A Hungry Man is an Angry Man
April 5, 2008 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs. Prices of all staple food has risen 80% in three years. 33 countries face unrest because of these price rises. Subsidiziation of Biofuel is driving the poor to starvation. In Bangladesh Biofuel production hits food security. Half of Pakistan population at the risk of food insecurity, warns WFP. Cost of food increases hunger in Nepal. wiki
posted by adamvasco (81 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I blame the dinosaurs.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2008


So the peak oil folks were right.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Right on. Super post. The free market's a great idea, just until Big Oil (or its Big Agra subsidiary) needs it distorted in order to make a few extra billion. Hate to be all outraged & all, but this is how worlds get wrecked.
posted by facetious at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Well, clearly we should just switch back to Fossil fuels. Someone should just crank the big knob that sets oil prices down to $15/bbl again and everything will be fine.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on April 5, 2008


Blame Big Industry. Drive your SUV to the demonstration and demand that agrofuel be stopped. Starvation can be alleviated if you punish those that sell & ignore the ones that buy.

Me. I'm glad that rice is being pried out of the fingers of starving children to provide me with electricity. It gives me the internet so I can broadcast my moral outrage to the world whilst conveniently giving me a subject to be outraged about. That's a two for one offer I can't say no to.
posted by seanyboy at 9:38 AM on April 5, 2008 [12 favorites]


Two years ago the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation expected biofuels to help eradicate hunger and poverty for up to two billion people.

The UN's FAO.
posted by Brian B. at 9:39 AM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just as long as we don't start using biofuels.

As much of a tree-hugger as I am, I'm also in science and understand that biofuels would use land that we need for other things. It is one of the economically worst decisions the country could make.

Moderate the use of biofuels.
posted by kldickson at 9:59 AM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


this thread is solution-rich. bravo.

fwiw, i walked to the last demonstration i attended. and every one before that. and everywhere else within about 10km. otherwise, i ride my bike.
posted by klanawa at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2008


Um… We already subsidized the crops, and still do (in order to promote a strategic grain surplus). Further, while it's all fine and good to get upset about this, you have to expect nations to act in their own interest first.
posted by klangklangston at 10:07 AM on April 5, 2008


i ride my bike

What are you, some shill for the big bicycle corporations?
posted by Bearman at 10:08 AM on April 5, 2008 [11 favorites]


These dinosaurs Florence?
posted by adamvasco at 10:10 AM on April 5, 2008


you have to expect nations to act in their own interest first.

Sure, under the current rules. Maybe the rules should be changed a bit to help the environment and the poor.
posted by Bearman at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


So do you feed some rich dude's SUV far far away, or do you feed your children? Revolutions happen when normal folks are faced with that kind of decision.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:20 AM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs.

I think this is more complicated than these articles suggest. For example, it takes fuel to get that food to those people.
posted by scottreynen at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2008


There's this thing called the sun which bombards our planet with free energy. Also, the earth spins, causing our atmosphere to stir up, creating wind, which the Dutch used to power up things like early computers, I think.
posted by not_on_display at 10:33 AM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]




Let them grow algae.
posted by Brian B. at 10:46 AM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


It wasn't that long ago when developing nations were complaining that cheap American crops were putting local farmers out of business.

More seriously, some Biofuels are much smarter than others. Brazil's sugar-cane ethanol is really smart. The US move to make ethanol from corn is really dumb.

There's this thing called the sun which bombards our planet with free energy.

Biofuels are a form of solar energy. I'm not sure if current solar cells are more or less efficient at transforming sunlight into usable energy than corn-ethanol or soy-biodeisel. Regardless, a large enough array of solar cells to make a difference in energy consumption would certainly compete with food production. There are newer, more efficient, solar technologies. There are also better biofuel technologies under development like bacteria that produce octane or diesel. These bio-reactors and newer solar tech can be deployed in high deserts where they would displace little or no agriculture.

Also, the earth spins, causing our atmosphere to stir up, creating wind, which the Dutch used to power up things like early computers, I think.

Great bong hit, amirite?

Wind is an interesting source of power, but if we start to tap it at levels that would make a difference, radical climate change is guaranteed.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:48 AM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Biofuels are a form of solar energy.

Sure, in much the same way that coal is a form of solar energy. Which it is. But sunlight is not the limiting factor in how much of either we can get.
posted by sfenders at 10:53 AM on April 5, 2008


Wind is an interesting source of power, but if we start to tap it at levels that would make a difference, radical climate change is guaranteed.

I haven't heard that argument before. Please explain.
posted by pracowity at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2008


Biofuels are a form of solar energy. I'm not sure if current solar cells are more or less efficient at transforming sunlight into usable energy than corn-ethanol or soy-biodeisel

I think photovoltaic cells are about 10 times as efficient as photosynthesis in plants, and on top of that you've got losses due to converting plant matter into fuel as well.

On the other hand, photovoltaic cells need to be manufactured, and obviously replacing fields of corn with fields of solar panels would drive up the cost of food as well. One thing you can do is put up wind turbines up on farm land. And you'd also need some way to convert solar energy into fuel for cars.
posted by delmoi at 11:03 AM on April 5, 2008


I think this is a wrong headed argument in a lot of ways. How much grain do we in the US use for our meat and animal product, instead of feeding people?

According to Iowa's corn page, 6.1 billion bushels [pdf] of corn they produced (i am assuming just in Iowa) went to animal feed, for the crop year of 2005/2006. 6.1 billion bushels is around 420 billion pounds of corn. 420 billion pounds is equal to 190,508,795 tonnes. The guardian article above states that for 2006, 60 million tonnes of grain went to biofuel production.

