Energy vs. Naturalist Wings of Environmentalist Movement—The Fight Begins

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I told you so. The environmentalist boosters of biofuels and the nature conservationist wings of the environmentalist movement are now duking it out. A new report in Science (subscription required) magazine finds that conserving forests is a far more effective way to fight man-made global warming than biofuels. As The Guardian reports:

Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels.

The environmentalist website Mongabay.com quotes one of the study's authors:

"For reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, maintaining our forests and restoring them is much more effective than using land for biofuels," [Renton] Righelato told mongabay.com. "When forest is destroyed more CO2 is lost than can be saved in 50 years or more through producing biofuels on the cleared land."

Now Righelato may not be exactly dispassionate. He is, after all, the chairman of the board of trustees of the World Land Trust. However, he is right that current bioethanol technologies imply plowing up a lot of newly cleared land to produce fuel.

The New Scientist does note that cellulosic ethanol, that is, ethanol produced using non-food crops like trees and switch grass may be better than reforestation in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In any case, I did warn that current biofuels would chew up lots of land and that fact would provoke a fight between the naturalist and energy wings of the environmentalist movement.

The Science study concludes:

"For the longer term, carbon-free transport fuel technologies are needed to replace fossil hydrocarbons."

Maybe electricity produced by nuclear power plants and used by plug-in hybrid automobiles?

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  1. One thing about ethanol, cellulosic or otherwise, is that even cellulosic ethanol may be a bit of a strawman (hah!). There is no research on butanol and various other organic compounds, since they have higher energy densities than ethanol.

  2. The biofuels debate lately has confused me.

    I thought that the point of biofuels was to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, both for geopolitical reasons and because the biofuels are renewable while fossil fuels are finite.

    There seems to be no environmental reason I can think of to move to biofuels. Burning ethanol produces CO2 too. You don’t get a carbon gain by switching to biofuels. Or am I wrong about that?

  3. Predicting this kind of conflict is like predicting that at some point today, it will rain somewhere. It’s far more present in more authoritarian circles where the perceived moral obligation to do something is always impeded by some ridiculously long battle about what exactly needs to be done.

  4. Burning ethanol produces CO2 too. You don’t get a carbon gain by switching to biofuels.

    The ethanol was made from CO2 taken out of the atmosphere and converted to plants, and the fuel you’ll use next year will come from plants that take the current CO2 out of the atmosphere. It’s a cycle, so you (ideally) add nothing and subtract nothing.

    Cellulosic biofuels have the advantage that you can use more of the plant, not just the simple sugars.

  5. The only ethanol thats workable, cheap, and here today is sugar ethanol. Brazil already runs on it. But Brazil doesn’t hold the first Presidential caucus!

  6. “In any case, I did warn that current biofuels would chew up lots of land…”

    I’m still rootin’ for biofuels from algae.

    “Maybe electricity produced by nuclear power plants and used by plug-in hybrid automobiles?”

    And for nuclear energy and for EEstor…

    “If the technology works as claimed, a five-minute charge costing $9 would give the battery enough energy to drive a small car 500 miles.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eestor

    I wish Zenn would announce that sucker already?! …and yeah, too good to be true does worry me a little bit.

  7. The ethanol was made from CO2 taken out of the atmosphere and converted to plants, and the fuel you’ll use next year will come from plants that take the current CO2 out of the atmosphere. It’s a cycle, so you (ideally) add nothing and subtract nothing.

    Wow, I could be misunderstanding this, but I don’t think that statement could have been more wrong. You have to refine the ethanol some way, and that requires energy. Then you have to distribute the ethanol, which requires energy. You certainly don’t get all the energy out of the plant when i’ts refined, so there’s some loss there. Bio fuels are mixed with fosil fuels (15% for E85, 80% for B20). There’s the gazillions of other factors also.
    Am I correct in my having heard that engines don’t get the life out of E85 that they get out of gasoline? If so, there’s the extra production of cars to think about.

  8. Irrigated crop biofuel is only realistic for replacement of a low percentage of motor fuel due to limited water supply.

    If the US were to convert to 100% corn ethanol as a motor fuel replacement, it would require about 100% of the total annual freshwater supply. As it stands now, the corn belt is overdrafting the Ogalalla Aquifer. Increasing irragation from this aquifer will only hasten it’s depletion.

    This is one of the reasons why I get so violently agitated by global warming environmentalist claptrap. Agricultural runnof is more of a concern than the potential for warming, fresh water depletion worldwide is a bigger problem and worldwide sewage treatment is a bigger problem still. Even in the US, we continue to spew billions and billions of sewage and fertilizer into our waterways. Any wonder why there are dead zones popping up in oceans?

    I know it’s not sexy, but these big ticket environmental impacts THAT ARE HERE AND NOW are being neglected because the environmentalists prefer to demonize corporations and the culture of consumption rather than real problems, journalists trained in socialist theory regurgitate their press releases with minimal verification and polititians afraid of leadership fall into the lemming line.

    How’s that for an LGF troll?

  9. Back of the envelope calculations, figuring how many BTU’s per acre, show how completely unworkable bio fuel is. And the more closely you look at the worse it gets. Right from the get-go it’s a bad idea, flawed in it’s conception, and at odds with well understood science. Natch, it’s the favorite panacea of the global warming bunch.

  10. Reinmoose-

    You can reserve some of the fuel from last year’s crop for the purpose of refining this year’s crop, and thereby run on a cycle. Farmers have done this for thousands of years, reserving some of last year’s crop to feed the people who pick and process next year’s crop, and to feed the animals that plow the fields and bring some of the crop to market. Replacing people with machines and bread with liquid fuel doesn’t change the ability to operate a cycle.

