11 May 2009


President Obama is still pushing hard to enforce legislated biofuel production and usage, despite widespread bankruptcy in the biofuel industry. This is a policy I disagree with. While biofuels may decrease greenhouse gas emissions (it may in fact increase them) and might reduce (very slightly) dependence on foreign oil, the rush to biofuels has driven up food prices, increasing poverty and instability in the poorest of countries. It has been broadly condemned even by many environmental progressives, because it is simply a repugnant trade of one set of evils (unsustainable oil consumption) for another (food scarcity, deforestation, etc.).

Obama is so sensible, and manning up to some many things, I don't know why he is supporting this particular failed Bush policy. The solution to our oil dependence are things like increased mass transit, urbanization and environmentally-responsible consumption. This is universal knowledge. Biofuels are just another enabling mechanism for what Bush infamously termed a non-negotiable "Amercan way of life." Which is, single drivers in large SUVs commuting to urban employment from distant suburbs to earn lots of money to buy mountains of cheap goods transported 3000 miles from sweatshops and toxin-spewing factories in the impoverished third world produced by workers making $7 per 14-hour workday.

As noble as this American way of life is, it is not sustainable, and biofuel will not change that fact. One estimate is that, "For the United States, attaining 20% biofuel content will require it to use 100% of its current corn production to power cars rather than feed people." Hardly a big-picture solution. I cannot guess Obama's intentions, but he must know this. But whatever he knows about biofuel, he also certainly knows that there is no will in America to end this way of life. End it will, of course, and likely a long emergency will end it. But that's another topic.


Mister Fweem said...

The recent death of ethanol subsidies in Idaho is going to make biofuels even less viable as a substitute for oil here, as the price for ethanol goes up. I agree with you that what we need to study is that non-negotiable American way of life, rather than substituting one hydrocarbon for another -- and I speak as a fellow who commutes 178 miles a day round trip to work, in a bus fueled in part by biodiesel. And our kids wonder why we insist that they walk the two blocks to school and that we walk the two blocks to church. When we can avoid using gasoline, we sure do.

carl g said...

Tasha is an enthusiastic environmentalist and Tani's not far behind her. I'm becoming at least a reluctant one. The moral imperative is simply becoming too great for even my jaded consumerist sensibilities to ignore. I think in just one more generation, ecological responsibility will be a completely mainstream expectation. I'll be coming to grips with this more, publicly, on by blog over the summer.