So, if we were to reduce our consumption of animal products such that 1/3 of iowa's grain production can be shifted to biofuel production, our impact on the grain market could be offset. Or we could just stop trying to use corn for biofuel in the first place, because it is dumb. Reducing corn production in general, maybe converting the land to algae farms instead, might be a better use for and production of both animal feed and biofuels. 2-1 bonus if you can get the algae to live in waste water sewage, so we don't waste drinkable water on the ponds. Since algae love nitrite (shit) filled water, it might work. Of course, we might want to keep it from causing the algae blooms in the gulf of mexico from getting larger.

Of course, if we shifted our Farm Bill to support local and sustainable agriculture, instead of meat and dairy, we could actually do this pretty well. Right now the legislation is supporting an environmentally unsustainable and unhealthy lifestyle.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:22 AM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Regardless, a large enough array of solar cells to make a difference in energy consumption would certainly compete with food production.

Pretty unlikely. There's a LOT of land on the planet that's not arable... including all the stuff that's been paved over. Plenty of room for solar panels without impairing food production.
posted by Malor at 11:31 AM on April 5, 2008


Of course, if we shifted our Farm Bill to support local and sustainable agriculture, instead of meat and dairy

Local agriculture can easily include quality meat and dairy. The grain used for animal feed eventually goes to feeding people.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 AM on April 5, 2008


Wind is an interesting source of power, but if we start to tap it at levels that would make a difference, radical climate change is guaranteed.

Radical climate change is guaranteed already.
posted by jokeefe at 11:41 AM on April 5, 2008


There is an additional, often overlooked, downside to biofuel production...specifically, ethanol production. That is the depletion of ground water resources.

Ethanol producers have been quick to plant production facilities out in rural communities. These same communities generally rely on wells and the local aquifer for all their water needs. Ethanol plants consume an ungodly amount of water, sucked from the very same aquifers, putting at-risk the local community's water supply.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:50 AM on April 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


It's rotten that changes in rich-country demand has such an impact on people in poor countries. It strikes me as completely insane that this is at least partly so because rich countries subsidize farming in their countries so much that poor countries cannot compete. Food production is many flavours of crazy, but it's wrong and dangerous to let one negative cause-and-effect guide policy.

There are plenty of good environmental and economic reasons to be opposed to ethanol fuel.
posted by ~ at 11:52 AM on April 5, 2008


What I meant to link: Quirks & Quarks on the subject.
posted by ~ at 11:54 AM on April 5, 2008


So those price hikes are not related to the price of petroleum that they use for fertilizer and delivery, which has doubled in the last three years? With oil at over $100/barrel, shouldn't that be figured in to the cost? Plus no reference to the fact that farmers are expected to plant less corn this year.

I don't believe the premise of the post. The oil industry is worried that with prices getting higher that people will turn against petro, so they put out this disinformation.

And is The Official Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore a good source? Also, the third link is to an op-ed but it's presented as a reference.
posted by destro at 12:01 PM on April 5, 2008


> Local agriculture can easily include quality meat and dairy. The grain used for animal feed eventually goes to feeding people.

Very true, however if you are talking in terms of efficiency, if you cut out feeding the grain to cattle, instead feeding it to people directly, it is much more efficient use of resources. If we had local agriculture that still used fields for grazing, instead of massive beef factories that require a constant flow of electricity, water, antibiotics and government stipends to operate. Considering we were able to feed people pretty well (16 million) in the 1900s without fancy technology (granted the beginning of mono cropping and poorly managed farming of the time did in part lead to the dust bowl). It's just that everyone didn't get steak for dinner. If people didn't want steak for dinner everyday, with what we have learned about sustainable agriculture, I am sure we could feed 32 million people pretty well (todays population). However that is with the assumption that people who are producing the goods are operating on the grounds for maximum social benefit, not optimized individual capital growth.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:13 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is nothing that can't be solved by boutique travel packages where starving third worlders are given straws and obese westerners fly in for a little lipo.. Plus America can finally tell those annoying poor countries to suck ass and mean it. The market finds a way!
posted by srboisvert at 12:18 PM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think a salient point here is just how little biofuel this really represents. Keep in mind that this land, which would have fed 250 million people, will make about 5 billion gallons of ethanol, which is enough to fill 250 million average gas tanks once.

Fueling our cars with ethanol is a fool's bargain. Ultimately, it all comes down to energy. In terms of calories, 20 gallons of ethanol is 400 000 calories. This satisfies the minimum caloric intake for the average person for 300 days. This is the unavoidable calculus behind biofuels; you can commute for a week, or someone can eat for a year.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:42 PM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sure, under the current rules. Maybe the rules should be changed a bit to help the environment and the poor.

There aren't "rules" that can be "changed". There isn't a governing body to which one can appeal for a regulatory reform here. There's just stuff people do, and people tend to do what seems most advantageous for them at the moment. This may or may not have anything to do with what is actually advantageous for them, but just because people are stupid doesn't mean they aren't self-interested. Things will go badly for the poor and the environment until sufficiently large numbers of people believe it's in their own best interest to act otherwise. Good luck selling that one.
posted by valkyryn at 12:42 PM on April 5, 2008


Destro: The premise of this post is that people are going to go hungry. Quoting from the Catholic Newspaper in Singapore; much closer to the problems, than I suspect you are.
"Short-sighted policies are causing crops to be diverted to environmentally-dubious biofuels and, as usual, the burden is falling disproportionately on the poor".
Last week Rice Prices rose 30%.
posted by adamvasco at 12:52 PM on April 5, 2008


This post makes me hungry. I'm going to go root around the backyard for a while. Oink.
posted by valentinepig at 1:06 PM on April 5, 2008


I don't like the whole starving kids thing any more than anybody else does, but have our efforts really done anything besides enable them to get older and produce even more starving kids? We could certainly all be more frugal and less efficient to support a growing population, but that can only go on for so long. Or we could try to change our ways.