    And ethanol, as I said above, is not necessarily the final word on biofuels. Other fuels have higher energy densities, and show some promise for production. I don’t know about their effects on car engines.

    And, for the record, I’m cool with nuclear energy.

  11. So,let’s cut down forests to grow corn and give more taxpayer money to folks like ADM.Brilliant.Never mind the pressure of food supplies.

  12. Warren-

    I admit, I haven’t done the back of the envelope calculation myself, but do those BTU calculations assume fuels made from simple sugars and starches, or fuels made from cellulose as well? It changes the density of usable energy per acre.

    My point to Reinmoose was about whether it could be run on a cycle, not whether the cycle could generate enough surplus to run the US automobile fleet.

  13. Bringing up the carbon offsets topic again, I’ll concede that there are many ways to game the system, but looking specifically at carbon offsets for preserving forests I think it could work well: a parcel of forest has tangible reality; its ownership is documented; it biological history can be read by looking at its current state; and its all right out there in the open, where its value can be assessed at any level of detail desired.


  14. This is one of the reasons why I get so violently agitated by global warming environmentalist claptrap. Agricultural runnof is more of a concern than the potential for warming, fresh water depletion worldwide is a bigger problem and worldwide sewage treatment is a bigger problem still. Even in the US, we continue to spew billions and billions of sewage and fertilizer into our waterways. Any wonder why there are dead zones popping up in oceans?

    To the “credit” of the more extreme environmentalists, they probably think you and I shouldn’t be buying from big agro in the first place. Of course they can’t get to seem through their heads that going back to completely organic, small family farms would lead to starvation for quite a number of people.

    I know it’s not sexy, but these big ticket environmental impacts THAT ARE HERE AND NOW are being neglected because the environmentalists prefer to demonize corporations and the culture of consumption rather than real problems, journalists trained in socialist theory regurgitate their press releases with minimal verification and polititians afraid of leadership fall into the lemming line.

    I really hate how they hijacked what it means to care about the environment. I care about the environment, I want land used responsibly, and I don’t want everything paved over and built up with McMansions. But that doesn’t mean I want to bring about these goals by massive government programs or undoing the industrial revolution.

  15. Did you say resere fuel to make fuel?The market didtates where products go in this country[or should].You sound like someone who sees the flaw in he’s argument but just can’t back away.

  16. Who needs to talk about energy density per acre or per gallon, and running a process on a cycle, when we can just remind ourselves how awful certain parts of the environmental movement are?

    No need to talk about technology and innovation when we can remind ourselves that those darn hippies are evil!

  17. Ceaser,some of these people want to see a human die off.Many think our population should be cut by more then half.

  18. Michael Pack-

    Yes, the Market (peace and blessings be upon its name) determines where products will go (Amen, brother!).

    So here’s how the Market (peace and blessings be upon its name) would do it. Biofuel production would probably be a seasonal thing, given that it’s coming from plants and all. Those biofuels would be sold on an open Market (peace and blessings be upon its name) and bought by distributors, who buy during the peak season and sell throughout the year. Those distributors would then sell some of it back to biofuel producers at Market (peace and blessings be upon its name) prices, who would use the fuel to power tractors and refineries and whatnot.

    It’s a cycle. Get it?

    Did you know that oil companies need energy to run their operations, so they either hold some fuel back or else buy it in a different form on an open Market (peace and blessings be upon its name)?

  19. You can reserve some of the fuel from last year’s crop for the purpose of refining this year’s crop, and thereby run on a cycle

    Umm… that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any loss. This doesn’t make it a cycle any more than growing strawberries is a cycle

  20. I would take the ethanol crowd seriously if they also backed cleaner coal and nuclear power production and didn’t need goverment handouts to produce their fuel of choice.Ethanol takes a huge tranfer of wealth from the many to enrich the few.Also,think of all the fertilizer it wiil take to produce the crops.That’s more oil use and ground water pollution as a result.

  21. Don’t get me wrong. I’m with Cesar on this one. I’m all about reducing the use of fossil fuels and bettering the environment, and not seeing everything paved over with Bed Bath and Beyonds and McMansions. But I think supporting bad policies because their GOAL is to reduce all this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

  22. Ceaser,some of these people want to see a human die off.Many think our population should be cut by more then half.

    And thats why, despite my concern for the environment I can’t call myself an “environmentalist”.

  23. thoreau,and if you take the massive goverment support wiil it stand on it’s own.Thats the true test.

  24. Reinmoose-

    OK, let’s consider another situation. Let’s imagine a high tech device called a “horse.” And let’s say that this horse pulls something called a “plow.” Now, this “horse” requires energy. So the farmer grows something called “grain”, using the “horse.” Some of the energy from the annual harvest of “grain” is used to feed the horse for an entire year! Another portion of that energy is reserved to feed the farmer for an entire year! The remainder is called a “surplus” and is sold.

    I don’t know if the size of the surplus from biofuel production will actually be large enough to power the vehicle fleet (some argue that it will actually be zero), but that’s a somewhat more nuanced issue than “OMG! You need fuel to make fuel! And it isn’t completely efficient!” The same objection could be applied to farming for food, and it is clearly wrong in that context. Which means that it isn’t a silver bullet argument, but rather an argument that depends on the size of the surplus (if there is a surplus). So it requires data, not just “OMG! You need energy to make energy!”

  25. I personally don’t want a die-off, but I would be delighted if rising affluence cut the birthrate so low that the population crashed of its own accord.

    Most if not all environmental issues become more manageable at lower population figures.

  26. Michael Pack-

    Yes, but the issue of whether it’s profitable on its own requires a bit more thought than “Retain fuel? Nonsense! The market decides what to do with that fuel!”

    Did an environmentalist beat you up or steal your girlfriend or something?

