Biofuels and the Rise of Nationalistic Environmentalism

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This is a guest post by Alexis Ziegler. Alexis is a communitarian, builder, orchardist and environmental activist living in central Virginia. He is the author of a recently published book, Culture Change: Civil Liberty, Peak Oil, and the End of Empire. More information can be found at


The rapid expansion of biofuel production worldwide has paralleled a dramatic rise in food prices. The expansion of biofuels has been supported by a wide spectrum of people, from environmentalists looking for "sustainable" energy to conservatives wanting to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil. With food riots spreading, the U.S. remains committed to an expansion of biofuel.

Biofuels are part of a larger movement toward green capitalism, the idea that we can scale down our energy use through technologies that improve the efficiency of the consumer society. Biofuels are emblematic of the dark side of green capitalism, which is focused almost entirely on the well being of the global upper class. Biofuels are a form of nationalistic environmentalism that is creating a foundation on which more extreme nationalists will try to wed the racist tools of yesterday with a version of "sustainability" that will include the destruction of the global poor.

Real solutions are both impossibly difficult and simple. The cooperative societies in which most humans have always lived are capable of supporting a high standard of living with far less resources than the individualized, consumer society. Enlightened political leadership would be helpful, but we can create a sustainable society without it. Indeed, we have to.

The current food crisis was terribly predictable, and has been anticipated for several years now. Starting about seven years ago, the world started using more food than it was producing, steadily eating into stored supplies. As grain stores have shrunk year by year, the biofuel movement has taken off like a virus. Rapid biofuel expansion has been propelled by a concern over American dependence on imported oil, as well as concerns about "sustainable" energy supplies and carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, environmentalists concerned about our future food supply were sounding the alarm, and being ignored. For some, it was terribly obvious that a disaster was brewing. While there has been considerable debate about the energy returns from various biofuels, no one debates the basic math. It takes about 10 acres to feed a car on ethanol for a year.[1] The world supply of grainland is about three-tenths of an acre per person, and is expected to shrink to less than a quarter acre by 2020. [2] Clearly, direct market competition between rich and poor for land to feed cars or people could be disastrous. Given the relentless fall in holdover stocks – grain in storage – over the last few years, price spikes were inevitable.

Although other factors have driven food prices up, biofuel expansion is the tipping factor, the real driver of price hikes of the scale we are seeing. Other factors, such as drought and increased meat consumption, would have caused an incremental increase in prices. Markets respond smoothly as long as there is an adequate buffer between supply and demand. When that buffer gets too tight, then the markets start oscillating much more severely. To go from almost no biofuel to 5% of the world's food going into biofuel in a few years can have only one impact on the market. Biofuel is not the only factor influencing food prices, but it is the decisive factor between moderate market escalation and dangerous oscillation.

As an environmental activist, I was wary when my friends started enthusiastically grabbing used cooking oil from behind restaurants. I did not think they were aware of the political Frankenstein they were creating. American consumers are both enormously powerful and very disconnected from the natural world or any consideration of the limits of the Earth on which we all reside. Now that a movement has been created to expand biofuel production rapidly, with support from everyone from President Bush to a large fraction of the environmental movement, it will be difficult to stop.

The growth of the biofuel craze has been very rapid. For those that would argue that biofuel does not compete with food supplies, the actual behavior of the market, even at this early stage, belies such contentions. Radical increases in food prices caused in large part by biofuel expansion have triggered food riots in Haiti, Guinea, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Mexico. (That list is likely to be longer by the time you read this.) Even in Italy consumers have caused public disturbances over the rising price of food. Biodiesel plants built in Malaysia now lie idle, never having been put into production, because those odd Malaysian peasants are demanding the right to eat their palm oil. Meanwhile, in Swaziland, a small impoverished nation in South Africa where forty percent of its people are facing food shortages, the government decided last year to start exporting biofuel. [3] The World Bank has stated that 33 countries may be at risk from destabilization because of skyrocketing food prices. [4]

When I first started writing about this issue several years ago, global grain stocks were at their lowest point in over 30 years. Grain stocks have continued to fall. We are perched on a precipice where a drought or other disruption of production in grain-producing regions could cause severe instability in both food and energy prices. Such instability could trigger widespread famine. Such concerns are not restricted to fringe critics. Goldman Sachs is predicting that "vulnerable regions of the world face the risk of famine over the next three years as rising energy costs spill over into a food crunch..."[5] The number of people in the world suffering severe undernourishment was declining until the late 1990s. Now it is rising.

Currently, 5% of the global food supply is going into biofuels, and that fraction is growing very rapidly – some would say virally. [6] If the current rate of expansion of biofuel continues, ethanol plants will be using almost all of the U.S. corn crop within 5-7 years. In response to this growth rate and the dangerous potential outcomes it implies, the United Nations Rapporteur on Food has called for a moratorium on biofuels expansion. The European Union is drafting legislation so that they will only import biofuels that are produced "sustainably," but the definition of that term is still up for debate.

The carbon-saving aspect of biofuels has turned out to be an illusion as well. Millions of acres of forest, including enormous areas of tropical rainforests in Malaysia and Brazil, are being destroyed to produce biofuels. On average, biofuels add more carbon to the atmosphere than fossil fuels. [7]

And how is the U.S. responding? In the fall of 2004, Congress passed a tax relief bill supporting biodiesel, and the new energy bill passed by Congress in 2007 supports a rapid expansion of ethanol production.[8] President Bush has spoken openly in favor of biofuel, and has visited biofuel plants to show his support.[9] Liberal campaigner, musician and activist Willie Nelson has been advocating the use of biofuel. Conservative governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been promoting biofuel Hummers in California. At the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors released their new ethanol Hummer. Virgin Atlantic, one of the world's major airlines, announced in January 2008 that it is going to conduct the first commercial flight using biofuels on board a Boeing 747 (one of the world's largest airliners). [10]

It is no surprise that conservatives are in favor of biofuel, given their traditional nationalistic focus. The number of liberally minded, educated environmentalists who favor biofuels expansion is more surprising. I have had many arguments trying to decipher how so many smart people could fail to see the obvious connections. Cars are very hungry, consuming the grain that would feed 25-30 people. The global market is highly integrated, one big pond where commodities move fluidly and markets ratchet upwards any time the supply tightens relative to demand. Are these facts not painfully obvious?

They are, and the solution to the question of why so many people would be so foolish is sobering. American environmentalism has become increasingly nationalistic. If one takes a step back from biofuels and looks at the broader environmental movement, the dominant trends are towards "green capitalism," or "Natural Capitalism," to use the title of a book by Paul Hawkens and Amory Lovins. According to this theory, the new green technologies are going to create "green" jobs, and the economy will continue to prosper as workers construct windmills and insulate sophisticated energy-sipping homes and offices. Consumers will buy compact fluorescent bulbs and efficient cars, and we will steadily reduce our energy use. This "green capitalism" is by far the dominant trend in environmentalism today, with luminary conservatives like George Shultz being among its more prominent advocates.

It sounds great. But there is a side to this movement, of which biofuel is emblematic, which is far darker than any of its current advocates dare recognize. Everyone, save a few wingnuts, acknowledges that oil is a finite resource. A few years ago, some oil geologists started suggesting that the peak of global oil production might be very soon, now or in the next few years, rather than decades away, as had been assumed. At first they were ridiculed. But global oil production has remained nearly flat for several years, demand pressures have continued to increase, and prices have spiked.

It now seems very likely that we are at or near a peak in global oil production. The global industrial economy is facing limits and depletions of many other resources as well, prompting the prominent peak oil theorist Richard Heinberg to title his most recent book Peak Everything. (The idea that industrialism could face multiple limits of resource availability has been around since at least the 1972 publication of The Limits to Growth. Though that book sold millions of copies, enormous efforts were subsequently expended in suppressing the distressing conclusions reached therein. That in itself is an instructive story.[11])

Some of the advocates of green capitalism – of which there are many at this point – are aware of the likely pending limits of oil and other resources. They paint a scenario of continued growth and prosperity even as we downscale our energy use and pollution, using more efficient technologies and design. Some are more optimistic than others about exactly how much oil we might have left, and how resource limitations might impact future economic growth. The green capitalist model, as espoused by a number of its most prominent adherents, suggests that we can feed 9 to 12 billion people in the coming decades even with falling oil supplies and significant biofuel development by applying green technologies.[12] So why are we facing a "risk of famine," to use Goldman Sachs' words, over forty years earlier and with 3 to 6 billion fewer people?

Because numbers on paper do not equal reality on the ground, and because nationalistic environmentalism focuses almost entirely on the well-being of the global upper class. It is probably true that it is possible for a limited number of people to transition to a highly efficient, consumer society, but only if a couple billion of our fellow humans suffer deprivation, or perhaps even outright destruction, to make way.

The industrial economy is intimately, terribly dependent on oil. So much so that we can hardly conceive how much of it we use. Richard Heinberg maintains that a single teaspoon of oil contains as much energy as eight hours of human labor. In practical application, that is probably a slight exaggeration. Nonetheless, we have gotten accustomed to using extraordinary energy. We have god-like powers at our fingertips when we turn the key to drive down to the corner store for a pack of chewing gum.

Under conditions of expansion, the market economy appears benign, even progressive. It is no coincidence that the peak of democratic development in the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations occurred at the peak of the colonial development and prosperity. As the traders gained power in these societies, the market expanded, and it was economically important for civil liberty to expand as well. So, too, in modern times. The expansion of democracy and civil liberty has followed on the heels of the expansion of colonialism and the growth of markets. There is not a simple linear relationship between the economy and democracy, but over time there are powerful forces that make certain kinds of social change more likely at particular times. Ecology sets the stage for economy, and economy favors different social movements at different times.

Nearly all academic, political and religious leaders try to make their own ideas sound more important than the supply of oil, topsoil, or the health of the forest. The end result is that while there is a direct relationship between ecology and democracy, knowledge of that connection is suppressed by leftist and rightist alike as they strive to make their ideas and policies seem more important than nasty things like dirt and oil.

As a result of this odd historical conspiracy, we are suffering a terrible illusion. We imagine that we have constructed our democracy, expanded our civil liberty, and built an industrial economy in defiance of gravity, without regard for topsoil, clean water, or the parts of the world that we label as natural "resources." The truth is that fossil fuels have financed a breakneck expansion of industrial development and trade that has powerfully favored social movements that seek to expand our civil liberties. Just as the democracy of Greek and Roman civilizations collapsed when their colonialism became more embattled and their economies struggled, so will ours.

As much as we may sing the praises of the open, democratic society, that kind of society is very well suited to the position of the winner in the competition for growth and dominion. What is the relative strength of authoritarian governments? They command effectively and efficiently. They bring people together to undertake more aggressive foreign policy, be it military or economic warfare, that would otherwise divide a more civil society. We may demonize particular individuals in the current American leadership that seek to stuff our civil liberties into the closet with the Patriot Act and other related legislation even while they engage in ever escalating oil warfare, but the underlying transition is not about personal evil. There is no way the United States and the global consumer class can maintain its dominion without powerful military pressure, and that martial stance will favor authoritarian political development. Biofuel is environmental nationalism, and it is the cutting edge of this process.

As radical as it may sound to suggest that democracy as we know it will soon fall at the feet of a nationalistic environmentalism, a movement that may include the destruction of the global poor among its methods of achieving "sustainability," it seems fairly obvious if one simply examines current trends. The facts are plain, if we choose to see them:

1) Oil is a finite resource. We are very likely near or at peak production.

2) The Earth itself is finite. Economic growth as we currently define it cannot continue forever.

3) Ecological limits have impacts on our economy, and our economy has powerful impacts on our politics.

4) The constricting of global economic growth will not favor a continued expansion of democracy and civil liberty, and will likely favor the growth of more powerful centralized authority among the dominant powers.

5) The wealthy and powerful classes of the world are going to try to maintain their position of privilege in consumer societies into the future. The attempt to do so while the energy pie was expanding appeared benign. As the energy pie shrinks, the only way the consumer society can continue to grow, regardless of the development of more efficient technologies, is by taking an ever greater fraction of a shrinking supply of energy and other resources. If the pie is getting smaller, we can continue to eat gluttonously only if we take a larger share of what's left.