Harsh words, but we wouldn't have to scramble quite so hard to squeeze every last percentage point of efficiency out of everything if we didn't have so many bloody people. I'm quite sure the world could support twenty billion people if a lot of them were kept in little five by ten storage units, doped up until their next work shift, during which they'll probably discuss precisely how many Joules of heat we can get out of burning all of the Picassos we have scanned in - have to keep those incubators warm, after all.

And before anyone starts in on the whole "well, who goes? Who gets to decide?" my answer is simple: either we decide, or Nature, in the guise of the laws of physics, will decide for us.
posted by adipocere at 1:23 PM on April 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't like the whole starving kids thing any more than anybody else does, but have our efforts really done anything besides enable them to get older and produce even more starving kids?

Huh? Once you feed them they're not starving any more And also, hunger is not hereditary, in fact it's not even innate, it's just a transitory condition. None of what you said makes too much sense.

Anyway, the idea is they grow up, the transitory conditions that caused their starvation dissipate, and then they have more kids who end up productive members of society. Now the sustainability of system may not be that great, but I'm not really sure we're all that close to filling up the planet, certainly there was plenty of per-capita starvation when the population was lower.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 PM on April 5, 2008


adipocere: the single strongest reduction in birthrate comes from education. If we get education going worldwide, particularly of females, our population growth will halt very quickly indeed.

Almost all of the first-world countries are, in fact, in population declines in terms of their birth rate.
posted by Malor at 1:48 PM on April 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Things will go badly for the poor and the environment until sufficiently large numbers of people believe it's in their own best interest to act otherwise. Good luck selling that one.

Agreed. But it's not going to change if it's left to you and me to change our evil, pollutin' & consumin' ways (not consumist)(Not saying that you, in particular, are evil, or a polluter). It's a big problem, and it's gonna take the leaders to get on it and change the rules, however unlikely that is to happen.
posted by Bearman at 1:52 PM on April 5, 2008


I am in my late 30s and have never owned a car. I don't drive. But for some reason, I now want to, because nothing makes me resist a potentially good idea like some self-righteous prick trying to lay a guilt trip on me.

And I might have to buy a big ol' car so that I have a roof over my head, because apparently the land upon which my home was built could be used to grow enough food to feed four people. People are so driven (pardon the pun) to work towards preventing me from eating steak that I suspect it's only a matter of time before I am made to feel guilty for breathing air that could otherwise be pushing wind turbines in South Flies-on-Face.

if we didn't have so many bloody people.

I've said it before: whoever engineers the virus that kills 95% of us at random will be considered a hero. Not immediately, but eventually.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:52 PM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Very true, however if you are talking in terms of efficiency, if you cut out feeding the grain to cattle, instead feeding it to people directly, it is much more efficient use of resources.

Efficiency isn't the problem, world hunger is about resolving the age-old problem of allocation. Right now, allocation is determined by money, not need. And in any case, we're an omnivorous species, with a diet that requires non-vegetable protein, so removing meat introduces its own problems that aren't resolved with a block of tofu.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:07 PM on April 5, 2008


Partake in the Malthusian lamenting calling for the downfall of the human race, or take proactive steps to drive less, eat less meat, and resuse unused space (rooftops) for solar collection.

you decide.
posted by The Power Nap at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2008


I dunno, man, I have resolved some crazy-ass problems with a block of tofu.
posted by everichon at 2:32 PM on April 5, 2008


you decide

I will continue to do both, thanks ever so much.
posted by everichon at 2:33 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I will continue to do both, thanks ever so much.

Sorry, the scantron is broken. We can only use (a) and (c) seeing as it can't read (b) and (d), you're going to have to pick one.
posted by The Power Nap at 2:50 PM on April 5, 2008


The stupidity of growing fuel is even stupider if you stop to think for a second about the dwindling health of global topsoil supplies. Once the soil's gone, Mars, bitches!

By which i mean, of course, that it will be like Mars if you can't get there.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:57 PM on April 5, 2008


...or take proactive steps to drive less, eat less meat, and resuse unused space (rooftops) for solar collection.

A few disciplined people just walking away from the pig trough of a mass market may have the opposite effect of lowering the price for all others, thereby increasing demand. It sounds great as advice, and appeals to heroics, but the pragmatic and "most feared by opponents" way is to lower demand for negative things by placing a sin tax on them, and then using the tax to research or subsidize alternatives.
posted by Brian B. at 3:09 PM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Delmoi, I think, roughly around age three, I had figured out the connection between getting food and not being hungry anymore, but thanks for the protip. My point is that the non-starving kids grow up and end up ... having more kids, thus increasing the population and the load on their food supply, but I think you already knew that.

And, yes, education is a well-known, oft-neglected moderator for a high birth rate, but that's not what the article is about, is it? The article is about "hey, these biofuels could be going to feeding starving kids." Shipping food to the poor/making it cheaper/making it more available is always a short-term solution that pays off in feeling all warm and fuzzy and just makes it worse down the road.

And, whatever you think about the Earth's carrying capacity, any arbitrary number you pick, we will eventually reach it unless we have zero population growth. If you think the number is half a trillion, we will inevitably reach that number so long as our population keeps monotonically increasing. Efficiency is never going to reach 100%, and whatever you think our resources, R, might be, it's clear to see that a very squishily-defined standard of living, approximated by R divided by our population, will always be higher if R is divided by a small number, rather than a large number. Even as we grow R (which admittedly can be a function of population P, but definitely not linear), at any given time, fewer can live well, or many can live poorly.