  27. thoreau,
    As Ron states, moving to cellulose helps. And, from the couple of articles I read and interviews I’ve listened to, can just maybe make it pay. Maybe. You can get the BTUs/acre up easy enough with say willow, but then you get only one harvest every five years. Still under the best scenarios the bottom line comes out ahead. But not with current technology. The whole scheme depends on the creation of new enzymes and yeasts to bring down the cost of production.

  28. Warren-

    I agree. It depends on how much energy new technologies will make available, and at what cost.

    Those issues require more thought and data to resolve, not just the rhetoric some other people in this thread are throwing around.

  29. http://www.dailytech.com/Major%2BNew%2BTheory%2BProposed%2Bto%2BExplain
    %2BGlobal%2BWarming/article8450.htm

    A new theory of global warming-synchronized chaos! That sounds a lot more libertarian than CO2! And the article links to another article bashing carbon dioxide as well, but it is in German or Walloon or something.

    Baily is just a shill for big carbon dioxide!

    I know there is a study I can’t point to now that was a labratory study that showed carbon dioxide increases can initially cause a warming trend, but then the more the gas is increased, the less warming occurs. Meaning, those computer models that assume a direct link to carbon dioxide increases and warming could be completely off…

    At any rate, this new theory, like the solar sunspot/cosmic ray theory, theorizes that soon, within a decade or two, we will experience a cooling trend.

    So, just keep these guys fighting and keep Congress divided and maybe we can ride this thing out without carbon trading or carbon taxes!

  30. FWIW, I’m skeptical about the viability of current biofuels technology. I plan to buy a hybrid in a few years. Obviously, this must mean that I hate technology and corporations, otherwise I wouldn’t buy a new technology from a large company. And it must be entirely because I’m an enviro-loony who hates humanity, and not because I want to save on gasoline.

  31. thoreau –
    so then you admit to making an argument that ends up being completely irrelevant? Proving a condition of a theory doesn’t make it profound. You really state the obvious with the “It’s a cycle!” argument that you’ve provided… but then again, so is everything else if you really want to work on it (which is what I said in my last response to you). The “it’s a cycle” approach does not mean in any way, shape, or form that it will have a negative net carbon contribution. As is even stated in this article, it depends on what the crop to be harvested for biofuel production replaces. I brought up the possibility that more cars may need to be manufactured if biofuels decrease engine life. That’s just a tiny example and one possibility for offsetting any surplus energy/carbon-abatement.

  32. thoreau,

    I never object to more thought and data. The problem is, we are committing to this ill concieved plan. Legislation and regulations on everything from the corn in the ground to the gas in the pump has already been passed based on this pipe dream. And the failure of current efforts is inciting demand for increased efforts.

  33. I never stated a negative carbon production. I said zero.

  34. Umm… that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any loss. This doesn’t make it a cycle any more than growing strawberries is a cycle

    Of course there’s a loss, and the cycle requires an energy input to sustain, genius.

    The earth’s not a closed system; it’s powered by the sun

  35. Believe it or not, you can use more energy and get less out of it.

  36. thoreau,You can’t address the public funding part which leads me to believe your a socialist.As for the snide comment,I don’t call names or deride people.If that’s what you need to do to feel better I feel sorry for you.I am against goverment subsidies and picking winners and losers with tax dollars.If ethanol is viable it will stand on it’s own.Then we can add another vibrant industry to our economy.

  37. michael pack:

    what?

    ok en espanol:

    ?que?

    and now in french:

    le what? (whu whu whuuuu)

    “thoreau,You can’t address the public funding part which leads me to believe your a socialist.”

    “As for the snide comment,I don’t call names or deride people”

    these sentences are SIDE BY SIDE.

    you’re really being unfair to the rest of us (known as “readers” in your peer group).

  38. On CO2 and cycles, it works like this: You grow a plant. In growing the plant, CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere. That plant is then turned into fuel (which may be used to run the equipment for harvesting and processing next year’s crop) and burned. When it’s burned, CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

    Burning the fuels, and letting the unprocessed leftovers decompose in the ground, cannot possibly release more CO2 than the plant took out of the air, since air is the plant’s source of carbon. Now, you can talk about the CO2 emitted by the tractor and whatnot, but as long as that tractor was powered by fuel from last year’s harvest (assuming there’s an energy surplus) it still balances out.

    So a cycle that produces an energy surplus will be carbon-neutral.

    As far as energy and cycles, as long as the fuel produced can provide more than enough energy to produce next year’s crop and process it into fuel (with the aid of the sun, of course, adding energy that is captured via photosynthesis), then it will work. Whether it will be cost-effective or produce enough energy to fuel the entire US automobile fleet is another issue, but the cycle will not be limited by the laws of physics, just the laws of good sense.

    Oh, screw it. Environmentalists are Nazis! There, is everybody happy?

  39. OK, I realize many of my arguments are poorly written.
    My appologies.
    Can I start over?

  40. Michael Pack-

    I haven’t said a word in favor of biofuels subsidies. I would rather wait on adopting biofuels until the marketplace produces efficient technologies that are profitable without subsidies. What I was critiquing was some misunderstandings about using energy to produce a crop, and whether burning a plant can ever release more CO2 than it took out of the air.

    If understanding energy and mass conservation makes me a socialist, well, I say “Scientists of the world unite!”

  41. Reinmoose-

    Yeah, I probably didn’t explain myself too well at times either. We’re cool.

    But Michael Pack is useless.

  42. The environmentalist boosters of biofuels and the nature conservationist wings of the environmentalist movement are now duking it out.

    Haahaa… I’ve been waiting for this to happen. Good post, Mr. Bailey.

    Throeau:

    fuel you’ll use next year will come from plants that take the current CO2 out of the atmosphere. It’s a cycle, so you (ideally) add nothing and subtract nothing.