6) The consumer society will be sustained only at the cost of a very aggressive foreign policy on the part of the industrial powers. The people whose resources we are taking will fight back, albeit haltingly and uncertainly. The resulting tensions will favor authoritarian rule in the poorer nations as well.

As a result of the aforementioned, conservatives will embrace nationalistic environmentalism, and will do so in the coming years with a greater fervor than liberals ever could have imagined. We will see the rise of a passionate, chest-thumping environmentalism, built on the foundation of green capitalism, that dwarfs the current movement.

The nationalism of the future will not be like the nationalism of the past. Superficially, it may look the same. Past fascistic movements were often highly populists, espousing the highest ideals and employing glorious symbolism of a brighter future. Similarly, the modern nationalistic environmentalists will not paint bloody pictures of death and destruction. Rather, we will, as in Swaziland, be bringing development at last to the poor, even as we drive them off of their land and replace their "inefficient" farming methods with modern "sustainable" biofuel production. On April 29, 2008, President Bush made a speech in which he ardently declared that biofuel expansion is not related to the rise in food prices, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary.[13] This is the new face of environmental nationalism. It is endorsed by a broad spectrum of the body politic. It denies the plainly obvious, hides behind the moral neutrality of the market, and is likely sowing the seeds of authoritarian rule and global-scale mass starvation of the poor.

Nationalistic environmentalism will differ from past nationalisms by covertly benefiting the elite across national boundaries. The power of the market economy is not ultimately efficiency, it is rather the hiding of the oppressor. If one race takes land and energy from another, then there is a target against which the poor can focus their organizing energy. But who is to blame for hunger in a global market economy? That is the real power of the market. It utterly defeats revolutionary impulses before they can bloom. The global economy has become a maze of non-racial, non-national, nominally non-class-based commerce with no one in particular to blame for any evil that should befall any particular individual or group.

In this case, "nationalism" as we have known it in the past becomes something of a misnomer. The global elite, however loosely defined, have more in common with each other than with their fellow national citizens. Civil liberty has always been largely defined by class. We developed a very black-and-white mythology of fascism as we exited World War II that does not well define our future.

As the elite of the ancient empires had no shortage of civil liberty, neither will the elite of any of the modern authoritarian movements. Powerful institutions adapt, and the global corporate economy is not going to lie down and die. Rather, we will see the distress creeping up from the bottom, as it is now. Those at the top will more aggressively label anyone who challenges their privilege, or their right to turn food into fuel via the sanctity of the market economy, as a "terrorist," a modern day "barbarian at the gate."

At what point one chooses to use such loaded words as fascism, authoritarianism, imperialism or the like will depend largely on where one finds oneself in the grand hierarchy of the market. The noteworthy point here and now is that western liberalism, however much it may once have held pan-human ideals, is quickly being drawn into the conceptual framework of environmental nationalism. This in turn will leave liberalism absolutely toothless to oppose more aggressive nationalists in the future. Are any current prominent democrats opposed to biofuel? What does that tell us about the future?

There is already an unholy alliance brewing between some radical ecologists, anti-immigration organizations, and those who see limiting population as a very high priority. (I put myself in this latter category.) The history of fascistic movements scapegoating minorities and immigrants need not be elaborated upon. As we face ever increasing oil prices, it is highly likely that the far right will wed the tools of old (racist scapegoating) with a version of "ecology" that seeks to "Save the Earth" at the expense of the global poor. We see the lace of this wedding being spun in the global warming debate, in which the right is already trying to hold the global poor accountable for climate change. Biofuel is more urgent, a much sharper sword cutting down the hungry of the world in the name of green capitalism even as you read these words.

The current environmental movement is taking the easy road, telling people what they want to hear. They are telling the public that we can continue the current consumer society if only we do it with more efficient cars, "sustainable" biofuels, and compact fluorescent light bulbs. By taking the easy road today, we may gain a few points of efficiency of energy use. But because we are failing to speak the truth, we are delivering the future to a potentially murderous ecofascist movement. Were it not for the current state of the biofuels movement, that would sound absurd. Given that many of the global poor are facing famine in 2008, when oil is still quite plentiful, is it not clear the foundation we are building? The truth is that we have a choice between a substantial change in our lifestyle or a global war between rich and poor of monumental scale. Anyone who believes we can fight such a war in a nice, civil, democratic society knows little about history.

It is humiliating, it is offensive, and we do not want to see it: we do not want to admit that our democratic consumer society is not the glorious invention of great minds impervious to the pressures of history. We have no more conscious awareness of the greater processes of cultural change than did the members of past civilizations. This is the real problem that we face. Simply repairing the problem of ecological sustainability, from a technological standpoint, has been solved many times over.

It would be simple indeed to feed and house our citizens with a tenth of the resources that we are currently using in the wealthy nations, if that were our goal. That is more than literary grandstanding. I have built houses heated and powered with sunshine. I have studied the results, seen the failures and successes. Nationalistic environmentalism says we can create a solar suburbia, the green consumer society. That will come only at the price of murder on a global scale to finance our consumption.

The reality is that if we undertake to choose how we live, to purposefully change the structure of our society so that we are not living alone in large houses, not commuting to work, then the technological side of sustainability is very simple indeed. I have built houses that use 90% less energy per inhabitant than the American average, and done so at very low expense. But they are not suburban tract homes. Far from it. They are urban and rural cooperatives. Cooperatively based societies, the kind in which most of humanity has always lived, can achieve high standards of living with a tenth of the resources that Americans currently use without any new technologies. If we are talking about global solutions, is it even possibly to apply expensive alternative energy systems on an individual or single-family basis on a global scale? The answer, very clearly, is no. Social design – how and where we choose to live – and cooperative use are far more important the new technological gadgets

The truth is that fossil fuel machines are well suited, from an economic perspective, to individual use. They are cheap up front, though their long-term running costs are high. Machines used by individuals are not used intensively, so the cheap up-front cost dominates consumers' concern. But for machines that are used more intensively, as when they are used cooperatively, the higher up-front costs of efficiency and alternative energy are more than offset by the savings resulting from intensity of use. What if each city block had a community laundry instead of every individual or small American family living in a large house with their own washer and dryer? You would not need to persuade people to do the right thing. The people who ran the community laundry would take the obvious path. They would install solar water heaters, and possibly other energy-saving technologies, because it was economically rewarding to do so. Regardless of law or ideology, simple economics would favor efficiency and alternative energy.

Solar water heating in a community laundry does not relate to biofuels directly, but the same logic applies. The real solution to the liquid fuel issue is not efficient cars or biofuel. It's design. The real solution is to live close enough to where you work and play so you do not have to drive. That kind of logic on a global scale will work. Biofuels will not, not without mass market murder as its companion.

The problem is that no one has an answer to the end of growth. The expansion of civil liberty has been built on economic growth. Every movement from Aryan Nationalist to Marxist has built movements based on telling their constituents they can face an ever-brighter future of industrial wealth. And now nationalistic environmentalism is assuming that growth is unstoppable and making deals with the devil.

The problem with nationalistic environmentalism, even beyond its potential for some very ugly political outcomes, is that it will not work even from an ecological perspective. Long after the current wave of industrial growth has come to an end, whatever the fallout may be, there will still be humans living on the Earth. Those humans will still face the problem of organizing themselves in a manner that does not serve to suppress social awareness. Biofuels and other “sustainable” technologies seek only to put a thin layer of green paint over a consumer society that is by the day growing more economically polarized. That polarized society will never be sustainable. A polarized society actively seeks to repress the social awareness of its citizens, to engage in endless witch hunts against communists, drug dealers, and terrorists of all sorts. It is a blind social system that cannot wisely adapt to the future.

The ecological problems we are facing seem so enormous that we feel compelled to look for shortcuts. Every thread of our political fabric is woven from expectations of growth. The end of growth is so inconceivable that we can’t imagine a response to it. The truth is that the answers are both nearly impossible and terribly easy.

The first solution is simply truth-telling. When those educated about the issues consistently hide the truth and tell the public what it wants to hear, we enter a never-never land where compromises get compromised and mass-marketed ecological niceties become the building blocks of ecofascism and biofueled mass murder. The truth is that our lifestyle is going to change, whether we like it or not. The only choice we get to make is whether we lead the curve or are led by it, whether we create history or are forced by history into circumstances we haven’t chosen.

The changes we need to make are difficult because getting large groups of people to do anything is difficult, and industrial civilization as a whole is currently in a state of collective psychosis in regards to growth. Almost every word uttered on the evening news assumes continued growth for years and decades to come. It is no wonder that so many people have so little understanding of the scale of change we need to undertake. The very fabric of our cultural reality has become divorced from the basic fact that the world on which we live is finite.

The necessary changes are easy because they do not demand a mass movement at first. Movements always start at the fringes. Wise policy at the top would be helpful. But it is not likely, and we do not need it. The process of economic localization, of building a sustainable and democratic society from the ground up is already being undertaken in many corners of the world, among the least privileged of people.

It is a near certainty that the dominant powers in the U.S. and Europe will shift politically to the right in the coming years as the oil belt tightens. That is the only way these privileged nations will be able to maintain their privilege. The same is true for the eastern powers as well. The struggles of the next few decades will be top to bottom, not east to west.

Instead of lying about the outcomes of the green capitalist economy, instead of putting the food of the world into the gas tanks of American SUVs, instead of telling American consumers they can rest easy on organic cotton linens for decades to come, should we not speak the truth? We are going to have to downscale our consumption and our economy drastically, or face a global war over resources, with all the political fallout that will bring.

We as citizens can localize our economies, develop more cooperative means of living and using resources, and live more rewarding lives in greater connection to the people around us. We do not need the president or Congress to give us permission. Our children are going to live cooperatively in a hundred years whether we like it or not. The choices we make now will determine whether they do so under conditions of peace and freedom, or under an ecofascist boot inciting unending war. The current trend of nationalistic environmentalism, with biofuel as its cutting edge, is leading us very much in the wrong direction.

An earlier version of this article appeared at Reality Sandwich.


[1] Pimentel, David, Energy and Dollar Costs of Ethanol Production With Corn, M. King Hubbert Center, Petroleum Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines, Golden CO 80401-1887 at

[2] Gardner, Gary, Shrinking Fields, Cropland Loss in a World of Eight Billion, Worldwatch Paper 131, Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., 1996, and Brown, Lester, World Watch Institute, The State of the World 1997, A Worldwatch Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society, W.W. Norton, New York, 1997





[7] Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change, Timothy Searchinger, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu, Science 29 February 2008: 1238-1240. See also Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt, Joseph Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne, Science 29 February 2008: 1235-1238. Published online 7 February 2008 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1152747] (in Science Express Reports)





[12] Hawken, Paul, and Lovins, Amory, and Lovins, Hunter L., Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution,Little Brown and Co., Boston, 1999, p.2. See also


Growing food for fuel is a crime against humanity, plain & simple. If it isn't stopped a lot of people are going to die hungry, murdered by everyone who drives a vehicle powered by biofuels. Stop buying gasoline blended with ethanol or diesel fuel blended with vegetable oils, or stand guilty of genocide.

Why are WE obligated to feed the world? Why do they not grow their own food and distribute it fairly. When you feed starving people who don't grow their own food...they breed and then later when the food is inevitably cut off the people starve. By continually subsidizing the poor peoples of the world with grain we are insuring a point in the future where they starve. And even if we stop buying biofuels others won't these fuels displace the conventional. I would think a darwin moniker would want those who can't provide for themselves to starve.

Keep the disagreements civil, folks.

Sure but who will answer their pressing question.

Why are WE obligated to feed the world?

Tell them, that it is because others already reached highly "cooperative societies", where those who have the food are not slaves to rotten capitalistic incentives to distribute it.

