Hans Bader

“Biofuels made from left-overs of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global-warming in the short run, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will combat climate change,” reports the Associated Press.  “A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline. . .the study says they won’t meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel. The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.”

This is disappointing, because cellulosic biofuels are far less destructive to the environment than traditional ethanol, which is a special interest boondoggle that harms the environment while enriching politically-connected companies at the expense of taxpayers, consumers, and hungry people in the Third World.

The Obama Administration has clung to ethanol mandates, backing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.

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“Obama’s green energy drive comes with an unadvertised environmental cost,” notes the Associated Press, in a story focusing on President Obama’s environmentally-destructive support for ethanol mandates:

The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply. . .It wasn’t supposed to be this way. With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. . .But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil. Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact. Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa. The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America’s demand for it.

“They’re raping the land,” said Bill Alley, a member of the board of supervisors in Wayne County.

The Obama Administration forced up the ethanol content of gasoline.  In doing so it, it made gasoline costlier and dirtier, increased ozone pollution, and raised the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol mandates also have caused widespread deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.  By driving up food prices, they fueled Islamic extremism in Egypt and the Middle East.  Ethanol mandates also increase world hunger and mortality.  The Obama Administration’s ethanol mandates have drawn intense criticism from experts across the political spectrum.

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At EcoWatch, Megan Quinn Bachman advocates creating state-owned banks to fund “green electricity—and other sustainability projects.”  Unfortunately, government-owned banks have a sad history of subsidizing ecologically-destructive boondoggles.  Bachman points to one of the few examples of state banks that managed to turn a profit, the Bank of North Dakota.  But its funds have gone to fossil-fuel projects, not green energy, and effectively subsidized some fossil-fuel projects through below-market rates.

As bank-regulation expert Mark Calabria notes in the New York Times, advocates of state banks “might point to the Bank of North Dakota, currently the only state-run and state-owned American bank. Of course that ignores that in the 1800s there were a number of state-owned U.S. banks. They all failed miserably, and at great expense to the taxpayer. They were also magnets for corruption. But that’s history. Currently the Bank of North Dakota is generally a well-run institution. It is also a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. One need only look at its annual reports to see that the bulk of its below-market lending has been to the fossil fuel industry. It’s a case in point, illustrating that government-owned banks will tend to subsidize the powerful.”

Government ownership of other industries like agriculture also has had negative effects on the environment.  A classic example is in Soviet Central Asia, where the vast Aral Sea largely disappeared, leaving behind a vast ecologically-ruined wasteland after a massive government cotton project ravaged the regional environment.  As the London Daily Mail notes, “The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust  fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air.  The sea’s evaporation has left layers of  highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan,  and which plague local people with health troubles.”

Cunning politicians use green rhetoric to push policies that actually harm the environment and the economy, the classic example being ethanol mandates (which recently enriched Wall Street speculators, some with ties to the Obama Administration).  While in the Senate, Al Gore, working with fat-cat lobbyists, “saved the ethanol” industry by pushing through big taxpayer subsidies for ethanol.  (Years later, he belatedly admitted that ethanol subsidies were a “mistake,” a harmful policy partly designed to appeal to “farmers in the State of Iowa,” which holds the influential Iowa caucuses that can make or break a Presidential campaign).

For cynical political reasons, the Obama Administration clings to ethanol mandates, backing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations.”  [click to continue…]

The New York Times ran a front page story Sunday  on a new outrage resulting from one of the biggest scams in America today, ethanol mandates, and how they have made American consumers poorer, while enriching Wall Street profiteers through ethanol credits.  The story is entitled “Wall St. Exploits Ethanol Credits, and Prices Spike,” and focuses on

the rapidly growing role of Wall Street banks in gaming the ethanol credits market. Ethanol credits (or RINs, as they’re called) were created by the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress as a way to assure the inclusion of ethanol in gasoline as an energy-saving measure. But gasoline producers who couldn’t or didn’t want to include ethanol could buy credits from those who did. . . In stepped the speculators, amassing millions of credits and making a killing on the wide spread between the bid and ask prices of the credits. Predictably, this drove the price through the roof: the credits, which cost 7 cents each in January, peaked at $1.43 in July and now are trading for 60 cents.