The solution is not just education, but a cultural shift away from MOAR! to better. Less of the r-type reproductive strategy of more of the K-type. Education is certainly key, but also things like Social Security, so people do not resort to the well-known "if I have a dozen children, seven will make it to adulthood and at least one will take care of me in my old age." While I think biofuels are an absolutely crap answer to current fossil fuel issues in the United States and elsewhere, think of the children! is nowhere near the top of the lists of reasons to abandon it.
posted by adipocere at 3:19 PM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


a diet that requires non-vegetable protein

Got a cite for that? Plenty of people survive on diets that include no animal protein.

I see your point, that animal protein is the most concentrated and calorically efficient, but plant proteins are definitely sufficient to sustain human life.
posted by Miko at 3:23 PM on April 5, 2008


placing a sin tax on them, and then using the tax to research or subsidize alternatives

Hmm, I can see your point of view. I guess the difference is our perceptions of people. Maybe we should appeal to heroics and tax toward research.
posted by The Power Nap at 3:29 PM on April 5, 2008


I dunno, man, I have resolved some crazy-ass problems with a block of tofu.

hyphenated or not?
posted by duende at 3:48 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


> but plant proteins are definitely sufficient to sustain human life.

This is not true for a sufficiently rigorous definition of "plant" protein. Several key vitamins (B-12, I think, is one of the primary ones) are only produced by bacteria, not plants. A diet solely consisting of plants will not sustain human life, unless you use those plants as a growth medium for bacteria, and then eat the bacteria or the bacteria's output.

Typical 'vegetarian' diets do include this, and as such they are strictly speaking eating more than just Plantae. So while you can't just eat "plants," you can survive without eating anything from Animalia, if you want.

Anyway, getting back on the topic at hand, I think the key issue that if you have people in one part of the world who are willing to pay more for a food product than people in another part of the world are willing to pay, the latter group of people are going to get the shaft. This is particularly true if the poorer people don't have a stable domestic supply of food, because then they're competing for food from some third party.

As the price of petroleum gets higher and higher, we're going to see more of this. If you think the U.S. is turning a lot of corn into ethanol now, wait until petroleum is twice or three times what it's selling for now. It's entirely possible that we might stop exporting corn entirely, because the domestic market for corn (for ethanol conversion) will be so high and so lucrative.

Also, concentrating on corn being made into ethanol is just one issue, and it's a relatively minor one. An even more severe one that's looming on the horizon is the sheer amount of petroleum that's consumed in modern industrial-scale food production. It's something like 6-7 kcal of petroleum for every single kcal of edible food, when you factor in petroleum or natural-gas based fertilizers, transportation costs, processing energy, etc. As the price of petroleum increases, even if we weren't turning corn into ethanol (which is stupid for reasons that have nothing to do with starving people -- it's just inefficient), food produced by current industrial methods is going to get more expensive.

Over the last half-century, we've done two very important things, IMO without really realizing it at the time: (1) we made farming into a very energy-intensive industrial process, rather than a low-input 'agricultural'/pastoral one, and (2) we exported this technology to most of the world, and implemented it virtually everywhere, to the point where huge portions of the world's population are only alive because of it. In a very real way, they're eating oil, albeit in an indirect fashion (which is actually worse than if they consumed the oil directly, because it just introduces additional efficiency hits).

I don't see any magic bullet here. Energy is going to become more expensive, and people -- potentially lots of people -- are going to starve. Even if we started churning out nuclear reactors tomorrow, I don't think it would be enough. As a civilization we've built ourselves a pretty nice place, but the foundation sucks and is crumbling.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:09 PM on April 5, 2008 [9 favorites]


"Things will go badly for the poor and the environment until sufficiently large numbers of people believe it's in their own best interest to act otherwise. Good luck selling that one."

It's already happening. People can only pretend we're on the Good Ship Lollipop instead of the Titanic for so long. I personally have seen the most stalwart neo-conservative go from "the planet can sustain infinite growth" to "hmmm, maybe I was wrong".

And thirding the point about population growth as a topic needing some serious discussion, or perhaps having a preamble to that discussion which involves what that discussion would NOT be about. Too many people hear "let's have a discussion about over population" and hear the erronous "let the rich people of the rich nations tell everyone else what to do, while we ourselves continue to do what we want".
posted by bravelittletoaster at 5:24 PM on April 5, 2008


Kadin2048, it's worth pointing out that the reason we "transformed" agriculture is because modern farming techniques are massively more productive per acre than ancient or even medieval methods, and our forbears decided that the costs in energy were worth people not dying. Say what you like about industrial farming, most of the countries that use it haven't experienced famine in decades, if not centuries.

It would be more accurate to say that people are consuming energy than "eating oil," though I'll grant that oil is the actual energy source for much of human activity. But therein lies the problem with environmentalism: if current policies aren't "sustainable," the only alternative is for a few billion people to die. The reason biofuels will never be a substitute for oil is that oil contains far more energy per unit of weight than any grain ever will. Nuclear plants would indeed be fantastic--but note that it's significantly the environmentalist lobby which has prevented the construction of any nuclear plants in the US for the better part of three decades.

