Posts tagged ‘Brazil’

Wow

This is one of the more amazing things I have read of late.  Environmentalist recants his opposition to GMOs.  Good, I hope Greenpeace is listening and will reconsider its absurd and destructive opposition to golden rice.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist....

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

Bravo Mr Lynas.  It is hard to admit one was wrong.  It is even harder, though, for a man like Lynas to declare himself on the "wrong" side of a "progressive" issue like this.  He has now likely put himself into a category along with black Republicans who will incur special wrath and disdain from progressives.

Speaking of the need for a little science in the environmental movement, I was channel surfing over Bill Moyer's show yesterday on PBS (actually I was navigating to our local PBS station to  make sure Downton Abbey was set to record later in the day) when I heard Moyer whip out a stat that even with a carbon tax, the world will warm over 6 degrees this century.  Now, I don't know if he was talking in degrees F or C, but in either case, a 6 degree number far outstrips the climate sensitivity numbers used even by the IPCC, which many of us skeptics believe has exaggerated warming estimates.  It is constantly frustrating to be treated as an enemy of science by those who display such a casual contempt for it, while at the same time fetishizing it.

Ethanol Updates

Y'all may have already seen these -- being on vacation, I am a little late to the table on both.  The first is a report on the Missouri state ethanol mandate:

A report from a Missouri-based research organization
debunks the claim that Missourians are saving money through a state law
requiring that retail gasoline contain a minimum of 10% ethanol. The
report is in reaction to an assertion by the Missouri Corn
Merchandising Association (MCMA), alleging that Missourians will save
more than US$ 285 million through the E-10 mandate in 2008, and nearly
US$ 2 billion over the following decade.

The MCMA arrived at these numbers by taking the price
difference between pure-grade gasoline and E-10 blended fuel, and
multiplying it by Missouri's projected annual consumption.

However, the report by the Show Me Institute reveals two fundamental flaws with this calculation. One
is that it fails to take into account the fact that E-10 blended fuel
is cheaper because ethanol producers receive tax credits and other
subsidies.

"Government officials cannot simply take tax dollars from
the public, give those tax dollars to ethanol blenders, and then have
ethanol supporters tell the public that ethanol is saving them money
with cheaper fuel as though the subsidy never existed," write the
report's authors, Justin P. Hauke and David Stokes.

The MCMA also does not take into account that E-10
blended fuel is about 2.5% less efficient than pure-grade gasoline,
meaning that Missourians will be filling their tanks more often.

When both of these factors are taken into account, the ethanol blending mandates are shown to be costing Missourians about US$ 118 million per year.

The second is a World Bank report on the effect of ethanol mandates on food prices:

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far
more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank
report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most
detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an
internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's
claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price
rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across
Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of
greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in
April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George
Bush.

"It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday....

[The report] argues that production of biofuels has
distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain
away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to
produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going
towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been
encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has
sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

Other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much
longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived
at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. But the report
author, Don Mitchell, is a senior economist at the Bank and has done a
detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which
allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food
supply.

The report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.

All this stuff was known long before Congress voted for the most recent ethanol mandates.  Why is it that the media, who cheerled such mandates for years, is able to apply any institutional skepticism only after the mandates have become law?  Are we going to have to actually pass some awful version of carbon trading before anyone will consider its inherent problems?

In Search of the Good Life

Tim Harford Via TJIC:

Superficially, it seems that many people seek sunny climes,
especially now that air conditioning is available. For example,
long-run population growth in the "Sunbelt" "” the US South - is often
attributed to a demand for, well, sun.

Harvard economists Ed Glaeser and Kristina Tobio think
otherwise. They argue that before 1980, the boom in the South was
thanks to the region's growing productivity. After 1980, population
continued to grow, but house prices lagged behind those elsewhere in
the US, suggesting that the driving force was not high demand but
permissive planning rules. Certainly balmy California, with its tighter
restrictions on building, did not enjoy the same population growth.

All of this tends to suggest that people don't value sunshine quite as much as is supposed.