The net result is that consumers will pay at the pump, notes investment adviser David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors.  As he  observes, ethanol mandates are having very negative “geopolitical effects” as well.  He agrees that “Ethanol was a bad policy, primarily to buy and reward grain-state votes. It spurred grain planting to meet the mandate, but not fast enough, so prices called out for more. The poor were hurt overseas,” and unrest in the Middle East ensued.  As Kotok points out, ethanol is

a massive scam. Our national policy diverts 40% of the U.S. corn crop (14% of the global corn crop) in order to produce a fuel that requires almost as much energy to produce as it supplies. Our ethanol mandate has starved millions of people; I’ve watched it with my own eyes in many countries in my travels. A 2011 study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that, since 2007, the expanding U.S. biofuels subsidy has fueled 20%-40% of the increase the world has seen in the prices for agricultural commodities. In a country like Guatemala, that means that tortilla prices double and egg prices triple. (Source: [New York Times]).  Ethanol damages engines, too — ask any user; I’ve seen it myself throughout the US, and Popular Mechanics concurs [Link]. Corn ethanol has poisoned our planet while it has lined certain private and politically connected pockets with billions. It has succeeded in raising our costs, for minimal net energy gains. . . .Global urban dwellers at the low end suffered again. . . .The spike in prices this year was a reaction to the shortage in corn caused by the drought last year. Rather than pay high prices for corn, blenders bought stockpiled RINs. The real story of the market was the explosion from $0.02 per RIN, when nobody wanted them, to $0.07 in August 2012 when the short corn crop became clear. This surge attracted the Wall Street players. They benefited when corn prices spiked again in Jan-Feb on the perception that South America crops would not clear the market before US crops came in in August-September. . . .Please remember that this all starts in the corn-farmed, politically charged Iowa caucuses. Which means, it is our sick and rotten political system that produces these behaviors.  That will likely continue until we repeatedly and mercilessly pound the politicians who have sold our nation down a river of ethanol.

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People who are unfamiliar with science — like President Obama — have erroneously blamed hurricanes on greenhouse gas emissions, even though they do not trigger more hurricanes.

Ironically, hurricanes may actually diminish due to greenhouse gases and aerosols, as the Washington Post and Daily Caller note. As the Washington Post points out, research suggests that “by the end of the 21st century, greenhouse gases will reduce tropical storm frequency.”  Right now, other emissions — aerosols — are already reducing the frequency of tropical storms such as hurricanes, notes the the Daily Caller:

Stricter pollution controls may lead to an increase in tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean, according to an article published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The article, written by scientists from the Met Office Hadley Center in the United Kingdom, suggested that environmental protection laws will lead to more hurricanes for at least 20 years, reports the New Scientist.

Nick Dunstone of the Hadley Center explained that man-made aerosols lead to longer low-level clouds over the ocean. The clouds keep the water temperature cooler and therefore less likely to birth hurricanes.

Dunstone specifically said that pollution controls that reduce aerosols will produce ”record numbers of tropical storms for the next decade or two.”

There also appears to be a direct correlation between the economy and hurricanes. During economic boom times, there is more pollution in the atmosphere due to industrialization, leading to lower numbers of hurricanes. Recession periods mean less aerosols and therefore more hurricanes.

This pattern has been seen with fewer hurricanes in the 1960s to the mid-1990s, versus higher numbers during 1930s through 1950s. The number drastically increased however in 1995 when aerosol bans went into effect. There were 28 hurricanes reported in 2008 and 19 every year since then.

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Earth Hour Harms the Earth

by Hans Bader on March 20, 2013

in Blog

Earth Hour wastes energy and harms the planet.  Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish academic and environmental writer, recently lambasted Earth Hour, the annual tradition of turning off the lights, which falls on March 23:

In fact, Earth Hour will cause emissions to increase. As the United Kingdom’s National Grid operators have found, a small decline in electricity consumption does not translate into less energy being pumped into the grid, and therefore will not reduce emissions. Moreover, during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterwards.

And the cozy candles that many participants will light, which seem so natural and environmentally friendly, are still fossil fuels – and almost 100 times less efficient than incandescent light bulbs. Using one candle for each switched-off bulb cancels out even the theoretical CO2 reduction; using two candles means that you emit more CO2.