    Ideally is the watch word here. The thing that I have never seen is a comprehensive study on how much C02 is used in the entire process. Crops are sewn and planted– x tons/pounds of co2 used to plant and sew them. x pounds/tons of Co2 is taken out of the atmosphere during the growth cycle. x pounds/tons of co2 is produced tending, caring and feeding crops. x pounds/tons of co2 are used to harvest, process and extract biofuels. x pounds/tons of co2 is used to move and transport biofuels to consumer stations.

    Is it a break even, net gain, or net loss of co2?

  43. The discussion about the cycle has been very helpful.

    I assumed there was no carbon benefit here because I was only thinking about the act of burning the fuel.

    i didn’t think about the fact that the plants are a carbon sink before you burn them.

  44. Now, you can talk about the CO2 emitted by the tractor and whatnot, but as long as that tractor was powered by fuel from last year’s harvest (assuming there’s an energy surplus) it still balances out.

    I think we’ve had this discussion before, on another thread… but is anyone producing ethanol with ethanol? And can you? Or does your output shrink every season? Windfarms: Can wind turbines, their care, their feeding, their manufacturing, plus the power produced to electrify the homes be produced with…wind power? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate test of the efficiency of an energy source?

  45. Paul –
    I think I get what thoreau is saying. If you use biofuels for every step of that process, then you are only spending your surpluss on tending to the crops/harvesting/processing/extracting/transporting.
    The problem with that, that I see, is I think it requires the biofuel in question to be the cheapest source of energy, and assumes that you could spend all this money for whatever surpluss is left and sell it at a reasonable enough price that people would buy it and you’d break even.

    Am I right?

  46. I’m sorry, I’m still in viability mode

  47. Paul-

    As long as all of the carbon in fuels, fertilizers, and other inputs to the process is ultimately derived from plants (or animals that eat plants) then it should be carbon-neutral. If anything, it might be slightly carbon negative if there are waste products that sit in the ground rather than degrading.

    Whether it will be cost-effective is a separate issue that depends on a lot of details. But the carbon neutrality just depends on whether the process (and all the inputs) can be done entirely from plants.

  48. Correction:

    Actually, you don’t need to get all your energy from plants for the process to be carbon-neutral. You could also get it from wind, solar, nuclear or other zero-carbon sources.

    The point is that if the only carbon you burn is stuff from plants, and you grow new plants to continue the process, it will be carbon neutral. Maybe even carbon negative, if there are waste products that sit in the ground and don’t decompose. (Or decompose so slowly that the carbon contribution takes decades or centuries to take effect.)

  49. Reinmoose-

    Yes, economic viability is another issue. Carbon neutrality is necessary for it to achieve what the environmentalists want to achieve, and economic viability is necessary for it to make sense. If technological innovation can achieve both, that would be a great thing.

    Of course, it might make some environmentalists happy, and we all hate environmentalists here. So that would be bad. Or something.

  50. thoreau | August 17, 2007, 12:08pm | #
    […]
    But Michael Pack is useless.

    Now there’s an understatement. In fact, since he emits CO2, he’s actually a drag for all macrobiotic, ecological models of living 🙂

    [ducks. runs off]
    (yoo da man, Doktor T!)

  51. thoreau,I sorry about the socilast lable.It just as it now stands the industry is fueled by goverment and cogressmen trying to get votes in the corn belt.I hope some of these fuels work and it will take a mixte of sources.Nothing would make me happier then seeing the despots in the middle east sitting on oil that has lost much of it’s value.

  52. I really can’t see how I didn’t see this difference before. I, like fluffy, was mostly thinking of the burning process initially. But fossil fuels are basically carbon, stored in the earth instead of being airborne.

  53. You know how some commenters freak out and wet the bed about “Radical Islam” and the flying imams and how it will lead to shari’a in America? Other folks have the same unfortunate tendency for any post reporting on anything remotely Green.

  54. Yea,I’m useless because I don’t like goverment subsidies and that’s what ethanol is buit on.I’m sorry I can’t bow down and be green while raping the taxpayer.

  55. Did an environmentalist beat you up or steal your girlfriend or something?

    thoreau, that was really uncalled for. As was Michael Pack’s “socialist” epithet (for which he has now apologized) aimed at you.

    “But Michael Pack is useless.” was also uncalled for.

    It seems to me that neither of you is reading the “nuances” of the other’s posts and are talking past each other.

    Hell, I might be a Civil Engineer, but you kids are really in trouble if you need a mean old bastard like me giving lectures in good manners.

  56. No, Michael Pack, you’re useless as a commenter because when somebody explains that the issue of carbon neutrality depends on the inputs and outputs of the process you accuse him of being a socialist. And you’re useless because when somebody discusses using the outputs of a process you rant about markets deciding.

    Nothing wrong with markets deciding things, and nothing wrong with only adopting technologies that are profitable without subsidies. But if a discussion of the technical issues makes you wet your bed and see socialist phantoms everywhere, then you are useless as a commenter.

    Nobody here has called for subsidies. Nobody here has even said that current biofuels (with or without subsidies) are the way to go.

  57. OK, maybe I did get a bit overheated. Sorry for the insults. They were unnecessary.

  58. thoreau:” | August 17, 2007, 11:24am | #
    Who needs to talk about energy density per acre or per gallon, and running a process on a cycle, when we can just remind ourselves how awful certain parts of the environmental movement are?

    No need to talk about technology and innovation when we can remind ourselves that those darn hippies are evil!”

    If you want to keep spinning the industrial wheels of the US to solve a problem that does not exist with a solution that is worse that the theoretical problem, knock yourself out. Just don’t expect everyone to get their groove on with your pipe dream.