I have pretty convincing anecdotal evidence that the first part, at least, is true.  I worked for a large manufacturing corporation called Emerson Electric (no relation to the electronics company).  They are one of the few Fortune 50 companies not at all coy to admit that they move factories around the world chasing lower wages.  They had an epiphany decades ago, when in their planning, they assumed the move overseas was always a trade-off of wages for productivity... until they visited at motor plant in Brazil that had first world automation and productivity combined with third world wages.  That got their attention.  To their credit, they have pushed this further and further, such that not only are their factory workers in Mexico, but their plant superintendents and skilled workers and even their engineers are now Mexican too.

Anyway, if you listen to the company tell this story, phase 1 of the story was not a move to Mexico or Asia but to the south.  They must have moved probably 50 manufacturing plants over a decade from the northeast to the south during the sixties and seventies. 

This constant movement seems to be a natural life-cycle of locations as they grow wealthy.  Poorer regions eagerly welcome newcomers who may bring jobs and prosperity.  But, once the prosperity is there, the prosperous in town begin using government and other institutions to try to lock in their gains.  Corporations use government to fight new competitors.  Wealthy homeowners pass zoning to keep home prices high and rising.  Unions tend to increase and lock in gains for current workers at the expense of new workers.  A kind of culture of hostility emerges to any new job that makes less than $54,000 a year, any house that costs less than $400,000, and any immigrant who doesn't have a pale face.

Global Warming / Biofuel Tragedy

Time, not always my favorite publication, hit on a couple of points I have made recently in an article called the Clean Energy Scam.  This article has been around for a few weeks but I am only just now getting to it.

First, I made the point just the other day that inordinate focus on global warming is crowding out other more important environmental issues, sucking the oxygen out of causes like private land trusts that are attempting to preserve unique areas.  As Time says:

The Amazon was the chic eco-cause of the 1990s, revered as an
incomparable storehouse of biodiversity. It's been overshadowed lately
by global warming

Much has been made of Brazil's efforts to reduce imported oil.  Too much credit has been given to ethanol -- most of Brazil's independence came from a number of domestic oil developments.  However, Brazil has been a leading promoter of ethanol through government policy, and this focus on ethanol has had a lot to do with deforestation in the Amazon, as rising crop prices due to biofuel mandates have spurred a rush to clear new land.  Now, US and European ethanol policies are just accelerating this trend:

This land rush is being accelerated by an unlikely source: biofuels. An
explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices
to record highs, which is spurring a dramatic expansion of Brazilian
agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming
rate.

it never made any sense that a fuel that requires more energy to produce than it provides could ever be "green," but only now are the politically correct forces accepting what I and others have been saying for years:

But several new studies show the biofuel boom is doing exactly the
opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically
accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of
saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to
be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from
switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors
as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less
green than oil-derived gasoline.

The rest of the article is quite good.  I don't like to criticize where other people choose to spend their charitable dollars, but it is just amazing to me that environmentally-concerned people could give $300 million to Al Gore just to squander on advertising.  (By the way, Al Gore claims to have not only invented the Internet, but to have "saved" corn ethanol from government defunding).  I think about how much $300 million could have achieve in private land trusts trying to buy up and preserve the Amazon, and I could cry.  But all I can do is plug along and give what I can.  I donate to both the Nature Conservancy and World Land Trust.

Ethanol and Deforestation

From an AP report:

The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions
as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes,
researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to
biofuels as a response to global warming.

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change
have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use
worldwide if ethanol from corn "” and in the future from other
feedstocks such as switchgrass "” become a prized commodity.

"Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate
global warming," concludes the study published in Science magazine.

Promoters of biofuels often hold up Brazil as an example of a model ethanol mandate.  Forget for a moment that in fact ethanol still makes up only a small percentage of the transportation fuel market in Brazil.  Think of all those satellite photos we used to see of farmers burning the Amazon to expand cropland:

1016nasa

I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this land clearing, which has always one on, really accelerated after the Brazilian ethanol mandates and subsidies.  My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for a lot of the destruction of the Amazon on ethanol.