To some self-styled environmentalists and bureaucrats, symbolism is more important than reality.  The Environmental Protection Agency clings to ethanol mandates, imposing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.  As the Wall Street Journal noted, in October 2011,

the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Action Aid petitioned the EPA to review the so-called renewable fuel standard that mandates that 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol be blended into the gasoline supply next year. The free-market think tank and global hunger charity argued that the EPA’s technical regulations implementing the mandate did not meet “basic standards of quality” [since] EPA failed to consider multiple peer-reviewed studies documenting the link between ethanol and world hunger in its public health literature review, as required by law. That includes one paper that concludes that biofuel mandates are responsible for at least 192,000 premature deaths every year. Overall more people die from chronic hunger world-wide than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.

EPA disregarded this evidence, and denied the petition after a fourteenth-month delay.  (A request for reconsideration has been filed).

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations in the past few months, most recently in Haiti and Egypt. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warns of a global food emergency.” [click to continue…]

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a story about how ethanol mandates are driving up child malnutrition and hunger in Guatemala.  That country now has the fourth-highest rate of child malnutrition in the entire world (higher than in most war-torn African countries):

With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.

In a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, ‘the average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development.’. . .Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s children are chronically malnourished, the fourth-highest rate in the world, according to the United Nations.

The American renewable fuel standard mandates that an increasing volume of biofuel be blended into the nation’s vehicle fuel supply each year to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and to bolster the nation’s energy security. Similarly, by 2020, transportation fuels in Europe will have to contain 10 percent biofuel.

Ethanol and biofuel mandates have shrunk the amount of land used for producing food in countries like Guatemala:

Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.  In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest.

Many small farmers in Guatemala have been displaced, leaving their children hungry and physically stunted:

in rural areas, subsistence farmers struggle to find a place to sow their seeds. On a recent morning, José Antonio Alvarado was harvesting his corn crop on the narrow median of Highway 2 as trucks zoomed by.  “We’re farming here because there is no other land, and I have to feed my family,” said Mr. Alvarado, pointing to his sons Alejandro and José, who are 4 and 6 but appear to be much younger, a sign of chronic malnutrition.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations in the past few months, most recently in Haiti and Egypt. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warns of a global food emergency.” Moreover, they noted,

food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy — most of which comes from coal. Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts. . .Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm. Here in the United States, farmers are pulling land out of the federal conservation program, threatening fragile habitats. . .Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time Magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world’s largest ‘carbon sink.’ And when the forests are cleared and the land plowed for farming, the carbon that had been sequestered in the plants and soil is released. Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger has modeled this impact and reports in Science magazine that the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions — and thus a catalyst for climate change.

In Human Events, Deroy Murdock chronicled how rising food prices resulting from ethanol forced starving Haitians to literally eat dirt (dirt cookies made of vegetable oil, salt, and dirt), and fueled violent protests in unstable “powder kegs” like Pakistan and Egypt.

The Obama Administration has forced up the ethanol content of gasoline, heedless of the fact that ethanol makes gas costlier and dirtier, increases ozone pollution, and increases the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol mandates also result in deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.  By driving up food prices, they have fueled Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen and other poor countries in the Middle East.

The Obama Administration persists in supporting ethanol mandates despite widespread criticism from experts across the political spectrum.  The legislation in Congress that it backed in the name of fighting global warming contained ethanol subsidies, even though ethanol subsidies have been linked to famine, hunger, food riots, and political unrest in poor countries.  That “cap-and-trade” legislation contained so many special-interest giveaways that it would have fleeced American consumers without helping the environment, even while driving industry overseas to countries with less environmental protections.  (In 2008, Obama admitted that “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”)

This September, the “EPA honored Hispanic Heritage Month by promoting a Marxist mass murderer,” Che Guevara, who killed many Hispanics. Che Guevara was the Cuban “revolutionary” and henchman of Fidel Castro. Guevara murdered children and political dissidents and imprisoned suspected homosexuals in labor camps, and called himself “Stalin II” (after Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator who tortured, murdered and starved to death more than 20 million people, especially ethnic minorities, like Ukrainians, Kazakhs, and Crimean Tatars). What’s next? Will the Education Department celebrate the bloodthirsty African dictator Idi Amin, who killed more than 300,000 Ugandans, as part of Black History Month? (Under the Obama administration, the Education Department has shown contempt for civil liberties like due process and free speech.)