I guess my opponents elegant writing was deleted LOL. I am against food to fuel for the record, we need to export food to help with trade deficit, and I'm glad food is finally being priced in a reasonable range. The good thing about biofuels is we are still learning what works. Brasil has a great model I toured two sugar cane plants while I lived there. The whole gulf coast could farm the cane fairly easily although the labor is not is cheap. (Prison chain gangs perhaps? Anyway if we are wanting to end poverty, handouts locally and globally are not the way. We would be better off with infrastructure and education to bring a group up to the point where they can fend for themselves. Obviously acute famines like burma should be handled compassionately but consistently dumping cheap food into the world market hurts world farmers.


The whole gulf coast could farm the cane fairly easily although the labor is not is cheap. (Prison chain gangs perhaps?

Sure why not? And aftetr we've run out of forced prison labour maybe we can round up few drug users or anyone remotely suspected of ever having used drugs and press them into salvery. And then there are the homeless who will be better off in forced servitude anyway, at least we'll feed them (maybe) and what about those homosexuals, they don't breed so of what use are they anyway. Illegal immigrants should be on the list (oh thats right, we already have a salve labour program for them), but there's plenty of white tras around, anyone with a tattoo or facial metalwork should qualify? And then we can segregate people by race.....

You have just proved Mr Zeiglers points about how biofuel leads to fascim. And it it did't even hurt did it?

WOW what a logical progression you made from taking away cable from prisoners and having them work to oppressing all non WASPs. As for proving anything about fascism I did not attempt to and you clearly were not successful. I personally am in favor of oppressing people with facial metal work. I have always hated them. Those lip piercings make them dribble when they drink the Koolaid. Dragon....whats wrong with you?

Yeah Dragon - don't you know the old saying "Arbeit Macht Frei" ? It would be good for them !

Mr Medic - I'd recommend studying a little history if you want to understand the natural progression from using prisoners for cheap labour to using all sorts of other people who the state doesn't regard as fully-fledged citizens.

It would be very easy to start with prisoners and then move on to illegal immigrants, for example - make them "earn" their way back home - what could be fairer than that ? And on it goes.

Changing tack, I think tagging the "Natural Capitalism" people as being synonymous with "environmental nationalism" (why not just call them ecofascists) and being supporters of first generation biofuels is just wrong - I;d guess most cleantech people don't support food to fuel at all (Vinod Khosla excepted), though they are more gung ho about cellulosic ethanol etc.

So in the cool hand luke days of chain gangs the guys had to ask permission to wipe sweat off their forehead. Now our paid road workers stand in large groups while one or two work. Why are all those marginal citizens mentioned above not slaving away? Maybe its not a natural progression? Show me an example of prisoner labor shifting to enslaving all non WASPS in a moder democracy with a constitution.

I would, but it would be a clear violation of Godwin's Law

Apparently he isn't aware of that example, no matter how many hints are dropped.

As far as I'm aware, the idea of using prisoners for forced labour is a barbaric one that is unknown in the developed world (I simply can't image prisoners doing roadwork in European countries, or Australia, or Japan etc etc).

China does it of course - so maybe its just a natural thing for totalitarian states with a disregard for civil liberties...

Last I checked Germany was in Europe. I said MODERN democracy though and I disagree with your premise that if we force prisoners to work instead of watch cable then that slippery slope will lead to oppression of all. Sorry its a huge stretch. An we have so many idle prisoners (useless mouths if you will ;) ) that could be working. You could even credit nonviolent offenders with double time served if they work.

BTW I don't think the US is totalitarian and we do have civil liberties.

Also working prisoners are less violent than idle prisoners. So my personal opinion is if you screw up you should have a hard time in jail not just three hots and a cot.

I don't disagree that prison should be a place where prisoners work to redeem themselves, but viewing them as a source of labour for profit is a fascist idea that can be expanded to include other groups of non citizens. Welfare recipients come to mind foremeost as the logical target group.

Democracy is a precious gift but it does not live in a constitution but in the actions and thougths of it's participants every day. Your civil liberties are only as guaranteed as your preparedness to defend the rights of others as a matter of principle. Otherwise democracy is a cheap label that anyone can flash around (e.g. Democratic Peoples Repblic of Korea).

First world politics and globalization are among the main reasons why those countries are in their food predicaments in the first place.
[i.e. food companies forcing expensive proprietary chemicals and seeds (that the poor can ill afford), the U.S. government handing out monstrous subsidies to US crop markets, undercutting global prices and thus running farmers in poor countries out of business because they simply cannot compete with the heavily subsidized US food products.]

The forced economic terms mainly benefit first world mega corporations that make local markets unsustainable and drive previously self-sustaining farmers to slums outside their cities because they can no longer afford to grow their own crops.

Of course we don't HAVE TO feed the poor of the world but much of the current food crisis is because of the mess we caused. Ultimately, we are still dependent on these countries for providing cheap resources and labor that perpetuate our current lifestyle. Neither food riots nor political instability in these countries is in our best interest.

In any case, climate change and decreasing resources is going to present the ENTIRE WORLD with unprecedented levels of famine and scarcity. The first world itself has abused the limits of earth and still continues to try and stretch it. Like the third world, we are guilty of the folly of overpopulating the planet and at this point, it is doubtful that we can even provide for our own.

Hello ORM long time no hear.

Malthus. – An Essay on the Principles of Population. 2nd Edition.

>>"A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature's mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he does not work upon the compassion of some of her guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The report of a provision for all that come, fills the hall with numerous claimants. The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed, the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall, and by the clamorous importunity of those, who are justly enraged at not finding the provision which they had been taught to expect. The guests learn too late their error, in counter-acting those strict orders to all intruders, issued by the great mistress of the feast, who, wishing that all guests should have plenty, and knowing she could not provide for unlimited numbers, humanely refused to admit fresh comers when her table was already full."<<

Why are WE obligated to feed the world?

I agree. Everyone must be able to feed themselves from local resources. If they can't then they are over carrying capacity and must be allowed to starve. Provided food aid leads to an enormous overshoot which is what we have now. Biofuels are a dumb idea though anyway due to EROEI.

"Everyone must be able to feed themselves from local resources."

Does that mean we in the US don't get Blood Diamonds and Cheap Cocoa Beans any more?

It is a global marketplace, and the US and EU for their part have profited HUGELY from the raw resources of the 'Starving World' ... WE in the Industrial West are SO far over carrying capacity with the volume of energy and material we consume, frequently in bogus arrangements that is practically still stealing from these people.

Never mind how many Democratic and Grassroots social movements we've tripped up when they threatened to develop enough standing to bargain for fair prices..

Like fries with that?

It is interesting to try this same thought experiment within a nation.

Who will feed Las Vegas?

Oh, and even the big ag state California only has about 0.3 acres of cropland per person...who will feed San Diego?

Does sustainability require a redistribution of people to areas of quality soil and natural rainfall?

Growing food for fuel is a crime against humanity, plain & simple.

Of the various crimes VS humanity out there like genocide, DU, (insert favorite) - taking food to power a machine is less of an issue.

Photon to work/results paths should be calculated. Food is typically a poor path, but I don't see the best path of PV getting acceptance as most people seem to be hung up on the storage of 'energy'.

How about to power farm equipment?

I've noticed in general that those interested in "localized economies" are still in favor of centralized political power. Localization is an attempt to resist globalization and support local community businesses, arts, and agriculture. There many reasons for this movement: environmentalists support how localization reduces energy costs and protects local farmland from development, anti-corporate activists support local independent small businesses from corporate chains, economic activists argue for keeping dollars on the local community rather that going to Wall Street or China. Although all of these movements are associated with the Left, the Democratic party is the party of strong centralized government, not decentralized local government. It is the Republicans who are mostly associated with Federalism (although through the neo-cons the Republican party has become the party of big government conservatism). Most of those who champion localization have not yet taken the step from local business to local government, but there is an opportunity for a new political coalition of the paleo-cons and neo-libs seeking decentralized government and to push power as far as possible to localities and to demand the ability to make decisions concerning the course of their communities. Ironically, if the Republicans can break the grip of the neo-cons, and re-brand their philosophy “localization” rather than Federalism, they have the best chance of attracting those interested in localization. But I always wonder, how much localization is the Left prepared to allow before they resort to centralized power? Are you willing to allow local schools to teach creationism if their "community" favors it? Allow local rules of who is allowed to move to their community? Allow local rules on religion and homosexual rights? My guess is that those who argue for localization only like "nice" localization and will revert to centralized authority when they don't like the style of localization others choose to follow.

I advocate radical decentralization of both power and production--I think the two are inseparable, such that you can't have sustained decentralized economic production without decentralized political power. I think that the concerns you raise (about "extreme" local rules) aren't a problem if the decentralization is pushed far enough--decentralization at the individual or family level does not have any "rules" that are not self-imposed. Anyway, I don't want to hijack this thread on this topic (I've written about it here)--I think that you're right that *most* people want partial localization (not so much that they need to take personal responsibility, heaven forbid!), but still want to impose their sense of morality on others through a centralized system.

I was wondering if you could clarify your position here. Are you advocating "decentralization at the individual or family level"? Isn't "radical decentralization pushed to the individual" anarchy? Or are you just saying that this would ally my concerns but you don't expect or desire it? Are you in favor of a "live and let live" localization where you tolerate the practices of other local communities even if you don't necessarily agree with or like?

I take a position that is explicitly anarchist (in the "networked anarchy is a more efficient mode of human organization than hierarchy" sense but NOT in a "black bandannas and Molotov cocktails" sense). I do desire this and genuinely think it would be a better means of human organization, but I am a pragmatist and do not, in any way, expect it, so in that sense it is purely theoretical. I think that it is a useful position because, though a theoretical extreme, it helps us better understand the weaknesses of the hierarchal structure of our society that may reveal paths to improvement. I've written extensively on this notion and how it can lead to practicable, desirable solutions. Here's one example.

I advocate radical decentralization of both power and production--I think the two are inseparable, such that you can't have sustained decentralized economic production without decentralized political power.

Radical decentralization would lead to a return to neolithic technology since not every village or extended family would have access to high quality metal ores. It is possible to make a case that such a level of simplification will be the best choice for humanity's long term future, but is this in fact the choice that you are promoting?

No. However, you are assuming that I'm promoting radical isolation. Radical decentralization does not require isolation (though I think it implies it for most people), and in fact I advocate a much more efficient means of networked connectivity than we currently enjoy, one that I don't think would prevent the use of metal ores, or even of the internet. The key (as discussed at length in the "Problem of Growth" linked above) would be to establish minimal self-sufficiency, but then to used discretionary networked interaction to gain access to non-local, quality-of-life enhancing products (such as refined metal wares). That's still a pretty extreme position--to create local, minimally self-sufficient economies that don't require metals, but there you have it. Again, don't want to hijack this thread... please feel free to email me to discuss further.

The problem as always is scale. Mining of some mineral ores requires a large scale operation to achieve minimal critical mass. Its either 1MT a year or nothing! The capital investement for the 1MT is huge and threfore the scale of the whole operation is necessarily dependent on on a centralised social and political structure to make it viable. You actually need a legal system that is enforceable and well understood to make the contractual obligations required to build the mine stick. Localisation, regionalisation, nationalisation and globalisation are really just larger scale increments of the same human model which we are programmed to replicate.

There is already a minimal level of self sufficiency in each of us. Even to get in my car and drive to the store requires some initiative but it is adaptive behaviour to the conditions. If the conditions cahnge, such as less energy, people will adapt (or die) and the various systems that exist at the local, regional, national and global level will take on more or less importance and influence, yet they will still be there.

That is technically true, for some minimal value of truth.
In the real world if you reduce the 1MT of say, iron ore or bauxite to about 100KT, then the price will perhaps double. To 10KT, the price will quadruple. That's the way efficiencies of scale work in mining.

At some point though, there must be a level at which the vast distribution networks required to transport even 1 tonne of ore just breaks down. A train line that costs 2 billion dollars to build is notgoing to be built for a small tonnage of ore. Roads either. The way that some ores are now mined means that if there is systemic breakdown elsewhere, the mines cannot operate, regardles of the price on offer. The systems are just too complex and dependent on energy. No leel of prioce increase in for the ore is necessarily going to change this.

Very astute comment.

I would say that systems of government are needed at many levels, but that the power is so skewed towards higher levels that it has become dysfunctional to an extreme.