  59. Sorry to interrupt your religious observance, Horst.

  60. sorry guys,I didn’t mean to insult any one or get off point.The posters on here seem to be for a market solution and so am I.Still you must admit that many are calling for solutions that require tax funded support and ingnoring things like nuclear power as Ron stated.

  61. On a slightly unrelated topic, though one that has been mentioned here, I really do enjoy the group mentality that is generated by these issues. Underlying motives come out all over the place and people get mad about policies not being implemented when they have no idea what those policies will actually do (see: Law of Unintended Consequences).

    Pro-environment people are generally all about CAFE standards, which would inevitably lead toward more expensive or less safe cars, and result in people driving more miles, increasing our dependency on roads… something else they typically don’t like. People tend to have conflicting beliefs, but they don’t know it. This is something I find to be tragic in the group mentality movement.

    On the flip side, many of the opposing people, who want their fossil fuels for all eternity forever and ever amen, also happen to support subsidy cuts. Meanwhile, if you cut subsidies to roads/air travel/fuel production, many of the fossil fuel related things they currently enjoy would have a really expensive sticker price and alternatives would be found.

    It’s really quite comical in a “the world is going down the crapper” sort of way.

  62. Our best hope has always been and always will be new technology and the creative use of old ones…

    …supercapacitors, algae bioreactors, nuclear energy, zero till–there’s hope.

    There’s always hope. When the icebergs melt and Statute of Liberty is up to its neck in sea water, there will still be hope. People will just lean to adjust. …and they’ll come to love that old song:

    When you walk through a storm
    Keep your chin up high
    And don’t be afraid of the dark.
    At he end of the storm
    Is a golden sky
    And the sweet silver song of a lark.

    Walk on through the wind,
    Walk on through the rain,
    Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.
    Walk on, walk on
    With hope in your heart
    And you’ll never walk alone.

  63. Ken:

    sung in the voice of Eddie the ship’s computer from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

  64. I think you’ve mostly worked out your differences, but if you re-read the thread, you’ll find thoreau is largely correct on the facts, and most people attempting to disagree appear to be inferring thoreau’s beliefs through their anti-environmentalist filters. Try a narrow reading of his assertions without those filters.

    Or, for another attempt at a explanation to Fluffy’s question (2nd post), plant to biofuel to carbon dioxide to plant is a closed system, so no new carbon enters the planet’s carbon cycle.

    Fossil fuel to carbon dioxide to plant is an open system, with new carbon inputs to the planet’s carbon cycle from sequestered sources of carbon (namely, fossil fuel reserves), which necessarily results in continuing carbon dioxide release to the atmosphere.

    Other issues of course play a role, as in energy density and efficiency and economic efficiency.

  65. As long as all of the carbon in fuels, fertilizers, and other inputs to the process is ultimately derived from plants (or animals that eat plants) then it should be carbon-neutral. If anything, it might be slightly carbon negative if there are waste products that sit in the ground rather than degrading.

    I see the fundamental logic there for expecting this to be possible, but details seem to be a problem. Even granting the sure-everything-can-come-from-biofuels premise, can any of the plants we’re talking about be shown to absorb over their lifetime a net amount of CO2 at least equal to the amount of CO2 produced by the production and consumption of the fuel that can be made from them?

  66. Thank you, innominate one. I was commenting on carbon neutrality, closed cycles, energy surpluses, energy densities, and things like that. I’m not interested in arguing for any of the unprofitable technologies out there currently. Rather, I’m talking about the basic scientific issues that will face anybody trying to innovate and design a new technology that is both profitable and environmentally friendly.

    Somehow, that got interpreted as a call for subsidies.

  67. can any of the plants we’re talking about be shown to absorb over their lifetime a net amount of CO2 at least equal to the amount of CO2 produced by the production and consumption of the fuel that can be made from them?

    Suppose that all of the energy used comes from burning biofuels. There’s no way that burning a plant can generate more carbon than the plant took out of the atmosphere. Agriculture ran this way until the advent of fossil fuel use, with grain serving as fuel for farmers and animals.

    Now, whether you can make economically viable fuels for vehicles from this process is another question. But there’s no way to turn 1 carbon atom into 2, short of some fancy nuclear physics trick that does NOT happen in plants.

  68. “sung in the voice of Eddie the ship’s computer from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?”

    I was thinkin’ more like this.

  69. I’m posting comment #69 in this thread. After all the crap I’ve taken, I’ve earned that right.

    🙂

  70. I have a question!
    Do plants obtain carbon from the soil as well as the air?

  71. Eric-the-half-a-bee, I think a more burning (ha!) issue, as some here have pointed out, is whether the usable energy in the form of the biofuel extracted from the plant will exceed the energy used to extract it (including cultivation and all the rest).

  72. Reinmoose:

    In general, no. A few plants are parasites on other plants or are otherwise heterotrophic (getting carbon compounds from organic sources), but the vast majority (all the photosynthesizers) are autotrophic, getting carbon by taking up carbon dioxide from the air (or water, for aquatic species) and “fixing” the carbon into organic compounds themselves.

  73. But there’s no way to turn 1 carbon atom into 2, short of some fancy nuclear physics trick that does NOT happen in plants.

    That’s exactly the logic I understand you to be using, Thoreau, but at least one detail is a problem – plants don’t pull all their carbon from the air, but get a portion from soil. That alone would make neutrality very questionable.

    Is there a botanist in the house who can dish on percentages? I can only find references to carbon intake from soil, not numbers or percentages.

  74. Reinmoose-

    I don’t know. Maybe some. But if so, that is also part of a cycle, ultimately. Otherwise plant life would not have been able to sustain itself on this planet, because it would have exhausted the carbon in the soil.