Moonbattery has a fitting conclusion:

The study's findings aren't likely to change government policy, since
ethanol mandates are a political boondoggle that only dupes expect to
have any effect on the climate. If the first caucuses were held in
Hawaii, they'd be forcing us to run our cars on macadamia nuts instead
of corn.

Subsidize Biofuels, Destroy the Rainforest

Not much comment necessary for the following, except to say that I don't think one should be able to call this an unintended consequence of US biofuel and corn subsidies when 1) the results are utterly predictable and 2) folks like myself publicly predicted it.

The US is the world's leading producer of soy, but many American soy
farmers are shifting to corn to qualify for the government subsidies.
Since 2006, US corn production rose 19% while soy farming fell by 15%.

The
drop-off in US soy has helped to drive a major increase in global soy
prices, which have nearly doubled in the last 14 months. In Brazil, the
world's second-largest soy producer, high soy prices are having a
serious impact on the Amazon rainforest and tropical savannas.

"Amazon
fires and forest destruction have spiked over the last several months,
especially in the main soy-producing states in Brazil," said Laurance.
"Just about everyone there attributes this to rising soy and beef
prices."

High soy prices affect the Amazon in several ways. Some
forests are cleared for soy farms. Farmers also buy and convert many
cattle ranches into soy farms, effectively pushing the ranchers further
into the Amazonian frontier. Finally, wealthy soy farmers are lobbying
for major new Amazon highways to transport their soybeans to market,
and this is increasing access to forests for loggers and land
speculators.

I Called This One

I made this prediction way back in February of 2005:

I resisted the call by a number of web sites at the beginning of the
year to make predictions for 2005.  However, now I will make one:  We
will soon see calls to bring a tighter licensing or credentialing
system for journalists, similar to what we see for lawyers, doctors,
teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians
.  The proposals will be
nominally justified by improving ethics or similar laudable things,
but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed not at those on the
inside but those on the outside.  At one time or another, teachers,
massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used licensing or
credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart competitors,
often ones with new business models who don't have the same
trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have....

Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack.  Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools,
despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter
environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example,
kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at
the 83rd percentile).  So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.

So here we go, here are a few recent such calls for licensing of journalists.  The first via Hot Air:

Supporters of "citizen journalism" argue it provides independent,
accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don't
provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn't
journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong
probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way
to monitor and regulate this new trend....

The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now
collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and
distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the
acts of collecting and distributing makes these people "journalists."
This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a "citizen
surgeon" or someone who can read a law book is a "citizen lawyer."
Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what
make people into trusted professionals. Information without
journalistic standards is called gossip.

But that one is downright sane compared to this, from Cleveland's Voice for Social Justice (have you noticed how "social justice" always seems to require forcefully silencing people?):

For every champion of journalism who write stories about Walter Reed or
Extraordinary Rendition Flights, there are two reporters at Channel 19
who care very little about society. For every Seymore Hersh there are five Michelle Malkins or Ann Coulters.   With citizen journalists spreading like wildfire in blogs, we seem to have one Froomkin created, there are five extremist blogs proclaiming the assaults on homeless people everyday....

The Society of Professional Journalists must start licensing
journalists or the government will start doing it for them. We need to
start taking this practice seriously and separate the real journalists
from the fakes. The decisions made by journalists have consequences for
ruining people's lives or for causing grief, suicide or even murder.
The genocide in Rhwanda were carried out using the radio commentators
to urge citizens to kill Tutsis. If journalists want to be taken
seriously they must figure out how to separate the real from the
O'Reilly types. They must set up a structure to license journalists
with an enforcement mechanism to strip bad journalists from practicing
their craft.