Where I consider it is best to have authority allocated depends upon what is being addressed. For example, I don't believe climate change can be dealt with unless a supra-national government structure is in place to prevent cheaters. However, it may best be up to more local levels to sort out how to avoid emissions of greenhouse gases.

It's unfortunate the author elected to fold in heavy doses of political rhetoric, deflecting the reader's attention from some very good points. Future authors - take note.

I don't think Prof. Goose got into political rhetoric territory - he undressed both sides (left & right), IMO. (S)he took the gloves off, and landed haymakers on everybody's chins.

Two things: 1. I didn't write it, our guest poster did. and 2. I am in fact a he--you are not the first to suggest I should be named Professor Gosling. Nicknames... :)

Make that Professor Gander since I assume you are somewhat past the gosling stage of your life......

Um, yeah...not even sure where Gosling came from when I typed it--heck, I wish it could be Gosling! It is Gander of course. Wow. :)

Excellent article BTW. I am printing it off for some of my non-internet savy friends.

I think the author makes some excellent points, but I have a few concerns:

First, I think that the author puts the food cart ahead of the population growth horse. Maintaining cropland for food production rather than biofuels production will only alleviate the problems raised by the author if we can address the problem of population growth (and the broader Problem of Growth that I've written about here previously). I think we need to consider the existence of any ethical obligation to feed the world rather than produce biofuel in light of the likelihood that, if we don't stop population growth, no degree of focus on feeding the world will suffice in the long term.

Second, I think we need to differentiate between the State and the Nation. The "state," the political structure that exerts authority over a territory, can derive its constitutional basis from a variety of sources. The dominant source over the past century has been the "nation" of ethnically or culturally homogeneous people (in theory, at least). This is the Nation-State, where the state draws its constitutional authority to rule a geographically contiguous nation (again, in theory) by fulfilling its contemporaneous duty to provide for the welfare of that nation. In contrast, in the Market-State (which some have predicted or advocated as the current trend), the state draws its authority from its ability to maintain a vibrant economic marketplace. Domestic biofuels production tends to be favored over food production (e.g. palm oil plantations, sugar-cane ethanol, etc.) by those third world nations that are more Market-State oriented (desire for profit outweighs the desire to feed the people who happen to live within their market-state borders), and by those first-world nations that are more Nation-State oriented (desire to maintain the highly consumptive lifestyles of their nation outweighs any sense of moral obligation to feed those of another nation). I think this leads to an important geopolitical force: first-world Nation-States (or, at least those masquerading as Nation-States to appease their domestic audience, as I would argue the US currently does) will pressure third world states to constitute as Market-States rather than Nation-States, and the result will be strong counter-state, counter-west Nationalist movements in third world states that choose the Market-State model. We're already seeing this to some degree, but it has the potential to be another significant geopolitical feedback loop in resource production.

Ver well presented Jeff. The nation-State only exists to provide for the economic welfare of it's people. The Market-state however exists only to exploit the economic value of the people. These tow competing forces have created the western nations of the world where the populations are now only valued for their consumptive power.

The Market-state however exists only to exploit the economic value of the people.

Hmmm - many nation states (of all stripes - conservative-capitalist, national socialist or USSR style communist) fit into that category if you ask me.

Only the liberal-democrat and social-democrat varieties seem to make some effort to try and put the economic welfare of the people first - all the others exploit the economic benefit of the people for the state (and its ruling elite).

The market state is a different sort of beast - the state isn't getting any economic benefit from market activity (other than as a form of protection racket that provides security and identity management services, increasingly outsourced to private contractors).

The economic elites that exist within the market-statestructure certainly are - but they seem to be relatively fluid compared to those in the nation-state mode of organisation.

I think an interesting aspect of this is Kunstler's recent appearance on the Glenn Beck show.

(from the post I put in the Kunstler-On-Glenn-Beck thread)

For those of you not in the USA, Glenn Beck is a rightwing blowhard who makes George W Bush look like a towering intellect. This is one of the very few times I've ever seen Beck not bring close and vital attention to his cranio-rectal inversion disorder. Stunning. I'm simply amazed. Wow. Looking at Kunstler, his face seemed very much like "I need to be nice to this idiot", but keeping his cool was simple: Beck just softballed him. Amazing. This DEFINITELY ties in with Green Nationalism.

other points:

It also demonstrates the non-partisan nature of the problem: decreases in energy supply hit everyone regardless of political affiliation. However, one's political inclinations will inform and often determine one's response to a given problem.

Right now, Italy is turning itself inside out, as neofascists are coming into powerful positions, and a practice of ethnic cleansing is going on against the Rom (gypsy) population. Camps are being burned down, people are getting beaten up and jailed - it's getting really ugly, and the crypto-fascist regime of Berlusconi is dong very little about this, and seems to be encouraging it. I can't imagine this will develop in any kind of a good way as energy depletes from the Italian economy, one of the strongest in the world.

I could easily see social and political conservatives co-opting a large branch of the Green/sustainability movement to suit their own localised needs. If people need to be more self reliant yet dependent on small localities, it sounds like a petri dish for redneck fascism. I wonder...

"This is one of the very few times I've ever seen Beck not bring close and vital attention to his cranio-rectal inversion disorder."

Ha, I saw that interview and had the same impression. Never saw the reptilian-brained Beck in such pussycat mode. It never occurred to me how just nicely Kunstler's vision of looming resource shortages provides a rationale for Beck's exterminationist impulses until you connected the dots for me.

Not to mention Kunstler's not infrequent demonisation of people from the middle east...

I occasionally like to recommend these links to people who aren't up to speed on historical ecofascism / green nationalism, as practiced in 1930s Germany, as a sort of cautionary tale (often coupled with a finger pointing at Jay Hanson's "War Socialism" site as an example of what not to do now) :

Basically the author is calling anyone who wants to develop biofuels, a 'fascist'. I could as easily (and with more justification) call the author a 'feudalist' or 'medievalistic', for thinking that our energy/social/poltical situation could be solved by living in communes, off-local produce, etc.

Let's be honest; that crap just doesn't work, AT ALL.

I was reading the other day about such a 'sustainable' fantasy called
the Institute for Man and Resources(Ark) which was in fact well subsidized by the local government in Canada(PEI). It was staffed by suitable fanatics(not regular people). It got going in the 1970s and the gov't money flowed for quite a while but their renewable power failed, their solar technology broke down and their aquaculture just didn't raise enough fish. Later it was shown that the whole 'sustainable' thing was drawing 5 times as much energy from the grid as forecast.

I'm sure other people have plenty of other 'failure' stories about the commune/sustainability movement.

It reminds me of the story of Jamestown which was run like a military camp and barely survived, then followed by an explosion of colonization once tobacco caught on. I'm actually no fan of the free-market/corporatism but the return to the 14th century is bound to be worse.

I say let's let Amory Lovin's and the green venture capitalists give it a try. No more cultural revolutions if you please.

You guys had your chance and you blew it.

When he wrote,

It takes about 10 acres to feed a car on ethanol for a year.

I quit reading. If you can't even get THIS right, what are the chances you can get ANYTHING right.

151 bu per acre X 2.8 gal per bushel (actually, higher now.) = 422.7 gallons.

I'll even ignore the HUGE fact that you get back 40% of your Cattle-Feeding ability via the Distillers Grains Coproduct.

That would give you 4,227 Gallons from your 10 acres.

Just what kind of mileage do cars get where the good author lives?

Basically, it was just a non-sensical diatribe/opinion piece with virtually No Facts for Support. Ex. How could we have used 5% of the world's FOOD, when we used only about 2% of the world's GRAIN? Nonsense.

Ok, let's assume some simple numbers: 150 bu/acre and 3 gallons per bushel, energy return on energy invested 1.5. 450 gallons per acre. Because of EROI, you need to feed back 300 gallons of that into the farming and distillation system (or import the equivalent amount of Diesel which will then not be available for its original purpose). 150 gal per acre left. 150 gal Ethanol have roughly the energy content of 100 gal of gasoline. Multiply by 23 (current mileage requirement for cars in US) to arrive at 2300 miles per acre that you can drive the average car. Ten acres would be 23,000 miles per year, which is a bit high. Numbers hold up for SUVs though (15 miles per gallon).

Okay, Biologist; you're attempting to be fair. I respect that. However, 99% of ethanol is sold in a 10% blend. In this formulation it is, virtually, indistinguishable from gasoline (maybe a .05% loss of mileage from a straght gasoline blend.)

That brings you up to about 34,500 miles (call it 34,000.) But, Here's the Kicker: Field Corn is Cattle Feed. That's what it's used for (about 80%, anyway.) It's JOB is to Put Pounds on Cows. The 17.5 lbs of Distillers Grains that you get from every bushel processed for ethanol is, actually, 33% More Effective at this task than 17.5 pounds of corn would be.

It comes out that you get 40% of your cattle feeding ability back in the distillers grains. This means only 60% of the corn, and thus, the acres have gone into the ethanol.

So, divide the 34,000 miles by .60 and you get 56,667 miles from your 10 acres THAT WAS ACTUALLY DEVOTED TO ETHANOL! It looks to me like about 5 Car could travel for a Year on that 10 acres.

Btw, that 1.5 is quite low for today's production. Ethanol that is coming out of plants like Corn Plus, in Winnebago, Mn easily have a Life Cycle EROEI 4 times that of gasoline when used in a 10 - 30% blend.

I take exception to the point that our present grain scarcity is biofuel induced. It may be a component, but it is minor at present.

I also believe in on- farm generation of biofuels, from methane digesters to rape and soybeans for diesel oil. Turning it around, why allow some to cook their food in high calorie oil, or lets force computers programmers to work solely on energy and food production.

But you have have a number of points misplaced. Corn is not CATTLE FEED, it's animal feed. Everything from Foo Foo, the family Pomeranian to hogs and chickens which don't work on DDGs. And less than 50%-about 46% in 2006-of US corn goes to feed. Not 80% Of the total US corn crop, 19% is exported, and end use of that product is hazy at best. And switching all those cows to ddgs, even if it may prove biologically sound, ignores the fact there aren't enough cattle to feed the production required for all the new ddgs. US cattle are developed on the feedlot system, but those calves originate on pasture or range in cow-calf operations that are already constrained. It is the small cow calf operations that maintain our feedlots, and if their was a more efficient system, or cheaper, corporate ag would be using it. This way allows much of the risk to be shifted to the small farmers.

Everyone cites the USDA figures for yield, but few realize assumptions. With the current record yield of 156 bu/ac, it should be realized that this is yield per acre harvested. That is, all those acres plowed under from poor conditions at planting, or those acres whose final yield did not warrant harvesting, are not counted.

I might go into etoh subsidies, but whether etoh could develop or sustain itself has been rehashed enough.

But the biggest boon doogle about biofuels concerns the reality that man's aspirations for cheap, effortless transport and energy are insatiable. We now have weekend jaunts for a sizeable portions of the industrialized world to tropical islands considered a must have. The demand knows no end. At this point we still have a savanna or two in Africa, a grassland in South America. What more must we sacrifice?

There was no significant change in survival one Jamestown went free market instead of collectivist. It was a drought. When the drought ended the Indians stopped killing the colonists that were trying to steal their food.
The tragedy is that when the second colony ship arrived, it had previously wrecked on uninhabited Bermuda where food was plentiful. The colony leaders on the second ship were terrified that all the "gold" in Virginia would somehow be gathered up before they got there. They executed the leader of the group that wanted to settle in Bermuda.
If they had left them there to grow food Jamestown would have got off to a much better start and not lost so many more people.

There seems to be a disconnect in the article that I hope someone can explain to me. He argues that biofuels are a type of "environmental nationalism" and will result of mass starvation in the developing world. The argued for solution is economic localization. The step I'm missing is how economic localization somehow prevents starvation. I assume he must think that the third world will get the foodstuffs that are produced by the newly localized first world. Thus, itt seems that far from advocating localization, the author is really advocating globalized trade. Since I assume that the developing world will have to pay for all the food they are importing, so we're back to globalized capitalism.

