Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Biofuels Harm the Environment

It has long been obvious to all except those from the Land of the Small Brains – politicians and environmentalists – that biofuels are a terrible idea whose time will never come.

Make a list of major problems the world faces – water shortages, food shortages, farming of marginal lands by conversion of timberlands and wilderness areas, water pollution through agricultural runoff, expensive taxpayer subsidies to agriculture and energy producers, to name just a few of many.

The supposed benefits of biofuels are reducing energy reliance, boosting farm revenues and helping fight climate change.

Will biofuels accomplish these goals, or just trade parts of some problems for much larger problems in related activities?

Will biofuels reduce energy reliance? Worldwide energy from biomass makes up about one percent of total energy production, and yet the small biomass energy increases in the past decade have come at a very high price, and the percentage of total energy needs provided by biomass has shrunk.

For example, China is adding one new coal-fired generating plant big enough to supply a city the size of San Diego every ten days.

At the same time, competition with food supplies caused by ethanol production is driving up the costs of tortillas, meat, soft drinks, and all the other products that consume corn in their production.

Is there anyone who truly believes that energy production from biomass will replace a significant part of the 86% of the world’s energy needs provided by oil, natural gas, and coal? Doubling the world’s biomass energy production would scarcely make a dent in the 40% provided by oil, but would add significantly to the misery of the world’s poor.

Considering oil and its high cost and limited reserves reminds me that water soon will become the oil of the Twenty-First Century – essential in just about everything, and increasingly scarce and expensive.

Will biofuels increase farm revenues? Perhaps. Some commodity prices will go up, but the costs of production will go up too. More fertilizer will be needed, and producing it will burn up a lot of natural gas. More water will be needed, and to increase its supply more water storage must be built, more water treatment added, and in many areas desalinization will be necessary.

All of this will be necessary anyway, given the world’s increasing population and economic progress, but far more will be needed in addition to support increased biomass energy production.

Many of the world’s rivers no longer flow to the sea, their waters totally diverted long before they join the ocean’s waves. Many lakes are a small fraction of their former size. More of the world’s wild rivers will be tamed behind dams, and pristine valleys turned into reservoirs.

And farmers may profit.

Or be generously subsidized.

Of course, there’s always the fight against climate change to be won. Just exactly how adding a bit of ethanol to gasoline, clearing a lot more land for crops – the current level of food production will have to be maintained, you know, so more land will have to go into production - and producing fuels from biomass through the liberal application of electrical energy from coal-fired plants – how that will significantly reduce greenhouse gases and climate change is one of the fundamental mysteries of life.

I think I know how biofuels solve the problem.

“And then a miracle occurs!”

That’s what’s sorely needed to make biofuels anything but an expensive and wasteful exercise fueled by environmentalists fevered beliefs that somehow, if they want it badly enough, the fundamental laws of physics will be altered to answer their prayers.

It’s ironic that the Left, loud critics of religious believers, are the most anti-science true believers of all, to think that in some miraculous way the piddling production of energy from "renewable" resources will ever be more than a wishful exercise in wasting resources.

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