As Buzzfeed noted at the time:

The Environmental Protection Agency commemorated the start of Hispanic Heritage Month with a picture of Che Guevara and a bit of plagiarism. An internal email . . .  distributed to agency employees . . . this Saturday, featured [an] image of a horse and buggy passing a billboard of the Marxist revolutionary, in addition to a listing of facts about Hispanic culture. . .that text and the photo appear to be lifted word-for-word and without attribution from the website Buzzle.com.

The EPA doesn’t just celebrate killers.  It also kills jobs.  NFIB lists the “EPA’s top 5 job killers,” recent rules that will wipe out hundreds of thousands of jobs, and likely cost over $1 trillion.  Some of the most costly new regulations will have no discernible public health benefit at all.

It’s not just businesses and workers that will suffer under Obama Administration policies, but also consumers.  Obama earlier admitted that “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

If you restrict the supply of something, the price will go up.  It’s one of the laws of supply and demand.  Thus, cap-and-trade energy rationing schemes drive the price of energy up, by capping the supply.  President Obama has conceded that in his unguarded moments.  In a January 17, 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Obama said that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under his cap-and-trade plan to fight global warming.  He also said that under his plan, “if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

But journalists are not economists, and often have difficulty understanding the most basic principles of economics.  (Some cannot even do basic math).  What is clear to any economist or any college graduate who has taken Econ 101 seems disputed or unclear to many journalists, who are more familiar with trendy fads in college English Departments, and left-wing critical race theory, than they are with basic economic truths.

So it is that PolitiFact Virginia erroneously rated as “mostly false” the claim that cap-and-trade would naturally lead to “higher” energy bills for Virginia households.  It admitted that “analyses of two measures that have been before in Congress in recent years concluded that cap-and-trade carries a cost for most consumers,” but then claimed that such costs could somehow be offset, even while capping energy use, and result in “an average lower cost for consumers.”  While their effects on the environment may be disputed, it is clear that they raise energy costs for consumers by reducing the supply of energy.  (As a CBS analyst once noted, a Treasury Department analysis pegged the cost of the Obama Administration’s cap-and-trade plan at $1761 per year per American household).

Whatever their theoretical merits, cap-and-trade schemes tend to become vehicles for vast amounts of corporate welfare and special-interest pork by the politicians who craft them, like the Congressional cap-and-trade energy bill backed by the Obama Administration.  That Obama-backed bill contained so many special-interest giveaways that it would have fleeced American consumers without helping the environment, as I explained earlier (it contained environmentally-harmful ethanol subsidies and could have driven industry overseas to countries with less environmental protections).

As Professor Glenn Reynolds notes, if you want to cut carbon emissions, you should eliminate regulatory obstacles to fracking, since fracking cuts carbon emissions far more than costly cap-and-trade regulations do.  By expanding access to clean natural gas, fracking is helping reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. As Walter Russell Mead notes at The American Interest, “fracking is doing more to control carbon emissions than all the efforts of all the greens in the world. And by promoting American (and Chinese!) domestic energy production, it is doing more to lay the foundations of world peace than all the peace activists and disarmament campaigners in the world.” Fracking has “driven a natural gas boom in this country and dramatically cut the cost of the cleanest hydrocarbon energy source of them all,” contributing to cleaner air, not just lower greenhouse gas emissions.  It is also expected to greatly reduce our dependence on foreign energy.

As CNN notes, “U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling” thanks to things like fracking. “Europe, by contrast, has seen its energy-sector carbon emissions remain basically flat,” even though Europe operates under a costly “cap-and-trade scheme where emissions are capped at a certain level,” and “Europe has significantly higher taxes on energy.”  Countries like Germany have blocked fracking to produce clean energy, even as they cling to a failed cap-and-trade scheme that imposes huge costs while failing to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has tightened restrictions on fracking, which is permitted under state law in many states.  But it has not been nearly as hostile to fracking as many liberal state governors and legislators, like North Carolina’s Bev Perdue.  By contrast, conservative governors and legislators have supported fracking, which has the potential to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Environmental Luddites oppose fracking, preferring draconian and utopian energy rationing schemes instead.  They hype non-existent or exaggerated risks associated with it, ignoring the complete lack of any evidence to date that it would harm the environment.

Environmental groups like the NRDC prefer rigid government restrictions on carbon emissions by factories, farms, and vehicles, even though such restrictions could cripple the economy.  If they can’t obtain that (through EPA regulations), then they’ll take a cap-and-trade limit on emissions.

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