I agree with your conclusion though. There isn't any easy way out of this, and any real solution will certainly result in the deaths of significant percentages of the world's population, an eventuality that makes me loath to call it a "solution" at all.
posted by valkyryn at 5:41 PM on April 5, 2008


bravelittletoaster, I'll believe it when I see it. Sure, environmentalism is a popular cause these days, but I'm entirely unconvinced that people will change their patterns of consumption unless forced by necessity. And by "necessity" I don't mean "government intervention," because government's have never really been able to stop people from doing what they like. E.g., as long as people like driving to work, they're going to find a way to do it, especially since the regulatory environment in the US has created a landscape in which it's usually either impossible or massively inconvenient to do otherwise.
posted by valkyryn at 5:48 PM on April 5, 2008


worth people not dying.

as far as Western industrialized agriculture, it wasn't so much "people not dying" as "food never being as expensive again as it was during the shortages of WWI and II."

Some people may have had their health impacted to the point of death because of food shortages, but it would be very few. Our methods of industrial agriculture were built not to fight hunger, but to create cheapness in food.
posted by Miko at 5:51 PM on April 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


government's have never really been able to stop people from doing what they like.

Oh, that's nonsense. Every day we amend our behavior based on structures impacted by government. We have speed limits - certainly some people still speed, and yet, the lower the limit, the fewer the fatalities. In setting and then enforcing limits, government creates a structure for determining the results of choices. Given their self-interest, people will choose things with a perceived reward or to avoid a negative consequence. When gas is $6 a gallon, you may see more people biking and carpooling and even moving from the suburbs closer to where the jobs are. WE can and do use law to make differences in quality of life and distribution of wealth. Heck, we're doing it now. It's just a question of which groups benefit.
posted by Miko at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2008


Nuclear plants would indeed be fantastic--but note that it's significantly the environmentalist lobby which has prevented the construction of any nuclear plants in the US for the better part of three decades.

This is untrue, and rather than defend environmentalism, I will cite a response found on the internet from a prospective nuclear engineer.

Public opinion has really hindered US nuclear power production. France and Japan mainly rely on nuclear power because really have no sufficient amount of resources, fossil fuels, or other means for electrically.

That is pretty much why the US doesn't have that many plants built. Do realize that 20% of US electricity is by nuclear. Utility companies are slow at making plants because

1. Lack of public support.

2. Not many companies are able to produces the things for large scale plant production. If you want to have a reactor vessel built, then there is only one place in the world that can do it. Its somewhere in Japan. You got to take a ticket and get a line like the rest of the world. Japan and France sit on the latest nuclear reactor technologies.

3. Need for more engineers in nuclear. Oil companies have pushed up recruiting efforts and internship stipends to make sure they retain their share of engineers. The shortage is so bad some nuclear engineers now don't want to retire or are coming out of retirement.

4. Yes, it takes years to build one. You have to design your plant and do simulations on the reactor and saftey systems. Give your data to the NRC, they will run their simulations over and over until they think it is good enough.

But the NRC has changed the licensing process. First you have to get permission to build it and then get permission to operate it. Today, you apply for both licenses and get them before you build.

Before that, it was a big risk. In fact, one utility company got an NRC license to build a reactor. When they got it all built, the NRC denied their operating license. They lost billions.


posted by Brian B. at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


just wait til this winter. shit will hit the fan.
posted by flyinghamster at 6:01 PM on April 5, 2008


Brian B- don't forget the massive amount of first and second level nuclear waste that we already have trouble dealing with. Then there is the creation and transportation of the fuel, which is more prone to environmental problems than a power plant would be. Of course there is the political issue of saying "no, you can't be an independent country and make your own nuclear fuel, because we think you are a terrorist, so you have to buy it from us instead or just use our regulated plants, etc."

On paper, nuclear energy can be a very nice 'clean' power solution, but it has a very very dirty supply line and history behind it.
posted by mrzarquon at 6:32 PM on April 5, 2008


just wait til this winter. shit will hit the fan.
posted by flyinghamster at 9:01 PM on April 5


The shit will never hit the fan, because people are idiots. The price of gasoline has more than tripled since Bush was elected, and no one has done anything. Recall that in the 2000 election, he was criticizing Clinton for allowing gas to rise dramatically from $0.99 a gallon to $1.24. Remember all those stories about truckers being put out of work because of high gas prices. Bush even said that because of his close connections with the Saudi royal family, he could persuade them to increase supply to bring the price down. That was when oil was 1/10th the price it is now.

And no one is calling him on it. You know why no one gives a shit if biofuels are a waste? Becuase agriculture stocks have gone through the roof. Look at the stock charts of John Deere, Potash, Agrium, Monsanto, etc. over the last 2 years. Do you really think that Bush indicated in his earliest state of the union speeches that he would invest in ethanol as a fuel because of some grand vision he had for energy independence? Those stock prices don't raise themselves, you know.

The reason the govt is so hot to get you hooked on ethanol is because they want you buying fuel. Don't think of Exxon as an oil company, think of them as a fuel company. Of course people can build electric cars, it's hardly rocket science. But electricity doesn't come from Exxon, it comes from your electric company. Electric utilities are massively and closely regulated, and they can't raise prices unless they get regulatory agency permission to do so first. How is anybody supposed to make a fortune in that environment?

Every single wheel that is slowed to a stop represents wasted energy. Hybrid cars use regenerative braking to generate electricity that recharges the battery as you apply the brakes. Guess how old that technology is. 5 years? 10 years? How about 35 years old. They've been using forms of regenerative braking on trains for decades. Here's a patent on regenerative braking for use with an electric car for 1980.

The problem with the post industrial age is abundance. Everybody could pretty much have everything. So it became necessary to manufacture scarcity, for the purpose of reinforcing reliance on governments, and to widen profit margins. So here we are, burning food to make fuel because there isn't enough oil anymore to go around. There's no effort to make cars smaller, or at least lighter, no effort to reduce dependence on automobiles for travel, and no effort whatsoever to harness the energy of the free giant fireball in the sky.