What if the developing world nations don't worry about growing stuff for the first world, e.g., sugar cane, coffee, bananas, palm oil, etc. and instead use that acreage to feed their local populations?

According to the accepted norms of the current model (i.e. Empire), then we would invade them, or stage a coup, or something of that nature. The elite must be obeyed or else.

Industrialized countries can pay for resources and the democratic ones has more incentive to keep the trade partners in good shape.

Dunno what will happen with regions that lack production of stuff that is usefull post peak? I guess they will be in a hurry to retool.

I would tempt them to trade by offering mobile phone systems, machine tools, solar power turbines, hybrid distribution trucks, ethanol plants, diapers, power distribution equipment, paper bags, high strenght steel, biogas systems, plug-in hybrid cars, trucks running on diesel or ethanol or methanol or DME or biogas or LNG depending on the local market and so on.

They can keep the palm oil but I crave cofee, chocolate and bananas. ;-)

There are lots and lots of truly usefull things to trade that an industrialized economy can produce and most of the production can run on electricity. I only picked some local examples out of the hat.
And with truly usefull things the developing world can produce more biomass for food, luxuries and fuel.

good post, I particularly appreciated this sentence:

The truth is that fossil fuel machines are well suited, from an economic perspective, to individual use.

- as I had never thought about all this from that angle before. thx, wow. One sees a link between capitalism (super vague term), individualism (ditto) and exploiting the earth.

Although other factors have driven food prices up, biofuel expansion is the tipping factor, the real driver of price hikes of the scale we are seeing. Other factors, such as drought and increased meat consumption, would have caused an incremental increase in prices.

Here, some disagreement ... The pov expressed is very US centered - biggest bio-fuel producer in the news (see ethanol from sugar cane, Brazil, US subsidies, etc. all been discussed here.) I agree with the sentiments, but really, one can argue that food prices have risen simply because of the rising E (energy) prices and other factors.

A *local* example, anecdote.

In Switz. the paper:


... PDF: Bio fuels in Switz, at what cost? in Eng, gives a good overview.

After the scorching summer of 2003, much of the vegetation fried in front of our eyes, prices of vegetables and fruit doubled and then tripled or more in some cases. Meat went up a considerably as well. Subsequently, the prices did sink a bit.

Nothing to do with bio fuels, neither here (we are still exploiting the detritus from the Lothar hurricane) or elsewhere. Ok, just one factor, one place.

on edit: fixed link.

I liked the emphasis on location, the structure of a society. But a few things:

1) FWIW, I think the environmental movement, however that is defined, has pretty decisively moved against biofuels -- except for some kind of possibilities for truly sustainable farming of them. Certainly at, where I contribute, there are a long stream of anti-biofuels posts and articles

2) As I tried to argue here, there is growth and then there is growth. Let's say that there are four main categories of production: part-making (form), materials, energy, and information. In order for growth to be sustainable, materials would have to be recycled, and energy would have to be renewable. But information can grow just about forever -- for example, books, music, movies, etc. -- and so can improving "quality", of parts-making, say, continually improving the quality of appliances or trains, without increasing the need for materials and energy. So growth can continue, if I'm correct about this, but not if growth equals bigger cars and bigger houses.

3) I would be very interested to hear more about the way out that Alexis touched on, that is, the urban and rural cooperatives. I've always thought that, for instance, apartment buildings are more inherently efficient than single family homes, simply because there is less roof-space per person and thus heat can't escape as easily, but also apartment buildings would allow for common services, such as recycling and composting. But obviously -- or what should be obviously -- the best transportation is no transportation (except for walking and biking), and that requires a cultural shift back to towns and cities. So I'd like to hear more from Alexis about those kinds of ideas.

But information can grow just about forever -- for example, books, music, movies, etc. -- and so can improving "quality", of parts-making, say, continually improving the quality of appliances or trains, without increasing the need for materials and energy. So growth can continue, if I'm correct about this, but not if growth equals bigger cars and bigger houses.

The idea that a growth economy can be based on information growth alone is incorrect. Movies, books, music, etc. require time for their 'consumption'. Individuals cannot consume exponentially increasing amounts of entertainment and/or art. If population growth stops this market will saturate.

Improving quality cannot be the basis of a growth economy either. Suppose that you manufacture refrigerators that use less energy and last longer. Unless you leverage these improvements to produce more of some other product or service no economic growth results. All you have done is to decrease the amount of effort we have to spend extracting energy and building refrigerators. That is you have increased leisure time and not increased economic production. Without a doubt increasing the efficiency with which we produce essential goods and services is a worthwhile goal, but it will not produce growth unless we leverage the improved efficiency to produce more of something else.

If by increased quality you mean increased functionality such as the greater processing speed and storage capability of each new generation of computers, this is indeed a form of economic growth. But in order for such growth to continue exponentially for an indefinite period of time without increased material and energy consumption we have to indefinitely exponentially increase the efficiency with which we turn silicon and other materials into electronic circuits. Without a doubt the electronics industry has had good long run of suceeding in such improvments, but there is no reason to believe that that they can continue to do so forever.

Of course there is no reason for science or art to come to an end. But we do need to reach a state of economic maturity in which striving to increase the total volume of economic transactions is no longer our primary and unvarying economic goal.

Roger K, I agree with much of what you say, and I don't mean to turn the information economy into an economic savior either. It doesn't seem that continued, exponential growth is possible, physically, or transactionally(sp?). But increased leisure time is certainly something that we could shoot for -- This starts to get into a discussion of whether growth really is necessary, or do people really just want a "good" life, whatever that is. Most of the U.S. has not experienced "growth" for at least 7 years -- most people I think would be fine with something "comfortable" -- and writing by McKibben and others recently has pointed to the difference between "happiness" and acquiring more goods.

However, most of humanity is not comfortable. So there would probably be a period of accelerated "growth", if that growth was of the sustainable kind (renewables, recycling), and then something closer to a steady-state, in an ideal world. Again, I think if people were comfortable and enjoyed their leisure time (including the time to spend with family and friends), they would not need "growth" as we've come to know it -- and as you say, art and science (and "fun" things, like sports), can continue pretty much forever.

This whole discussion you all have put together is why I posted this essay. The essay is provocative, and it makes you think, and makes you think about how you disagree. That's important, because we all have ideas about how we want to live with the many versions of this future we see coming.

I think when we start thinking about our energy future, we all have different ideas about the role of the individual, the role of social institutions, and the role of government in that future. We have ideas about the government we want, the government we need, and the government we deserve.

There are going to be different localized solutions tried throughout the US and the world as we progress. Some of these will work, some will fail. Mostly, however, they will be tied to their local resources and capacities as well as their ability to connect with other "nodes" that have other resources. However, this localized approach generally sponsors a decentralization that promotes freedom and civil liberties--and remember civil liberties are NEGATIVE, meaning they exist due the exclusion of government power--especially in the more rural settings we talk about in the relocalization context. Urban relocalization is an interesting amalgam, though...isn't it?

The top-down approach that Alexis forsees ends up, from his perspective, being fascist. I think it could just as easily be socialist, but I am not sure that actually matters other than in motivation.

The important thing to me is the similarity between fascism and socialism, central control of society and resources through the institutions of government. This is where civil rights come in, as they are POSITIVE, they exist due to the existence of government power.

So, how do we rectify these two completely different visions inside this energy future--the one of localism versus the one of central control--with each other?

What makes you think that "this localized approach sponsors a decentralization that promotes freedom and civil liberties." Most local communities are very insular and provincial. They do have a lot of what social scientists call "social capital": civic participation, trust, community spirit, but social science has also demonstrated pretty conclusively that this is the result of racial and cultural homogeny--diversity results in lowered social capital (see Robert Putnam).

cynus, I don't know that Putnam's findings hold up well in cities, which is the form that we'll be heading toward if the society becomes more sustainable (or at least, large towns). If you follow the path laid down by Jane Jacbobs, you would argue that diversity has been crucial to economic activity and technological innovation. I also don't know that suburbs have that much "social capital", sprawl has led to much more atomization of society than cities.

Prof. Goose, there are a couple of ideas you might be interested in:

1) the concept of subsidiarity, which is used in Europe to refer to the idea that decisions should be made at as local a level as possible. This is similar to some extent to the 10th amendment to the Constitution (I think it's the 10th), that is, that states have any rights that the Federal Government doesn't have. But the idea is to push decisions as far down as possible, to avoid the problem of centralized political decision-making, which in the extreme turns into tyranny.

2) "Democratic socialism" is supposed to mean that the centralized decision-makers are elected, while in fascistic or communist countries they are chosen by a small elite (sort of like worker coops vs. corporations). Now, the Soviets found out, the hard way, that you can't really plan an entire society, and so a number of other variants have popped up, for instance, the idea of guiding development, as happened in Japan.

But it is also possible that, combining the two points, you could have greater economic control by government at a more local level -- for instance, a municipal utility, municipally-owned rail networks, a municipal organic "farm belt", etc., which would again avoid the problems of overcentralized regimes.

3) The whole problem of how to use government effectively has been ignored way to much in American discussions -- the assumption is usually that government is evil, and cannot be used for good. With the twin crises of peak oil and global warming staring us in the face (not to mention myriad other global problems), we need to figure out a way to forge a social consensus to move society, as a whole, in a more sustainable direction, and do it in a participatory way.

Well said, GM.

It is the 10th A, and yes, subsidiarity is how it is supposed to work. :) And the 10th A. worked--until it didn't--at least in the US. The New Deal, The Great Society, The Department of Homeland Security...all have been huge power grabs by government in response to large scale social unrest of some kind--and all of them have changed the social balance in large-scale ways.

This trend, however, suggests to me that, in the face of calamity, people look towards centralization, not away...and then the pendulum swings back (Reagan's devolution, etc.), but not quite as far, because government has continued to grow. It seems to me we have reached the threshold where government can no longer, and/or no longer wishes to, curtail its own growth. Tie that in with the mandates and devolution to the states, and their relative ability to do much more is severely hampered without large increases in state taxes...and folks don't like that much...and you have a picture that points to central authority.

You're right about democratic socialism. I use the "wheel of democracy" in my classes as a mechanism to explain the overall metasystem...I will work up a new graphic--I don't have one with me. But imagine a wheel with these dimensions. Up and down is government size/power, left and right is the "purpose" of government--left being "equality," right being "order". Early US politics lay at the bottom of that wheel...small government, no real bias in purpose. Over time, the US has steadily moved up that wheel for different purposes...but each move has been upward, the New Deal, the Great Society, all for equality or "left" concerns. The latest DHS growth has been markedly to the "right." Right now, as a proportion of GDP, we are about halfway up the circle and towards the right, in my estimation.

With the examples I provide above, I would argue that we're just going to keep moving up that circle, not down.

At the top of this circle lay communism and fascism--and they don't really look that different. Huge, powerful, centralized governments, but with a different "purpose" which leads to a different mechanism of control--corporatism v. socialism.

These tensions between local government and federal government get lost in all of this...which led to my question to rectify this without some breakdown of civic institutions? I mean, even in thought experiments like Jericho (a post-nuke localism show in the US), localism works until the military comes along and tries to enforce centralization (and yes, there's more to the story than that...). It's very intriguing to me.

To your last point, and to edify a point you make above, the consensus we can build is highly dependent on "place." However, I think what we need to think about more is that "place" means a lot of things with regard to values and resources...mapping all of that together and finding the nodes of agreement, now there's where we can make some progress.

Prof. Goose, I think history shows that when control completely decentralizes, as the Jericho experiment implies, some group somewhere comes along and gobbles up all of the small, relatively powerless entities, and imposes a new tyranny. Unless! unless the entities get together and try to form a "more perfect union", which was exactly the problem the newly independent American colonies had after the Revolutionary War. Another example -- Europeans kept killing themselves in internecine wars, until they voluntarily came together to form the EU.

This was, in a sense, the basis of the social contract writings of the early modern period -- how to have a just society while not descending into Hobbesian chaos. Now, I've always been more drawn to Jeff Vail's anarchism than either marxism or capitalistm, but this problem still pervades anarchist thinking as well.