  75. If they do get carbon from soil, the only way it can be replenished is from the decay of plant life. The bottom line is that if you grow plants, burn most of them, use the rest as mulch for the soil, you’ll have a carbon-neutral process.

    It’s been working for a billion years, folks.

  76. So this whole thread is based on carbon reduction?The cost doesn’t matter.Most of the cure’s are worse then the disease.Small reductions in carbon and large one’s in living standards.Does anyone think Inda and China will sign on?That’s 2 billion people.Any solution without involving them is pie in the sky.Will they burn oil and coal still?If we are going to transform our energy sector we must include them.Maybe we will move to more costly fuel and let others reap the benefit of fossil fuels.That’s the problem with grand designs,they hit reality.

  77. I don’t know. Maybe some. But if so, that is also part of a cycle, ultimately. Otherwise plant life would not have been able to sustain itself on this planet, because it would have exhausted the carbon in the soil.

    Thoreau, the problem with this argument is that throughout the history of life on this planet, plants weren’t all burned. Even now, most plants are decomposed or eaten and shat back out by animals without all or most of their constituent carbon converted to atmospheric C02.

    That the biological carbon cycle has worked does not demonstrate that a grow-burn-grow cycle will be carbon neutral.

  78. Most of the cure’s are worse then the disease.Small reductions in carbon and large one’s in living standards.

    People in this thread have repeatedly talked about the need to come up with a cost-effective fuel that has a high energy density, and is renewable to boot. If it’s cost effective and energy-dense, then it won’t mean a change in lifestyle. If it’s renewable and doesn’t have to be imported from volatile Middle Eastern states then your quality of life will actually be protected against possible declines in supply or the effects of Middle Eastern politics.

    Would you care to read this thread, or would you rather argue against people who aren’t posting here?

  79. Any solution without involving them is pie in the sky.

    Maybe, but that’s another matter entirely and not relevant to what people are actually discussing.

    Also, spaces are nice.

  80. Thoreau, the problem with this argument is that throughout the history of life on this planet, plants weren’t all burned. Even now, most plants are decomposed or eaten and shat back out by animals without all or most of their constituent carbon converted to atmospheric C02.

    “Burning” an organic substance means that you react it with oxygen, releasing energy and CO2. In that sense, whether it’s burned in the mitochondria of an animal, decomposed by a bacterium in the soil, or reacted with oxygen in the engine of a car, it all amounts to the same thing from the perspective of a carbon balance.

    I don’t know how much CO2 has to be replenished into the soil. But I have a hunch that farmers know. Whatever isn’t converted to biodiesel, butanol (more energy-dense than ethanol) or whatever else can be used as mulch or some other type of fertilizer.

  81. EDIT: I don’t know how much carbon has to be returned to the soil.

    Most carbon returned to the soil by animals isn’t put there as CO2.

  82. I’m sorry ,cost and how it’s implemented doesn’t matter.Nor does the fact if we use less oil it becomes cheaper to the rest of the world due to our huge demand being lost.If you don’t sing with the choir you have no buisness here.Not all have talked about the need to reduce carbon.Some do not see a need at all.

  83. “Burning” an organic substance means that you react it with oxygen, releasing energy and CO2. In that sense, whether it’s burned in the mitochondria of an animal, decomposed by a bacterium in the soil, or reacted with oxygen in the engine of a car, it all amounts to the same thing from the perspective of a carbon balance.

    Correct…but if that carbon, say, gets incorporated into the structures of other living things (say, the bacteria decomposing it or the animals eating it), we’re talking about the parts of the carbon cycle where that carbon never gets into the atmosphere or affects climate change.

    You’re talking about a mini-carbon-cycle where the plants in question aren’t eaten or decomposed into soil (or otherwise have some portion of their carbon sinked), but burned. These are different things.

    That the natural carbon cycle works doesn’t prove the biofuels carbon cycle. I’m not saying the biofuels cycle can’t be proved, but that it actually has to be proved independently.

  84. Michael Pack, I know that some said I was being unfair to you, but I cannot figure out what your point is. You mostly just seem mad, and you want to treat anybody who discusses any technical aspect of biofuels as some sort of environmentalist loony, whether or not we actually area.

    I’ll leave you alone to argue with the strawmen in your head.

  85. By the way,tell me about that cost effective way being discussed.Ethanol is not one.

  86. I don’t see a choir, but I do see a guy yodeling during a jazz improv and wondering about the weird looks.

  87. Eric-

    If you raise the same number of plants every year, the only way to do it is to take the same amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year. And if you can power the tractors and refineries and whatever else without burning any fossil fuels, and if you can make fertilizer from plants or whatever else, then you aren’t adding any more CO2 to the atmosphere.

    Sometimes details matter. But sometimes it’s enough to step back and look at the big picture. The big picture is that if you grow the same number of plants every year, then no matter what you do with them, in the end you’ll have to take the same amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year. If you put that CO2 back, you aren’t adding anything new.

  88. Gee, Michael, where did I first read discouraging words about ethanol in this thread…Oh, yeah.

    The first comment in this thread, by Thoreau.

  89. I think it’s time to filter Michael Pack’s comments.

  90. Sometimes details matter. But sometimes it’s enough to step back and look at the big picture. The big picture is that if you grow the same number of plants every year, then no matter what you do with them, in the end you’ll have to take the same amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year. If you put that CO2 back, you aren’t adding anything new.

    If you put that same or lesser amount of C02 back into the atmosphere, sure. I just get this uneasy feeling of something-for-nothing that makes me want numbers for the possible areas of wiggle-room, like carbon intake from soil.

    I mean, for all I know, switching to biofuels could be a net carbon pull from the atmosphere. That or carbon-neutrality would be fine, excepting all other concerns. Even falling short of actual carbon neutrality would hardly be horrible (again, excepting all other concerns).