Instead they arrange for things that were once abundant to become scarce. Scarcity keeps you working, keeps your head barely out of the water, keeps you depending and under control.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:58 PM on April 5, 2008 [12 favorites]


This is untrue, and rather than defend environmentalism, I will cite a response found on the internet from a prospective nuclear engineer.
...
Public opinion has really hindered US nuclear power production.


The environmentalist lobby has in no way condoned or perpetuated this negative public opinion, of course.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:15 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Right on. Super post. The free market's a great idea, just until Big Oil (or its Big Agra subsidiary) needs it distorted in order to make a few extra billion.

I don't get how you can look at this mass of quotas and subsidies and think "free market". The U.S. government has had to intervene heavily here - to make the market choose an alternative to petroleum at this particular time, and to make biofuels the chosen alternative. Without that intervention, cheaper solutions would be sought, such as tar sands, nuclear power, or reduced consumption. And they would have been delayed until the price of crude oil made it sensible.

Also, the main beneficiaries are farmers, who are guaranteed a market for vast amounts of corn thanks to ethanol quotas.
posted by yath at 7:17 PM on April 5, 2008


> Also, the main beneficiaries are farmers, who are guaranteed a market for vast amounts of corn thanks to ethanol quotas.

I agree with everything else you're saying, except I'd replace "farmers" with "agribusiness corporations" or just "Monsanto/Cargill/ADM". The average farmer, insofar as he exists anymore, doesn't really make out very well, since the government policies are all aimed at keeping corn cheap. It's corn buyers and consumers who benefit; the people actually growing it don't make out all that well, even considering the subsidies they get. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not in favor of the subsidies, but their purpose isn't to 'help farmers' at all.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:45 PM on April 5, 2008


The environmentalist lobby has in no way condoned or perpetuated this negative public opinion, of course.

I don't recall. I know for a fact that the environmental lobby perpetuated a negative opinion of eating toxic waste and drinking human shit in rivers, and now nobody seems to want to enjoy that anymore. Then there are the "downwinders" and thousands who died young from being exposed to radiation during secretive nuclear testing out west. Many of them got together in their dying poverty after their kids and livestock got rare diseases and spent forty years compiling research and suing the government, mostly losing. They even spread rumors that the government can't be trusted. I don't think any of them would want to be called an environmentalist. Then again, not having a permanent storage facility doesn't help the nuclear industry much either. Nevada and Utah don't want it forced on them, and they are spending tax dollars to fight it. Nevada and Utah state governments are both secretly controlled by environmentalists I guess. Who knew?
posted by Brian B. at 9:00 PM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Pastabagel posted:
The shit will never hit the fan, because people are idiots. The price of gasoline has more than tripled since Bush was elected, and no one has done anything. Recall that in the 2000 election, he was criticizing Clinton for allowing gas to rise dramatically from $0.99 a gallon to $1.24. Remember all those stories about truckers being put out of work because of high gas prices. Bush even said that because of his close connections with the Saudi royal family, he could persuade them to increase supply to bring the price down. That was when oil was 1/10th the price it is now.

And no one is calling him on it. You know why no one gives a shit if biofuels are a waste? Becuase agriculture stocks have gone through the roof. Look at the stock charts of John Deere, Potash, Agrium, Monsanto, etc. over the last 2 years. Do you really think that Bush indicated in his earliest state of the union speeches that he would invest in ethanol as a fuel because of some grand vision he had for energy independence? Those stock prices don't raise themselves, you know.

The reason the govt is so hot to get you hooked on ethanol is because they want you buying fuel. Don't think of Exxon as an oil company, think of them as a fuel company. Of course people can build electric cars, it's hardly rocket science. But electricity doesn't come from Exxon, it comes from your electric company. Electric utilities are massively and closely regulated, and they can't raise prices unless they get regulatory agency permission to do so first. How is anybody supposed to make a fortune in that environment?

Every single wheel that is slowed to a stop represents wasted energy. Hybrid cars use regenerative braking to generate electricity that recharges the battery as you apply the brakes. Guess how old that technology is. 5 years? 10 years? How about 35 years old. They've been using forms of regenerative braking on trains for decades. Here's a patent on regenerative braking for use with an electric car for 1980.

The problem with the post industrial age is abundance. Everybody could pretty much have everything. So it became necessary to manufacture scarcity, for the purpose of reinforcing reliance on governments, and to widen profit margins. So here we are, burning food to make fuel because there isn't enough oil anymore to go around. There's no effort to make cars smaller, or at least lighter, no effort to reduce dependence on automobiles for travel, and no effort whatsoever to harness the energy of the free giant fireball in the sky.

Instead they arrange for things that were once abundant to become scarce. Scarcity keeps you working, keeps your head barely out of the water, keeps you depending and under control.


I want to apologize to Pastabagel, who clearly spent a lot of time on this statement. Without being overtly antagonistic, I think it is important to point out that: whereas in the past, Saudi Arabia could unilaterally and substantively control the price of oil, the supply-side situation has changed and no kind of cartel-like action will prevent the massive increase in the price of crude oil. I know, I know... I don't have any kind of crazy propaganda theory about this, but thats just because pretty basic economic analysis makes it pretty obvious imho. Market fundamentals really do have more to do with it than the "manufacture of scarcity". I'm not going to go into the details here but feel free to message me with your questions.

P.S.: Misinformation tactics blaming high gas prices on the U.S. government are not only inappropriate and misleading, they are also tools used by those in the energy industry to distract you from the real issue, which is peak oil.
posted by flyinghamster at 2:11 AM on April 6, 2008


Adipocere: I don't like the whole starving kids thing any more than anybody else does, but have our efforts really done anything besides enable them to get older and produce even more starving kids?