So, for instance, I don't think JHKunstler's novel could come to pass, simply because a total breakdown in the state would lead to the rise of another, possibly worse state. What this implies is that "technology", or "modern civilization", will have to survive the end of oil and even coal, at least in some form, so that continental sized political systems could still be possible, or else the positive-feedback-loop of conquest will eventually get going again (and soviet-style communism was always pretty similar to russian-style imperialism, it was a militaristic tyranny, with a bucket of nice-sounding phrases poured over it).

The problem that Alexis (and Chalmers Johnson) alludes to is the problem of the central government becoming an imperial government, which eventually leads to tyranny (as James Madison pointed out), the DHS being part of that trend. There's a logical solution -- take the money out of the military, which weakens the imperial tendencies, and put it into local governments so that they can move the society into a sustainable direction, in a participatory and decentralized way -- but of course, that would be quite a political trick.

The original idea in the US was to push power as far as possible to the local level. State government would resolve disputes between localities, Federal government would resolve disputes between states and be in charge of foreign relations. The Bill of Rights was intended to be a list of things that the Federal congress could not do, but since the Civil War has been interpreted as a list of things the states can not do as well. For example, originally Massachusetts and South Carolina had official state religions and many restrictions on free speech. The states were allowed to pretty much do what they wanted, if a state wanted to become a religious theocracy, or communist, or dictatorship, it was all OK, the restrictions in the Constitution were on what the Federal government could impose on the states.

When the Federal government backed up state governments against popular revolts, the people started using the Federal government against the state government. If Shay's Rebellion had been allowed to succeed things would have been different.

The History of the first half of 20th Century has been routinely defined as a struggle between Fascism and Communism. Socialism is – at least where I come from -‘Communism light’. Certainly this is how many school history texts introduce the first half of that century. Failing at the same time to recognise the end of the Prussian System, the rise of the US as a pre-eminent sea power and the exhaustion of British Imperialism.

Both have common manifestations. The check-list of similarities between Fascism and Socialism could exhaust this thread. However there is one, over-arching tenet applicable to both systems that enables both systems to function. And all that then follows from this over-arching principle can be linked back to this principle. Essentially the first principle of each, supposedly diametrically opposed system is this:

>>The State has priority over, control over and power over the Individual in all and every circumstance<<

It doesn’t matter if the heel of the boot grinding down on your face is Communist, Fascist or Capitalist. A boot is a boot is a boot….

The second half of that century was defined as a struggle between Capitalism and Communism, and, for a while, expressed as ‘freedom of the individual’. Nothing has actually changed: And yet still:

>>The State has priority over, control over and power over the Individual in all and every circumstance<<

The state lets you live quietly. But if you come to the attention of the state, that can, and at the state’s pleasure, change dramatically.

If, Dear reader, you disagree with this opinion, show me that this last statement is no longer true. If you disagree, try taking on the state. All contributors and readers here could easily fall foul of recent legislation in the US and UK

The principles of Magna Carta, (and the much more important but rarely mentioned Forrest Charter) and all subsequent documents that are based on these documents - such as the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution are being rolled back both in the US and the UK. Other nations, not benefiting from these adamantine statements are being affected in there own ways and rarely, if ever, for the betterment of the common weal.

It is possible that the application of the US Constitution circa 1945 - 1965 represents the high water mark of this Civilisation, and perhaps any other previous civilisation.

The key phrase being: High water Mark.

Quietly, on one side of the swamp, another creature evolved. And that was the Corporate being. Quickly becoming a useful vehicle for trans-national standards of behaviour or misbehaviour, Corporations wield power without responsibility beyond mere nations. They are a perfect vehicle for the suppression of rights and the extraction of wealth. Grossly enlarged and taking useful bits from each dying system, they surpass Mary Shelly’s creation.

At the same time, control measures are enabled. Where to start? – Databases, ID Cards, Wire tapping, camera surveillance, entrapment and processing of civilians by criminalizing hitherto normal activities, Free speech zones, Fly lists.

But then, along comes an inconvenient truth. Trans-National Corporate homogenisation runs up against resource constraints. The pie is just not big enough.

Oh dear. What to do?

Exactly what the author of this article suggests may happen.

Retract to a nationalist base, create an environmental cover – this is easy since Environmentalism has, in specific philosophies long been intertwined with Racial / National Supremacy.

We will fall for it. It offers a hope of a way passed the bottleneck. If other peoples in far away lands die so that we may survive, for a little while longer, we will grab it with both hands.

The question raised by this scary, provocative piece, and IMO one of the most significant ones ever written on TOD is: can we out think our hard wired behaviour patterns of: family, friends, tribe and nation?

What do you think?

However compassionate and civilised we think we are, we as family, friends, tribe and nation and in that order, will do what we have to. That is how we are wired.

So too are the elite. But they have a slightly different take on it:

‘Do we need six billion peasants, or can we get by with two billion?’

Thanks for a great contribution. I don't think that you have enough data (nor have you cited enough data) to show a causal link between rising food prices and the use of bio-fuels. HOWEVER, in my opinion, this does not negate the force of your argument at all. An honest look at the interconnectedness of our financial, energy, eco, and food systems; combined with simple order of magnitude calculations (as you have done); is quite sufficient to make the case that bio-fuels are an exercise in insanity.

On the other hand, (trying to think positively here) maybe biofuels are a good thing. The quicker we make ourselves extinct, the more chance the Earth system has to bring itself back into some sort of sustainable equilibrium.

I am surprised at the volume of criticism of political bias. How can you talk OIL, Energy and FOOD and avoid politics? Plainly spesking, If people starve, Using food for fuel is crime against charity. But ourrageous is, that Goose criticizes bad politics to advocates far worse politics as a remedy.

Real solutions are both impossibly difficult and simple. The cooperative societies in which most humans have always lived are capable of supporting a high standard of living with far less resources than the individualized, consumer society. Enlightened political leadership would be helpful, but we can create a sustainable society without it. Indeed, we have to.

I lived 25 years in Communism I can testify to this: After decades there was no person deserving a prefix "Prof.", that be naive enought to sincerely believe in any advantages of "cooperative society". Virtually all academia was anti-communistic, including car-carrying party members.

The precise reason is that the quoted statement is the opposite to the learned truth. In fact the reson for our food and energy is highliy but unwisely regulated National Socialism, which penalizes coal, forbids offshore drilling, subsidizes ethanlol and feeds army of bureaucrats, who think that they can help people and the economy better than the cleverest businessman.

It is parroting the official Communist party argument that all the pains and shortcomings in the eastern bloc National Socialist countries can be only blamed on not progressing to true Communism, yet.

Petrus, I don't see what relation the Communist societies had to cooperatives. Communist countries were top-down, military dictatorships with some slogans about equality that they were almost never serious about. You wouldn't analyze the operations of McDonald's by looking at their ad slogans, would you?

The rhetoric is the same, and the top hardliners were very serious. Military dictatorship was necessary to force unwilling capitalists and their sympathizers to cooperate. Equality was so important, that Communists were more equal than others.

Capitalism is not the problem, rather the lack of it. The point was that the correct politics is deregulation. The US Socialist system presumes that Government can, should and must save everybody if even from themselves via ruling elite who knows that Corn Ethanol is good for you at any price, that you'll be forced to pay. Bad laws are being produced in Washington at such dizzying rate, that even lawmakers cannot any longer follow, let alone deliberate the consequences. Of course, they are never abolished, as that would be admission of their own silliness. Instead, they are patched with more bad laws.

Before the 20th century 1/3 of all farm land went to growing feed for draft animals, mainly horses and oxen. Was this a crime against humanity since prior to the 20th century famine was pandemic? How dare we feed animals when so many people go hungry. When we talk about corn ethanol we talk about a different use of animal feed. How dare we have milk and butter when people are starving in places where the local potentates won't allow foreigners to distribute food?
I also lost faith in Mr. Ziegler's credibility when he repeated the fallacy of rain forests being stripped so we can have biofuels. The destruction of rain forests is so we can have cheap Big Macs. The rain forest destruction began decades before anyone ever used the term biofuel. The world's greatest destruction of climax forest occurred in 19th century America so we could feed a growing population and provide lumber for housing and furniture. The majority of trees between the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi fell to the ax. Was this a crime against humanity? Was the restoration of America's forests in the 20th century a crime against humanity when so many of the world's people went hungry?

I find your critique strange. Feeding livestock back 'in the day' was IT. You had to have your work animals to run the farm, and raising livestock for food was a centuries/old aspect of agricultural life.

Today, we have an instantaneous view of the entire world over the internet, TV and Radio. The consequences of new technologies, complex economic relationships and the relative power of Nations and Regions is immediately available, albeit quite a tangle to decipher. Furthermore, the ability to interchange field produce between basic staples and processed food additives and now fuels has joined with 'Just-in-time' economic movement that can take hundreds or millions of acres out of food production, simply on the faith that Adam's invisible hand will somehow make the right decisions so that the people will still be sustained by the 'system'..

If not? Tough luck, the great and powerful OZ has spoken.. but that's off the record, ok?

All it would take is a little ingenuity in harnessing and several humans could do the work of a draft animal. For instance most of the travelers on the Mormon Trail pulled hand carts on their journey to Utah. No horses nor oxen to be fed. Rickshaws were used in the orient for centuries and were only replaced by the introduction of cheap motorcycles. Getting by without draft animals is mostly a matter of economics and social organization.

On Wednesday Roll Call unmasked the grocers' propaganda campaign to discredit biofuels. (subscription required). Alexis sounds like a parrot for either the grocers or big oil. It is very likely that big oil has similar campaign(s). If you fell for or otherwise enjoyed the WMD propaganda campaign, then you’ll absolutely fall head-over-heels for the anti-biofuels propaganda. Meanwhile communications experts(?) like Alexis and the uninquisitive US media use outdated and discredited studies to trash biofuels, of which they know little other than to perpetuate myths.

For energy balance discussions refer to: , and: . For major myths refer to: . A USDA study showed that biofuels accounted for less than 3% of the increase in US food prices (not a 3% increase, but 3% of the increase). There are no studies that biofuels attribute more than 3% of the increase of food prices. Allegations that price increases in non-biofuel feedstocks like rice or wheat are attributable to biofuels is illogical and beyond reason. The US corn crop will be lower than the 2007 crop because farmers are planting more acres in higher priced wheat and soybeans. Fully 10% of the record 2007 US corn crop is surplus – neither slated for food, biofuels, or export. In some places it remains piled on the ground. One may follow-up on US crop statistics through the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service:;jsessionid=CA0B81EC... .

Do biofuels have issues? Of course, though they are significantly less than those found with MTBE – conveniently ignored by Alexis. Furthermore the simplistic land use study completely ignored continued absolute dependence upon fossil fuels. Alexis ignores the fact that during the depression and World Ward II several farms operated on homebrewed biofuels. During World War II the Allies and Axis powers both used biofuels, when gas and food were rationed.

Contrary to Alexis philosophy of “think small” – we must think big. Biofuel refineries recycle far more than most refining processes. Most biofuels use waste streams to produce fuel. Ethanol from sugar is a prime example as the waste bagasse left from the crop is processed into ethanol. In the case of US corn ethanol, as explained in Journal Star, above, most of the corn starch is “borrowed” to create ethanol and then high protein livestock feed. The emerging cellulose fuel industry is all about converting waste streams to useful fuel. Biofuels will never replace all fossil fuels. However biofuels are a vital component in strategies to mitigate risk, exposures, and create opportunity – as is artfully stated by a congressional delegation.

Great Post, Jake.

Sen. Charles Grassley says Dutko Worldwide is involved in the smear campaign. Dutko Worldwide has long-standing ties to SAUDI ARABIA, Shell, Exxon, etc, and John McCain.

Great Post, Jake.

Ironic that people like Jake show up, register, and immediately begin to parrot the arguments you just started making. I noted the same with the fact that you and Majorian showed up at the same time making the same arguments. Makes one a bit suspicious that it isn't coincidental. But that's how it works sometimes. One identity makes an argument, another posts the same argument, the third (or first) agrees, and now we have "confirmation" that unsubstantiated argument number 1 has merit. You grow more transparent by the day.