    I’m just leery of calling biofuels carbon-neutral when that just hasn’t been demonstrated.

  91. I’m not mad.I just don’t see a reliable source of bio fuel at this time.I would love to be wrong.Some time in the future I will be[hopefully].I just have this nasty habit of looking at cost and how some in goverment react.If the congress was as civil as this thread I might think otherwise.I also throw out the other side at times as a learning tool for myself.I leared much from thoreau.I never liked being in a group think situation .

  92. I just don’t see a reliable source of bio fuel at this time.

    There may not be one, and nobody here has claimed that one exists or is even known. The most hopeful person here has been Thoreau in suggesting that something other than corn-farmer-pushed ethanol might turn out to be practical.

  93. Eric-

    If there is significant carbon taken from the soil, that carbon has to be replaced. The only way to replace it would be with something like a mulch or fertilizer. This is what has happened with dead plants on land for a billion years, and I’m sure that the same could be done with a portion of the crop, or with some by-products left over after sugars, starches, and cellulose were converted to butanol or whatever.

    Michael Pack-

    I’m glad that you enjoyed this thread. But if nobody says that they want a biofuel subsidy, please don’t assume that discussions of carbon neutrality are calls for such a subsidy. That might be a warranted assumption on some other forums, but not here on Hit and Run.

  94. The most hopeful person here has been Thoreau in suggesting that something other than corn-farmer-pushed ethanol might turn out to be practical.

    Ken Shultz did say something about algae, and he’s expressed some interest in biofuels on other forums at other times. But nobody in his right mind could mistake Ken Shultz for a fan of subsidies.

  95. Personally, I don’t know how any of you guys interpreted thoreau’s comments as a call for subsidies.

    The economic question however, should be taken into account– to some degree. It’s difficult because of regulatory layers, but in a more pure context, it does count. If you look at all the energy inputs for a system that sends energy out, costs can be used as a factor to figure out if you’re efficient.

    Ie, if I produce wind power, but I had to spend $90,000,000 dollars in fossil fuels to build, manufacture, distribute, care and feed my wind farms, that’s what’s called an “economic signal” that wind power isn’t free. It’s also an environmental signal, if you will, that tells us that wind power may not be carbon neutral, or even carbon negative. This goes for ethanol as well. When a manufacturer can’t make his model work because he’s spending too much in other energy inputs, and calls for subsidies, therin lies the problem.

  96. If there is significant carbon taken from the soil, that carbon has to be replaced.

    EDIT: That carbon has to be replaced if you want to grow crops every year.

  97. I’m not mad.

    There’s a distinct tone of annoyance in your posts. I have found some of your posts more abrasive than necessary. And might I add, more abrasive than usual for you.

    I just don’t see a reliable source of bio fuel at this time.I would love to be wrong.Some time in the future I will be[hopefully].

    thoreau has just engaged in a theoretical discussion of technical aspects. Technical musings are not advocacy in and of themselves.

    Everything requires an analysis. After all, how are we to know if there’s a “a reliable source of bio fuel” out there if we don’t look at the merits once and awhile?

  98. As I’m reading Eric the .5b’s comments, I realize that he’s expressing more-or-less the concerns that I wanted to express at the beginning, but was not nearly so eloquent in my attempt.

  99. This is one of the reasons why I get so violently agitated by global warming environmentalist claptrap. Agricultural runnof is more of a concern than the potential for warming, fresh water depletion worldwide is a bigger problem and worldwide sewage treatment is a bigger problem still. Even in the US, we continue to spew billions and billions of sewage and fertilizer into our waterways. Any wonder why there are dead zones popping up in oceans?

    I suspect the real reason you get “violently agitated” is that you are filled with the same strange resentment towards strawman environmentalism that animates much knee-jerk anti-environmentalism. More simply, I suspect you’re just an asshole.

    I say this because none of the actual substance of what you’re saying is even remotely controversial in environmental circles. You could have cut and pasted it from Grist. But you go, girl! Get violently agitated!

    I know it’s not sexy, but these big ticket environmental impacts THAT ARE HERE AND NOW are being neglected because the environmentalists prefer to demonize corporations and the culture of consumption rather than real problems, journalists trained in socialist theory regurgitate their press releases with minimal verification and polititians afraid of leadership fall into the lemming line.

    Um, right. That’s why CEI is always carted in as the credible counterpoint to actual scientists when journalists need the quick opposing-viewpoint quote for their stories. Damn you, liberal media!

  100. Oh, and
    La dee dee, One two three
    A B C D E F G
    Fiddle De Dum, Fiddle Dee dee
    and all that jazz

  101. Reinmoose-

    Again, photosynthetic crop plants get almost all of their CO2 from the air, as I understand. Whatever they get from soil has to be replenished with fertilizers if you want to grow more crops next year. If the fertilizers are also derived from plants then it is carbon neutral.

    It’s how these cycles operated for a billion years.

  102. If I discuss the physics of fiber optic cables, does that mean I am glad the Internet was invented by Al Gore rather than a private inventor?

    (Yes, I know, he didn’t really invent it.)

  103. My bellybutton hurts.

  104. thoreau,I have no idea how you talk about carbon neutality without the cost and I’m not sure who you are to say what should be on hit and run.I don’t use vulgar or personal attacks as I’ve seen many times[but not by you I must say].The point of Ron’s article was bio-fuel would not be carbon neutral and growing forests are much more effective.Land use will also increase.

  105. One more thing: Ron Bailey started the thread by saying something nice about nuclear power. I understand that nuclear power is subsidized. Why no nasty comments on that?

  106. If there is significant carbon taken from the soil, that carbon has to be replaced. The only way to replace it would be with something like a mulch or fertilizer.

