injunction prohibiting KVP from altering the character or quality of the water…

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Post image for Another Green Energy Lobby Talking Point Debunked

Environmentalists, green energy lobbyists, and their political benefactors rely on a number of bogus talking points in order to justify generous taxpayer subsidies to the renewable energy industry, without which it wouldn’t exist. At a Congressional hearing last week, for example, Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified that green energy subsidies are necessary so that the U.S. can win a renewable energy trade war with China. (I dispute this contention in a previous post). Yesterday, the Institute for Energy Research’s Robert Bradley debunked another such rationalization—recently, renewable energy enthusiasts have taken to arguing that “that government subsidies over many decades allowed the oil and gas industry to cement its perch atop the energy chain. The implication is that wind and solar may need the same long-lived subsidization to achieve commercial viability too.” This is the thesis of a much-hyped analysis published last month by DBL Investors, titled “What Would Jefferson Do? The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies in Shaping America’s Energy Future.” The paper received gobs of attention from the media, despite the fact that it was written by a venture capital firm that invests in green energy, and which, therefore, directly benefits from taxpayer handouts to the industry.

In any case, Bradley exposes the poor historical analysis that buttresses this latest justification for throwing ever-more taxpayer money at green energy boondoggles. From his post,

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Post image for EPA/DOT Admit — No, Boast — New Fuel Economy Standards Bypass Congress

Federal agencies are not supposed to be overtly partisan. They are also not supposed to legislate. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood apparently didn’t get the memo. Or maybe they just don’t give a darn.

In a press release announcing their plan to raise fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the agency heads boast: “Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of executive actions the Obama Administration is taking to strengthen the economy and move the country forward because we can’t wait for Congressional Republicans to act” [emphasis added]. Jackson and LaHood even title their press release, “We Can’t Wait.”

‘What do we want? Energy independence! When do we want it? Now!’ Even if that means trashing the separation of powers, the essential constitutional foundation for accountable government.

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