The thing is that rate of reproduction is linked to reliability of food sources. It's just not clear how much education will help - poor folk are pretty switched on to their environment, and the reason they do things is frequently not attributable to a lack of education but some pretty sophisticated processing of their circumstances. Having more kids is a livelihoods strategy, determined by the likelihood of them dying, and the desire to be looked after in your old age when there's no social safety net. If there is a recognised secure source of food, and a belief that shocks will be evened out, then the motivation to have kids decreases. It needs time, however, before a source would be treated as reliable. One of the problems of environmental upheaval is that there is an increased likelihood of shocks like droughts affecting agricultural production, which makes an additional reason for the unreliability of food. Of course, only a fool would rely on the West's longterm selfless export of subsidised food.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:41 AM on April 6, 2008


Did you know that if we turned every golf course in the US into a solar farm, that we'd have about 125% of our actual energy need in the US?
Did you know that if we turned a 10,000 square mile corner of nevada desert into a solar farm that we'd have the same 125% of our actual energy need?
In either case, the energy produced would mean that we could shut down ever nuclear, trash, coal, and any other power plant that provides power to the US.

Downside is, of course, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

So, really, based on the sort of misleading points of this post, US Golfers are attributing more to total US Power emissions and reliance on foreign energy than any other segment of the US population. It's true but it's not really true.

The other interesting point is that the estimated total cost to convert the entire US power grid to solar is something like .64 trillion dollars. ($640 billion). That makes people go "ewww." Excitingly enough though, a couple months ago we surpassed $650 billion in total spending in Iraq.

BUT, do you think that given the option 5 years ago to spend $650 billion on the US power grid that voters would have actually approved that expense?
posted by TomMelee at 7:34 AM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


a diet that requires non-vegetable protein

Got a cite for that? Plenty of people survive on diets that include no animal protein.

I see your point, that animal protein is the most concentrated and calorically efficient, but plant proteins are definitely sufficient to sustain human life.


All very fine and dandy, but according to Gary Taubes at the NYT, carbs are making me fat.
posted by mecran01 at 8:00 AM on April 6, 2008


Wind is an interesting source of power, but if we start to tap it at levels that would make a difference, radical climate change is guaranteed.

I have heard this argument before, and you can't back it up either. It's some crap that people come up with, usually people who think they think a bit deeper than others about a problem, but there isn't any evidence for it. Why would there be? Wind is just a form of solar energy, a very small amount of total energy in the wind is converted to electricity, and the electricity is then used, often relatively nearby, for things which lead it back to heating the atmosphere.
posted by biffa at 9:18 AM on April 6, 2008


I don't recall. I know for a fact that the environmental lobby perpetuated a negative opinion of eating toxic waste and drinking human shit in rivers, and now nobody seems to want to enjoy that anymore...

I'm gathering from this plethora of red herrings you've excreted (nuclear power is JUST like nuclear testing, is it now?) that you are completely ignorant about the current state of nuclear power generation technology and nuclear waste disposal procedures. Your blind fearmongering has helped turn energy production into the environmental and political problem it is today. Thank you for your contribution.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:34 AM on April 6, 2008


1. If carbs are making him fat, then he's getting enough calories.

2. That article is silly. Why's he still hung up on the fat vs. carbs debate? Can we get beyond it already? Fine-tuning one's diet can have interesting effects, especially in controlled diet studies. But no one has yet shown the basic rule of thumb to be false: If you eat more calories than you expend, you get fatter.

The reason I asked the question, and my point still remains true, is that it's quite possible to thrive on a diet that does not include any animal sources.
posted by Miko at 9:48 AM on April 6, 2008


I'm gathering from this plethora of red herrings you've excreted (nuclear power is JUST like nuclear testing, is it now?) that you are completely ignorant about the current state of nuclear power generation technology and nuclear waste disposal procedures. Your blind fearmongering has helped turn energy production into the environmental and political problem it is today. Thank you for your contribution.

Lucky that I started this argument by citing a prospective nuclear engineer, but you stuck with your lame attack on environmentalism not realizing that environmentalists hate coal the most, and non-environmentalists are resisting proposed plans for providing a haven for nuclear waste. Without a dump for the waste, nobody rational should care what you are selling as a power plant, because it will probably turn out to be waste dump in the future, as well as a major short term risk while operating. Perhaps you confused competing alternative energy plans with your environmentalist straw men, a source or energy which you seem happily ignorant of. The red herring is all yours.
posted by Brian B. at 10:01 AM on April 6, 2008


Lucky that I started this argument by citing a prospective nuclear engineer...

...who said absolutely nothing to support your argument, but something quite the opposite. When called on it, you responded with a nonsensical stream of gibberish equating nuclear power to nuclear weapons.

environmentalists hate coal the most

...making their opposition to nuclear power even more stupid.

a major short term risk while operating

By all means, please continue to expose your ignorance.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:07 PM on April 6, 2008


Krrrlson, that Rush Limbaugh worn out tactic of blaming environmentalists for getting us to hate radiation, therefore no nuclear power, only means that you are a right-wing fanatic, not a scientific person. Therefore, I will get my information from elsewhere. Not even a good try on your part.
posted by Brian B. at 2:04 PM on April 6, 2008


This is fascinating, I had no idea MIT, which authored the report I linked, was infested with right-wing fanatics spreading unscientific disinformation. Well, no worries, you have plenty of other threads to troll as I can see.
posted by Krrrlson at 3:39 PM on April 6, 2008


Well, no worries, you have plenty of other threads to troll as I can see.