This is from the weblog of a bunch of media students:

It scares me to think that the field I will going pursuing when I
graduate might be confused with entertainment reporting "“ things like
"Who Ben Affleck is dating now" and "Will Brad and Jen get back
together." Certainly, these things are news to a select few. I will
not, however, get into the whole tabloid issue. I seems to have sparked
some intense debate with that one a few weeks ago. But, I am worried
that with the onslaught of weblogs and internet news, many readers and
listeners will get confused and think what they're reading and watching
is actually news. I have nothing against web loggers, even though they
are a threat to my future career. But, all of this leads me to question
the professionalism of journalism.

Should we license journalists? This has been a question that has
been debated back and forth for awhile. Many journalists are against
the idea because they believe that that would mean licensing
information and licensing free speech. But I think we need to look at
the issues at hand right now. The news is getting out-of-hand. The
public is being onslaught with an enormous amount of information due to
our increasing rush of technology and it has to be hard for them to
differentiate between real news and opinions being costumed as news.
This is why we need to start seriously considering licensing
journalists. It may be the only real hope for the future of
journalists. With licenses, we can hold on to whatever ethical and
moral characteristics we have left in the news business. There will be
no more "parading reporters" and no more "video news releases." Who
thinks we should pursue this? Who thinks the entire idea is ridiculous?

Some countries are seriously considering it.  Brazil and Indonesia are looking into licensing their journalists.  Here's an article
from Indonesia - even though it's agaist thh idea of licensing it's
still a good example of how serious this debate is becoming

Its good we are taking lessons on free speech and the media from Indonesia and Brazil.  I probably should not make fun of the typos and grammar errors in this post by a "media student" since I make such mistakes all the time.  Of course, I am not a "licensed journalist."

This is not a new issue.  In the early 1980's, the US vigorously resisted attempts by the UN to implement a variety of euphemisms that boiled down to licensing requirements for international journalists.

Environmentalists Want Us To Celebrate Squalor

I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist.   For years people have accused me of over-reading  the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)

Is infinite growth of some meaningful
  quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think
  so, but economists habitually make this
  claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I'm, an
  economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's
  worked until now".

Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite
  nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island
smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't.
The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic
theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs.
What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? ...

The
  whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft
  landing is down
; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just
  to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology
  but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita
  impact but can target it.

Decline isn't bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching
your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity
beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already
passed that point? Could the time where we'd all be better off with a
gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the
folks who say we should keep climbing, that there's no way we can run
out of fuel, that we'll think of something?

So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation.  These folks want economic decline.  That's a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."

I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.

The Zero Sum Fallacy

Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar.  Of course they are always wrong.  Why? 

Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind.  And the world of ideas has no capacity limits.   This is an  issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly.   Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don't apply.  (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn't bad news in an airplane).

Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world's resources.  By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth's mass.  In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun  (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun's energy).  We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun's energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here.  And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.

Wealth Benefits the Environment

Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment. 

We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA.  The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades.  Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever -- in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol).   No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US.  Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired. 

I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so.   Similarly, I don't think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems. 

Here is a simple test:  Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems?  Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.

Growth / Climate Tradeoffs

For the sake of argument, let's assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening).  Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century.  3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.)  So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them.  Hmmm.  Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia.  This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer

I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive.  They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change.  Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles.  So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural.  I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity.

More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.

Postscript:  Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem:  Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad?  Or did Mr. Tobis previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world's population would reject?  The answer to this question is a window on why 1)  the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2)  no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer  (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy)  and 3)  why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.

Memo to Fact Checkers and Editors on Ethanol

Let's forget all the other issues surrounding ethanol for a moment  (we'll mention a really bad one below), and just consider one fact that is beyond dispute.  Ethanol has an energy content per gallon that is only about 65% of that of gasoline.  So, another way to put it is that it takes a bit over 1.5 gallons of ethanol to replace 1 gallon of gasoline.  There is nothing suspicious or sinister about this (ethanol is flawed for other reasons) or at all controversial. 

Therefore, when your paper prints something like this:

"The number of plants under construction is truly frightening,"
said Ralph Groschen, a senior marketing specialist with the Minnesota
Department of Agriculture who closely watches the state's ethanol
development. The country could go from 7 billion gallons of capacity
now to 12 billion gallons, or about roughly 10 percent of U.S. gasoline
capacity, in a few years, according to Groschen.