Back to Dutko, and your misplaced post over on the Abqaiq thread, do you remember what you wrote a week or so ago? You wrote that Big Oil was behind a smear campaign against ethanol. Now, you say that Charles Grassley says.... Not only that, but you say that they have long-standing ties to Exxon, etc. I know that for you it doesn't take much in the way of evidence for you to smear someone, but you think you can back this up a bit more? Here's what I would like to see, and in fact a court of law would demand were you being forced to back up your accusations:

1. That Dutko has the associations you claim, and what those associations amount to.

2. That any of these associations are clients of Dutko.

3. That Dutko has taken money from Big Oil to smear ethanol (which was your claim - "Big Oil is behind the smears.")

You think you could do that for us, Mr. Ethanol Lobbyist?

If he's using a sock puppet he at least has the sense to use a very different IP address for it.

While I think corn based ethanol should be banned (as I understand it, ethanol production consumed 30% of US corn production last year, so anyone who thinks it isn't one significant cause - along with oil, fertiliser and pesticide prices - of food price inflation has rather a lot of explaining to do) the idea that big oil is contributing to a "smear" campaign against ethanol isn't necessarily incorrect.

The best form of propaganda is the truth, and if you want to limit competition in the liquid fuels market, pointing out the problems with the competition is a good way to do it. This doesn't mean the problems don't exist - and advocates of both biofuels and shifting away from liquid fuels entirely both routinely point out the problems with oil itself - resource wars / Iraq, finite supply / soaring prices, environmental destruction / global warming, concentration of ownership / market power etc etc.

It seems to be the best course of action is to become independent of both biofuels and oil - which makes this recurring argument basically a red herring - just say no to both options...

the idea that big oil is contributing to a "smear" campaign against ethanol isn't necessarily incorrect.

But don't you feel that when one makes accusations, they should back them up. If I say "Big Gav is a shoplifter", and you ask me to back it up, it's a poor defense for me to come back and say my comments are necessarily correct.

I am merely requesting the people provide evidence of their claims. Kdolliso merely provides claims, and the second time he makes the claims they are now evidence. And if Saudi Arabia knew this guy, who had a cousin who worked at Dutko, then Saudi Arabia was directly behind the smear campaign. That's how his mind seems to work.

1)The guy who wrote the JournalStar article is a advocate, not a researcher.
2) He denies the recent rise in corn prices are significant.

The next time you hear or read that ethanol production is starving children overseas or causing food prices to soar, consider the all-time record amounts of corn being exported from the United States or the fact that doubling the price of corn raises the cost of a box of corn flakes by less than 4 cents — and think again.

Although this is probably true, are we to believe that Mexicans were protesting a 4 cent rise in corn flakes? I don't think so. Obviously the rise in the price of corn was more substantial than that, he's leaving out important information.

3) The "emerging celulose" field has been emerging for quite a while now. Some would argue that it will always be emerging. Either way, the essay is addressing what is currently happening rather than some biofuel future.


A USDA study showed that biofuels accounted for less than 3% of the increase in US food prices (not a 3% increase, but 3% of the increase)

. Again the price in the US is not the salient price, but rather the price increases in other places. Other countries may have much larger impacts.

The simple fact is, food production is being diverted to fuel. In a world where people are starving and going hungry, this is not acceptable. If policies were put in place to protect the food security of all (which should already exist anyhow), and policies to protect biodiversity, then biofuels would certainly be a very good idea. But that is not the world in which we live.

Umass, ethanol is made using Yellow Field Corn. Mexican Tacos/tortillas are made using White Sweet Corn. At the time of the demonstrations Mexico had Huge Restrictions on the Importation of corn from the U.S.

NOW, the restrictions are OFF; and the MEXICAN FARMERS ARE PROTESTING the CHEAP U.S. Corn.

So, which will cause the most "starvation?" Cattle feed going to $0.10/lb, or Gasoline going to $3.80/Gal?


When tens of thousands of people staged demonstrations in Mexico last year to protest a 60 percent increase in the price of tortillas, many analysts pointed to biofuel as the culprit. Because of US government subsidies, American farmers were devoting more and more acreage to corn for ethanol than for food, which sparked a steep rise in corn prices. The diversion of corn from tortillas to biofuel was certainly one cause of skyrocketing prices, though speculation on biofuel demand by transnational middlemen may have played a bigger role. However, an intriguing question escaped many observers: how on earth did Mexicans, who live in the land where corn was domesticated, become dependent on US imports in the first place?

In short, we pulled the rug out from under the Mexicans. This would explain the complaints from all sides.

Wow, I don't think I have ever been called a communist so many times in one day.

The comments are wide ranging, so I will not try to respond to all of them.

I don't think the environmental community has abandoned biofuel. Rather, biofuel has been co-opted by mainstream politicians. Bush loves it. I do not presume he is reading (If he reads much at all is another question).

Regarding Malthus, he was a conservative Christian, part of the social Darwinism of that age. He stated that the cause of poverty was the sexual promiscuity of the poor. He was very much a reactionary. Population is perhaps the most important issue we face, but Malthus is a very poor reference for figuring out what to do about it.

As regards cooperatives, they have nothing much to do with communism. There is a lot of support in a lot of circles for localism, but all of our problems will not be magically repaired by localization. We will be living in cooperative societies a couple hundred years from now.

Regarding efficiency, localized economies have the potential to be highly efficient, though they are not always or inherently so. People often associate localization with isolation. I don't know why.

The most critical part of localism in my mind is empowerment -- creating conscious culture at the local level. The great environmental catastrophe of our age is not an accident. It is a choice of growth-based societies to try to gain dominion over each other. The more we consume, the more powerful we become. We cannot repair that equation with efficiency.

It is my belief that an entirely different kind of cultural system possible, a world in which people are sufficiently aware of the impacts of their choices on the future that they can consciously direct their own social evolution. A great deal of effort is invested in repressing social awareness in our society. In as much as local economies have the potential to be both sustainable and empowering, they can become the foundation on which each individual stands, psychologically, economically, and spiritually. Standing on that foundation, with an awareness of the means of social repression that have been used for centuries to divide people against each other, we could create better social institutions, governments or whatever we choose.

Localism is the fertile soil in which other things can grow. A localized society could be as unsustainable and oppressive as the modern industrial society. But, a sustainable, conscious will have to be localized. Localism itself does not repair our problems, but it makes the solutions possible.

Apart from such lofty philosophizing, I have run energy analyses of various cooperative ventures. In general, they are dramatically more sustainable than single family homes inhabited by people who commute to work.

Localism does not relate to an immediate solution to the disruptions caused by a poorly planned and very rapid escalation of biofuel. However, the tendency of Americans to overconsume is not simply a psychological tendency. The more we consume, the more powerful we become. Even in terms of our diet, our tendency to eat animal products in excess is a powerful economic stimulus. (Try to get rid of surplus corn with corn muffins, it doesn't work. Ice cream and T-bone steak, that works, economically speaking.) So in terms of talking about localization, we are not talking about a short-term fix to the problem. We are talking about addressing the deeper, root causes -- the growth-based economy of dominion.

Personally, I am deeply concerned that in seeking short-term gain the environmental community is allowing itself to become entirely disconnected from these deeper solutions.

I agree with most of your comments, although the localism/communal take seems a bit premature.As you yourself write, no matter how efficient we get, exponential growth will eventually overtake any gains.

It is my view that protecting the environment through efficiency technological or socialogical is an exercise in futility. If we want to protect the environment then we need to protect it. This may sound tautological but it is the only sound solution. If we don't want to hack down the rain forest, then we need to pass laws and or/ buy the land and declare it protected. If we want to prevent coal from being burned, then we need to declare regions with coal unminable.

By setting limits to production, then the price signal will allow people to self-organise into more efficient configurations. This is completely different from prescribing more efficient configurations and expecting production to be limited.

Please reread the above because it is true. If you don't believe me, take a look at electricity consumption in the US over the past 30 years, when every major appliance has made significant leaps forward in efficiency.

Targeted environmental protection can be useful. As you point out, it has had notable impacts on appliance efficiency. But those gains in efficiency have been swallowed by overall increases in energy use because of the overall growth trend. And that trend, in my opinion, is ultimately driven not by human greed, but by the drive to dominate other societies economically and politically. Sustainability cannot be achieved by legistlation alone.

But those gains in efficiency have been swallowed by overall increases in energy use because of the overall growth trend. And that trend, in my opinion, is ultimately driven not by human greed, but by the drive to dominate other societies economically and politically.

I am not sure I agree with this conclusion. One could easily make an argument that causation goes in the other direction; In a finite world if one desires to get richer then it is necessary to dominate other societies in order to get the required resources. However, I would agree that the desire to constantly get richer is not fundamentally driven by greed. Partly it is just a neurotic habit deeply ingrained in our psyche by cultural programming, and partly it is a result of the institutional structure of our economic system. Personal material security is gained by storing up wealth. However, society as a whole does not store up wealth. One person's savings is another person's consumption. Paradoxically the effort to store up as much value as possible is an effort to increase current economic production as much as possible. We must learn to depend for our future security on the only real store of value which can exist: A healthy economic and ecological community. If we cannot learn to trust each other in this manner then we will go on destroying the commons in the name of seeking indiviual financial security.

I am afraid you misinterpreted my words. My point wasnt' that legislating efficiency is a good idea. Quite the opposite, my point was that if you legislate boundaries to growth then efficiency will naturally self-organise itself.

To expect the process to happen in reverse, that is, to legislate efficiency and expect boundaries to growth, is futile. Unfortunately, this is the ineffective model being pushed here in the United States.

>>Regarding Malthus, he was a conservative Christian, part of the social Darwinism of that age. He stated that the cause of poverty was the sexual promiscuity of the poor. He was very much a reactionary. Population is perhaps the most important issue we face, but Malthus is a very poor reference for figuring out what to do about it.<<

Malthus b. 1766, d 1834.

Darwin b. 1809, d 1882.

Six editions of Essays on the Principle of Population between 1798 and 1826.

'Social Darwinism', or even Darwinism wasnt invented when Malthus took pen to paper.

Perhaps you meant 'Social Malthusianism'...

As for the sexual incontinence / breeding capacity of the poor , though not a God-botherer myself, I happen to concur with Malthus.

Though my take is slightly different: Put Religious Patriarchs in charge and add religion to the mix then women are reduced to baby making machines. Always. Everywhere. Every Religion. And some non-religious Religions

See Catholicism
See Islam
See The welfare state.
See Aid prgrammes

- The youngest Great Grandmother in the UK is 45... I can only assume her children have names like Cotton-tail, Thumper and Bluey

Darwin actually got a lot of his ideas from Malthus - Darwinism is inherently Malthusian, rather than vice-versa :

"In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long- continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work".

Charles Darwin, from his autobiography. (1876)

And one more which is seems to be more of a tinfoil view, but is thought provoking nevertheless :

Biofuels have nothing to do with capitalism per se, quite the opposite: biofuels would not be possible without the huge subsidies from government.

Moreover, most of the biofuels actually need more fossil energy inputs than they displace in the fuel tanks(*), therefore the whole thing is a crazy nonsense, impossible if the prices were not screwed by the subsidies - i.e. by your tax dollars which could be used for better purposes than wiping out natural habitats in Indonesia and to plant the biofuel mono cultures. The negative effects of biofuel policies on the crop rotations in the Midwest US were recently covered int he news.

Claiming that biofuel subsidies have negligible effect on the food price increase and blaming most of it on speculations does not add up: the speculations followed the governmental policies.

This is all besides the fact that no agriculture based biofuels can decrease CO2 emissions, because N20 emissions from the agriculture itself are way larger than any conceivable CO2 emission savings. (**)


Ondrejch, you're wrong on the energy balance of biofuels; and, nitrogen oxide is present in the atmosphere in parts per Billion. Also, in the last hundred years of intense agriculture, and industry/transporttion fossil fuel use it has increased in the atmosphere a whopping 17%.