Krrrlson, are you referring to the threads where you fanatically rally the right wing for Heston? Thought so. But you are hard selling something here that is in use already, lacking infrastructure like disposal, and very difficult to build for many reasons, and so most people won't buy or entertain it for good reasons. Yet you can't believe it, they must be misinformed by your archenemies the environmentalist! Me pointing out that our naysayers are just average people who don't want any seems to anger you. Even refusing to read your boring pdf links angers you. Why won't the world listen to you, Krrrlson? Do people not like you?
posted by Brian B. at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2008


I read this article yesterday with a growing sense of outrage, until I saw that the UN Food Program needs only $500million in emergency funding to address the most acute problems, which is like, what, only 15% of the Fed's new Bear Stearns Executive Bonus Program? Surely, if we can provide a comfortable retirement to inept investment bankers, we can spare some extra to feed a few million hungry people.
posted by simra at 5:52 PM on April 6, 2008


I think it is important to point out that: whereas in the past, Saudi Arabia could unilaterally and substantively control the price of oil, the supply-side situation has changed and no kind of cartel-like action will prevent the massive increase in the price of crude oil.

I completely agree with this statement. But the truth of it does not alter the truth that Bush said he could effect such a change based on his personal relationships with the Saudis, nor does it alter the truth that no one is calling him on it.

I do not dispute peak oil theory. The scarcity that is being manufactured is in food and ethanol, not oil. The assumption that markets in reality are free is laughable. If Bush can send corn prices surging simply by including a statement in a state of the union speech about turning to corn as an alternative to oil, and furthermore if Bush knows that this will be a direct consequence of his saying it before he says it, isn't that manufacturing scarcity in those markets? Do you really think he and his advisors who worked so tirelessly to get subsidies for ethanol research and production aren't aware of the impact on water supplies of the increase in corn and soybean production due to ethanol? Of course they know them. My point is simply that they chose to pursue these policies not inspite of these downstream problem in other markets, but because of them.

Why no nuclear reactors in 8 years? Why no federal spending on solar research, or wind? Why are US automakers so hopelessly behind their Japanese counterparts in new engine technology? Because they mitigate the problems of peak oil, rather than exacerbate them and capitalize on them.

P.S.: Misinformation tactics blaming high gas prices on the U.S. government are not only inappropriate and misleading, they are also tools used by those in the energy industry to distract you from the real issue, which is peak oil.
posted by flyinghamster at 5:11 AM on April 6


You're misunderstanding the point. First, the leaders of the energy industry in 2000 became the leaders of government in 2001. It's the same people. Second, the problem is not the gas prices per se, it's the compete lack of alternatives. Economics teaches that as prices rise, alternative and substitutes enter the market. So where are they? The best we have are hybrid cars. The government has chosen to interfere in the market to prevent the adoption of substitutes as best they can. Third, the rise in oil prices are due in part to a weak dollar, because oil is largely priced on the global markets in dollars. Here are charts of oil prices in other currencies.


In the case of all currencies except the dollar, the Chinese Renminbi (mostly pegged to the dollar), and the South African Rand, oil prices in October of 2007 were at most as high as they were in mid 2006. The price of oil in dollars then was $80. Every single penny per barrel over $80 is due to a weak dollar, which is a direct result of Fed and Treasury activity to address, or not address the housing crisis in the US. The housing crisis which was drive by massive rate-cutting by the Fed from 2001-2005, and which culminated in the Fed Chairman advising people in 2005 to take two-year teaser rate mortgages after his final rate cut to below 1%. Two years later in mid 2007, those teaser rates expired, and the market imploded.

We all knew about peak oil in 2006 and 2007, nothing changed. So why did oil rise by 25% in the two months from October to January 2008? Why did the price of oil double from January 2007 to January 2008? How do you account for those wild swings in price? Is there corresponding supply and demand data to go along with those swings, or is the oil price simply reflecting the same underlying problem that drove wild swings in metals, and food commodities over the same period?

Do you really think everyone across the board who watches these things and trades them is incompetent? All the currency traders, all the commodities traders, all the economists at the Fed, at Treasury, on Wall Street, and the White House advisors? Is it really possible that everyone was simultaneously incompetent and that's what got us into this mess?

We are entering a period in history where it is of vital importance that the gap between the wealthy and the middle class be as wide as possible. I'll leave it to you to guess for whom it's so important.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:27 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Do you really think he and his advisors who worked so tirelessly to get subsidies for ethanol research and production aren't aware of the impact on water supplies of the increase in corn and soybean production due to ethanol? Of course they know them.

Pastabagel: I'm not really disagreeing with any of the other points you've made, but I think you're vastly overestimating the effort and foresight that go into these sorts of political programs. I doubt very much that the advisers responsible for the corn subsidies really have much comprehension of the damage they do. Actual working knowledge of corn production is by no means a prerequisite for being a political adviser who designs key policy aspects that affect it. All you need to understand is what's most advantageous from a political standpoint.

Almost all policy is created through the very thick filter of political expediency and advantage. The actual effects of the policy aren't relevant, except insofar as they cause the balance of power to shift. And in many cases, the people crafting the policies don't even do a very good job of estimating the policy's effect on the political reality, in anything but the very short term.

I would really like to believe that the Bush administration is filled with cunning, evil geniuses, because I think the truth is more terrifying: it's filled with evil morons.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:05 PM on April 6, 2008


Did you know that if we turned every golf course in the US into a solar farm, that we'd have about 125% of our actual energy need in the US?

This says more about the number of golf courses than anything else.
posted by smackfu at 6:44 AM on April 7, 2008


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