You need to understand that you and everyone else are failing at simple math.  In 2004 the US consumed just over 140 billion gallons of gasoline.  So, already, our media has failed the math test.  12 billion gallons would be 8.6%, but we will give them a pass on rounding that to "roughly 10 percent."  But this 8.6% only holds true if gasoline is replaced by ethanol 1:1.  Using the actual figures cited above, 12 billion gallons of ethanol is about 7.8billion gallons an a gasoline equivalent, which would make it  5.6% of US gasoline usage in 2004, and probably an even smaller percentage if we were to take the worlds "gasoline capacity" at face value, since surely capacity is higher than production.

I know it seems petty to pick on one paper, and probably would not be worth my time to bother if it was just this one article.  But this mistake is made by every MSM article I have ever seen on ethanol.  I can't remember any writer or editor ever getting it right.

By the way, if you want more on what is wrong with ethanol, check my past posts

Finally, the other day I pointed out how much of our food crop is getting diverted to fueling our cars, with negligible effect on CO2 or oil imports.  If you really want to be worried about ethanol, note this:

Biofuels need land, which means traditional food crops are being
elbowed off of the field for fuel crops. Biofuel production is
literally taking the food out of people's mouths and putting into our
gas tanks. Already, increased food costs sparked by increased demand
are leaving populations hungry. The price of wheat has stretched to a
10-year high, while the price of maize has doubled.

Need more
land? Clear cut some forest. Is there a word beyond irony to describe a
plan to mitigate climate change that relies on cutting down the very
trees that naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere? Stupidity,
perhaps? The logic is like harvesting a sick patient's lungs to save
her heart. Huge tracks of Amazon
rainforest are being raised to the biofuels alter like a sacrificial
lamb, and the UN suggests that 98 percent of Indonesia's rainforest
will disappear by 2022, where heavy biofuel production is underway.

Still
need land? Just take it. The human rights group Madre, which is backing
the five-year moratorium, says agrofuel plantations in Brazil and
Southeast Asia are displacing indigenous people. In an editorial
published on CommonDreams last week, Madre Communication Director Yifat
Susskind wrote, "People are being forced to give up their land, way of
life, and food self-sufficiency to grow fuel crops for export."

Great First Ammendment Ruling

From FIRE, comes this really encouraging ruling:

Earlier this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil partially granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction in the San Francisco State University (SFSU) speech codes litigation. Yesterday, Judge Brazil issued his written opinion on the motion, and in so doing struck a devastating blow against speech codes at universities in California and hopefully"”...

Judge Brazil enjoined the university from enforcing both the civility
requirement and a related provision allowing student organizations to
be punished collectively if any group members engage in behavior
"inconsistent with SF State goals, principles, and policies." Judge
Brazil did not enjoin the university from enforcing its prohibition on
"[c]onduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any
person within or related to the University community, including
physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, or sexual
misconduct." However, he emphasized that the provision must be narrowly
construed to only prohibit that "intimidation" or "harassment" which actually endangers someone's health or safety,
and explicitly directed the university that the policy "may be invoked
only as it has been construed in this opinion." This limiting
construction prohibits the university from interpreting that provision
broadly to punish constitutionally protected speech (since the vast
majority of speech that actually endangers someone's health or safety
is not constitutionally protected).

Here are a few excepts from the Judge's decision:

It is important to emphasize here that it is controversial expression
that it is the First Amendment's highest duty to protect. By political
definition, popular views need no protection. It is unpopular notions
that are in the greatest peril "” and it was primarily to protect their
expression that the First Amendment was adopted. The Framers of our
Constitution believed that a democracy could remain healthy over time
only if its citizens felt free both to invent new ideas and to vent
thoughts and feelings that were thoroughly out of fashion. Fashion, it
was understood, is an agent of repression "” and repression is an agent
[of] democracy's death....