Uh, the GWP of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is 310 times that of carbon dioxide. So since you seem to make corn ethanol magically appear from nothing (noting your illogical math above), I'm sure you'd agree that your 17% increase in concentration (which would be nice to cite) should actually be a 17% x 310 or 5,270% higher contribution to global warming.

The average growth rate over the past four decades was about 0.25%/yr (0.8 ppbv/yr). The radiative forcing due to change in nitrous oxide concentration from preindustrial level to the present has been estimated at about 0.14 W/m2

Nitrous Oxide in the atmosphere has about 10% the radiative forcing as CO2 it seems.

Uh, that's because its concentration is lower. But its concentration delta adds more radiative forcing than an equivalent delta in CO2.

I agree, Sparaxis; but, the point is: It IS very low, and it's going to stay very low. If it increases by another 17% over the next century, and, another 17% the NEXT century it will still be less than 1 ppm. And, let's face it, with fossil fuels growing in shorter, and shorter supply as the Century wears on, all that seems pretty unlikely. :)

Lem me make it clear: with respect to global climate change, biofuels have worse (about 90 x (ninety times) according to some studies) impact on the greenhouse effect than if we'd burn the oil directly.

The trapped heat does not care if it was stopped by a CO2, CH4 or a NO2 molecule! It is a trapped heat the same.

If 10% of the total GHG effect comes from N20 and 90% from CO2; or if it is the other way around, or it the global greenhouse effect is created by other gas mixture, is completely irrelevant.

Well I am not wrong as I do not make these studies. Please go argue with Dr. Cruntzen (Nobel price for Chemistry), Dr. Patzek and the OECD scientific panel.

Moreover, your argument does not make any sense. We are comparing how much of a radiation forcing one gets from a certain amount of CO2 vs. N2O added, which is a different issue than the concentration of these gases. N2O is several hundred times stronger GHG than CO2.

The localized perspective is problematic at best.

History shows that localization leads to local power centers and centrifugal forces that pull countries and people apart.

Moving from a local perspective to a national perspective had lots of practical advantages.

Now we should be thinking globally not locally.

Not just that, local government just sucks. The only power they really have is to obstruct and tax.
Local government is too small to counterbalance corporate power.
Local governments with money won't share with the have-not governments.

Here's what I expect out of the peak oil/environmentalist movement.

1. Handle the liquid fuel problem with alternate energy to oil-gas, much higher mpg efficiency and some reduction in fuel consumption. It also shouldn't cost too much.

2. Convert present fossil fuel based electricity to incorporate progressively more renewable electricity. This is not as pressing as #1.

3. Preserve a prudent amount of undisturbed environment and biodiversity(biologists should be able to tell how much we need without the entire country reverting five hundred years).

4. Reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2050( Gore says 90%) starting replacing coal with wind,solar. Replace oil based transportation with biofuels, possibly some electric.

If all these were accomplished I personally would be satisfied.

5. However, because we are part of a global culture we also are obligated to control world population and conserve world resources.

There's nothing in the above that requires local communes and other goofy stuff.

I have found that by doing hyper-local food production synergies are possible that dramatically cut down on resource needs.

For example.

Because food is harvested and picked up the same day I require no mechanical cooling beyond passive evaporative methods.

Because I sell only to local people I know, and they are guaranteed return customers, I can invest in totally reusable packing materials that don't go into landfills.

Because the scale of the farm is small, I can manage it biologically in ways that reduce pressure to spray pesticides.

Because the farm is in town, I can bike to restaurants and back to the farm hauling food waste that gets composted and therefore diverted from the trash pile.

I could go on...

In order to achieve the total elimination of greenhouse gas emissions and the draw down of carbon from the atmosphere actually required we have to incorporate these kinds of synergies. Eventually I imagine a local system for recycling human waste for agriculture too, avoiding many of the high energy inputs to sewage treatment.

1. Handle the liquid fuel problem with alternate energy to oil-gas, much higher mpg efficiency and some reduction in fuel consumption. It also shouldn't cost too much.

Bwa Ha Ha Ha Ha! Anything else you would like! All I want is sidewalks paved with gold and every woman to be a blonde bombshell!!!

Unbelievable. The above post reads like the profile of some vain girl on .

And your post reads like a ninny who has no idea what the problems of Peak Oil are.
Read the Hirsch report, ignoramus.
If you're what passes for a college education we are well and truly doomed.

Growing food for fuel is a crime against humanity, plain & simple. So destroying the equanimity of the atmospheric system, leading to increasing droughts and cyclones is OK, squandering the invaluable resource of liquid fuel on frivolous pursuits is only proper, but diverting grain from the feedlots to fuel agricultural equipment is a crime. One thing I don’t get; why are the droughts in Australia and China, increases in world population ignored as root causes to the current price rises, while biofuels are singled out as the culprit? Is it simply the work of the oil companies trying to protect their profits or is it just the blind ignorance of punters trying to shift their culpability onto those who are offering a small solution to the scarcities looming around the corner.

A few years ago there was widespread condemnation of the US and Europe for their use of subsidies to flood world markets with cheap grain, thus forcing millions of subsistence farmers off the land in the majority world. Now the boot is on the other foot and the same countries are deplored for diverting some of this surplus production into biofuels. Grain prices are still only one third the (inflation adjusted) price they were in the ‘eighties but folk are rioting because farmers have a chance of actually making some return on their labours.

In the end it will be economics which dictate where we get our liquid fuels. Once shortages set in and transporting goods vast distances becomes unprofitable, those with the foresight to grow their own fuel to allow them to keep producing food will be seen as saviours. Those who are reliant on raping the earth for ‘easy’ energy will be left with a heap of rusting machinery and no food.

Thanks, Alexis, for an excellent post. I encourage others to go and read further at I often reference Alexis' writing regarding the long and short curves of history. The short curve being what we are taught in school and fed by the media machine - the rise and fall of empires and nation-states and the expansion/contraction of civil rights. But all of that is underlain by the long curve of resource availability. When resources - in particular energy - expand, so too can civil rights. But as resources contract, the authorities (be they they church, military, royalty, elite, corporations...) clamp down. Then consider Catton, and the ecological overshoot we are deep into. Never before on this planet has there been a resource contraction anything like what we are on the cusp of. The repercussions of, as Heinberg terms it, peak everything, shall be of a scale difficult to imagine.

The bit about biofuels and economic nationalism etc was pure paronoia. Biofuels are simply a result of the powerful farm lobbies in both the US and the EU. They have been screwing the taxpayer for many years. They now see a way to make money and look green at the same time. To good to be true.

Those who think we can have crude oil priced at 20 cents per cup while corn should remain at 5 cents per cup so that cows, pigs and chickens can live happily ever after must live on another planet. Currently a bushel of corn which is burned in a corn stove is worth about $11 compared to LP gas. It sells locally for about $5.50.

To call using corn for biofuels a crime against humanity is a joke. It shows the author doesn't have a clue about corn use or about real crimes against humanity like the Iraq war for oil. At worst using corn for biofuel is a crime against cows, hogs and chickens but certainly not humanity. Biofuel benefits humanity because energy is not wasted feeding animals.

Those calling for the end of biofuels are asking farmers to take less than the energy value of their crops when compared to oil. It will not happen. If such a stupid idea ever gained acceptance, it would guarantee more starvation as grain prices declined in a world of ever rising oil prices. If we are to have very high oil prices, there must be very high grain prices to insure that food takes priority.

Taking the world view on biofuels has no merit because it asks grain producers to make non economic decisions. It will lead to disaster. Those who over breed and disregard basic economic principles must suffer. Giving grain to hungry countries which can not pay for it destroys their local farm economy. It is not helpful but harmful. It is not the responsibility of biofuel producers to feed the world anymore than it is the responsibility of oil producers to feed the world.

Why not go after them? They have failed to keep up the supply of cheap oil and are making huge profits from Peak Oil. Let Saudi Arabia bail out Haiti and others. They have money and can buy any grain and have it shipped anywhere. Why is the wealth of oil producers untouchable but the wealth of grain producers should be available to feed the starving at a discount to its energy value? Condemn oil, not biofuels which are trying to cope with the situation brought on by Peak Oil.

EPA Seeking Comments on Renewable Fuel Standard Waiver Reques

Why are we responsible for everybody elses' cheap food?
Haven't USA done enuf for International Police?
Can we really help some of these countries? whatever we sent it seems always ended up in the ruling Junta's Swiss account.

The amount of agricultural output of the U.S. that is given away to poor people in foreign countries is absolutely miniscule. Our agricultural output is sold in the market to the highest bidder. Period. End of story. If the supply of food declines because agricultural land is being converted to the production of biofuels then poor people will be priced out of the market. Of course If they owned their own land then they could thumb their noses at the market, but most of them don't. The kind of foreign hell holes in which 80% of the land is owned by 3% of population are favorite targets for U.S. aid. We don't give a damn about the money in the Swiss bank account of the dictator as long as he or she creates a favorable climate for capital investment. Have you got even the remotest clue about how the world really works?

Apartments are cheaper (energy or dollar) to build, maintain, service, provide transport for, heat and cool, etc.

They use less land, and per capita indoor space is smaller (obviously, not for a luxury building vs. a small shack on a tiny plot.) Energy savings can be made by regrouping spaces that are not inhabited / used all the time. Apartments that can be modulated, with arrangements for growing/shrinking families are great.

Such arrangements are not new. For ex, in one village I know in France, with stone houses built all in a cluster and one on top of the other, and with multiple above and under-ground corridors - it is still today common to rent/sell the back bedroom, or the bathroom, or the living room, to the neighbors. You just open up the passage, create a new dividing wall. see photo:

The concentration fulfills logistical aims (coolness, heat, distribution of water, food, evacuation), defense, agriculture, and social grouping. The villagers must manage together.

My idyllic, touristy, harkin-back-to-the past, post of the day.

Today, forest growth and ornamental vegetation and scrub or undergrowth have sprung up where there was none before (as can be guessed from the picture.) Many of the fields lie fallow, because the peasants live off EU subsidies, paid to them to not grow, wine grape and fruit (glut); others have given up because competition killed them, e.g. for asparagus, which is produced more cheaply in Spain and trucked.

Agriculture, there, has become a spread-sheet biz; how much subsidy, price of gas, what % tax, etc.

Calculations have led to some planting of sunflower (for comestible oil) and melon. The local, communal, wine press is practically dead; the communal washing house is a spot for teens to do whatever. Graffiti on old stone, condoms clogging the pipes, a common complaint..Now mean old biddies with binoculars and the internet and a hot line to the police have eagle eyes, arrests for minor mis- behavior are frequent.

This village did try to deal with pop. pressure and keep it all together, a rare thing, that - at some point there was no room for young people, new families. The authorities organized a modern development which can be seen upper right. Now a suburb community, there are no shops or local activities - shopping/schooling is done in the town 20 kms distant and those who live there drive and drive and hardly ever visit the original village.

There is a certain amount of animosity between the communities which has been dealt with by a feeling of distance and separation - difference. The new devp. dwellers don’t get subsidies, have more flat TV screens, etc.

The biggest problem with biofuels is actually deforestation due to the expansion of food crops into areas like the amazon rainforest because of the number of food crops that are now being harvested for biofuel production. A recent study that took deforestation into account found that biofuels emit 17 to 420 times the amount of CO2 that they save from their cleaner than oil combustion because of a 'carbon debt' caused by deforestation.

This post seems very confused about what environmentalism is. So far as I can tell the argument is oil is in short supply so there will be resorce wars. This is all the fault of people who want to reduce energy use because there is a dark side to wanting to reduce energy use.

But, the key environmental issue to do with energy use is pollution. So, the environmental movement wants to reduce fossil fuel and nuclear power use. Biofuels don't help with that so the movement is turning against them. Whatever nationalistic trends may remain, they are not environmental. In fact, the environmental movement has a pretty global focus just now and can hardly be called nationalistic at all. There are things going on at the national level, such as Germany's development of solar, which positions it to be a supplier, but China will pretty likely take over the lead in this this year. Anybody may buy German or Chinese made solar panels. And, they may do so for nationalistic, energy independence motivated reasons. That does not make those motives environmental.