There also is an emotional dimension to the effectiveness of
communication. Speakers, especially speakers on significant or
controversial issues, often want their audience to understand how
passionately they feel about their subject or message. For many
speakers on religious or political subjects, for example, having their
audience perceive and understand their passion, their intensity of
feeling, can be the single most important aspect of an expressive act.
And for many people, what matters most about a particular instance of
communication is whether it inspires emotions in the audience, i.e.,
whether it has the emotional power to move the audience to action or to
a different level of interest in or commitment to an idea or cause. For
such people, the effectiveness of communication is measured by its
emotional impact, by the intensity of the resonance it creates.
How is all this relevant to our review of the University's
civility requirement? Civility connotes calmness, control, and
deference or responsiveness to the circumstances, ideas, and feelings
of others. ["¦] Given these common understandings, a regulation that
mandates civility easily could be understood as permitting only those
forms of interaction that produce as little friction as possible, forms
that are thoroughly lubricated by restraint, moderation, respect,
social convention, and reason. The First Amendment difficulty with this
kind of mandate should be obvious: the requirement "to be civil to one
another" and the directive to eschew behaviors that are not consistent
with "good citizenship" reasonably can be understood as prohibiting the
kind of communication that it is necessary to use to convey the full
emotional power with which a speaker embraces her ideas or the
intensity and richness of the feelings that attach her to her cause.
Similarly, mandating civility could deprive speakers of the tools they
most need to connect emotionally with their audience, to move their
audience to share their passion.
In sum, there is a substantial risk that the civility requirement
will inhibit or deter use of the forms and means of communication that,
to many speakers in circumstances of the greatest First Amendment
sensitivity, will be the most valued and the most effective.

Wow!  This is fantastic, and aimed right at University speech codes that try to ban any speech that offends someone [a standard that tends to be enforced unevenly, typically entailing prosecuting only those students who offend people who are like-minded with the school's faculty and administration.

 

I Told You So (Health Care Edition)

For about a year now, I have been arguing that public funding of health care will be used as a Trojan Horse to introduce a near fascist micro-regulation of our lives.  I argue that if the government is funding health care, then they will claim a financial stake in your health, and begin regulating everything from your food intake to your exercise habits, even your risk choices (e.g. snowboarding).  I made this argument here and here, among other places.  The general reaction has been, "gee Coyote, nice theoretical argument but you can put your tinfoil hat away now.  You are being paranoid."

Well, check this out:    (via Reason)

Another doctor who examined the journal report was Dr. Brian
McCrindle, a childhood obesity expert and professor of pediatrics with
a pediatric hospital in Toronto.

He warned that the looming problem must be addressed.

"The wave of heart disease and stroke could totally swamp the public health care system," he said.

He warned that lawmakers had to take a broader view of the looming
problem "” and consider doing things such as banning trans fats and
legislating against direct advertising of junk food toward children.

"It's not going to be enough any more just to say to the consumer 'You have to change your behavior,'" he said.

Notice that he left the second half of his last sentence unsaid.  That second half is "the government is going to have to force them."  Of course, none of this is an issue if we all have personal responsibility for our own health care costs and therefore for the consequences of our own decisions.

Postscript:  By the way, for anyone older than 30 who grew up in the sixties and seventies when all the intelligentsia were painting pictures of Malthusian starvation nightmares, this is GOOD news:

The percentages of overweight children also are expected to increase
significantly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Mexico, Chile,
Brazil and Egypt have rates comparable to fully industrialized nations,
James said.

He estimated that, for example, one in five children in China will be overweight by 2010.

The reason for this is not because of some evil corporate conspiracy (though that's what the article attributes it to) but due to the fact that these kids are simply not starving to death any more.  I am absolutely sure that the public health "crisis" from these overweight kids is less of a problem than the public health crisis of 30 years ago, when they were all malnourished and dying of being, well, severely underweight.  I mean, are there any of you out there in the over 40 crowd who didn't get the "there are starving kids in China" guilt trip growing up when you didn't eat your dinner?