    And the majority of fertilizer used in this country is made from…? 🙂

    This is what has happened with dead plants on land for a billion years

    Thoreau, seriously – you can’t make huge assumptions about a cycle of agriculture, industrial processes, and pollution based on the billion years without agriculture and industrial processes.

    The claim of carbon neutrality can only be shown by comparing atmospheric CO2 taken in by a given biomass of plants used to the CO2 produced by burning the fuel produced from that biomass. Anything else is questionable.

    I don’t know what more I can add, so I won’t belabor the point.

  107. I agree with thoreau in that I don’t understand the point that Michael Pack is trying to make, but it’s not worth worrying about. He doesn’t seem to read other people’s posts (especially thoreau’s) without his red filters on.

    I don’t understand Eric’s point either, and I’m trying to. Where are you getting the idea that plants get carbon from the soil?

    Most fertilizers are N-P-K fertilizers: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. Not carbon.

  108. I have no idea how you talk about carbon neutality without the cost

    Because he’s talking about the question of carbon neutrality. Not whether biofuels are practical or cost-efficient or otherwise desirable, or whether biofuel research will result in carnivorous Triffids stalking the land.

    That said, I’m out.

  109. I might get wound a little but I won’t call anyone here and A**HOLE like some.

  110. I have no idea how you talk about carbon neutality without the cost

    The other day my wife took the car to the mechanic. First she asked which parts would be needed to make it work, i.e. she addressed the technical issue. Then she asked the price tag. See how that works?

    I’m not sure who you are to say what should be on hit and run

    I didn’t say what should be on Hit and Run. I said that most people here are NOT fans of subsidies, so don’t read a Hit and Run thread and assume that any discussion of biofuels is an implicit call for subsidies.

    As to the article’s point about carbon neutrality, my brief perusal indicates that they worry about the effects of clearing land to make room for agriculture. The annual cycle of growing and then burning would still be carbon neutral, but the initial clearing would not be. I was talking about the annual cycle.

    The initial clearing could be minimized if people develop ways to get the most energy per acre.

  111. This is like the time when I suggested that a tax might bite into a seller’s profits more than a buyer’s wallet, and got accused of liking taxes.

  112. Eric-

    For most of human history, agricultural fertilizers were made from plant and animal products, not fossil fuels. Note that I’m now making a comparison with thousands of years of agriculture, not with a billion years before agriculture.

    And, as I understand it, the vast majority of carbon used by photosynthetic crop plants comes from the air, not the soil. Whatever small amount they get from the soil could undoubtedly be replenished with waste products from the biofuels process.

  113. aw mah gawd, Doktor Thoreau. How kann you like zee karbon? yooo like tacksez. so there.

    DUNDEROOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

  114. I don’t understand Eric’s point either, and I’m trying to. Where are you getting the idea that plants get carbon from the soil?

    Googling “plants carbon uptake soil”, for one. Nothing I find suggest it’s a huge source of carbon for most plants, but that it’s a real one, especially for younger plants.

    Now I am out.

  115. Nuclear power is tightly regulated and I’m against subsidies for that also.It seems if you disagree with carbon saving your dismissed out of hand.I’m on the fence.I also know I don’t have the answers.

  116. Yes, Michael, but Ron Bailey didn’t say anything bad about regulations or subsidies in his post. He just said something positive about nuclear power. So obviously he must be a fan of regulations and subsidies, right?

  117. Well he does support carbon taxes.That aside I think he’s pointing out many want to jump to a unproven fuel and ignore a proven one.Gotta go,it’s been nice debating with you.Have a nice day.

  118. “Soil DIC contributed ~0.8% to whole- plant C gain…”

    OK, I see the red herring. DIC = dissolved inorganic carbon = carbon dioxide or bicarbonate ion or carbonate ion.

    It doesn’t matter whether plants get carbon dioxide from soil or atmosphere, since carbon dioxide can move between these two sources. Plants get carbon by removing carbon dioxide as a whole. They aren’t taking up organic carbon from the soil, which is what I thought you were implying, Eric.

  119. Adam: “| August 17, 2007, 2:28pm | #
    This is one of the reasons why I get so violently agitated by global warming environmentalist claptrap. Agricultural runnof is more of a concern than the potential for warming, fresh water depletion worldwide is a bigger problem and worldwide sewage treatment is a bigger problem still. Even in the US, we continue to spew billions and billions of sewage and fertilizer into our waterways. Any wonder why there are dead zones popping up in oceans?

    I suspect the real reason you get “violently agitated” is that you are filled with the same strange resentment towards strawman environmentalism that animates much knee-jerk anti-environmentalism. More simply, I suspect you’re just an asshole.

    I say this because none of the actual substance of what you’re saying is even remotely controversial in environmental circles. You could have cut and pasted it from Grist. But you go, girl! Get violently agitated!

    I know it’s not sexy, but these big ticket environmental impacts THAT ARE HERE AND NOW are being neglected because the environmentalists prefer to demonize corporations and the culture of consumption rather than real problems, journalists trained in socialist theory regurgitate their press releases with minimal verification and polititians afraid of leadership fall into the lemming line.

    Um, right. That’s why CEI is always carted in as the credible counterpoint to actual scientists when journalists need the quick opposing-viewpoint quote for their stories. Damn you, liberal media!”

    Sorry Adam, my opinions are based on 25-years of cleaning up the environment and developing clean and plentiful water resources. Guess what, I’m self employed and my clients willingly give me lots of money and bet their fortunes on property development based on my expertise.

    Are you a true libertarian who is self employed, or do you have an addled mind of a wage slave?

    I have no idea who Grist is, nor do I care. Perhaps when you see the environmental justice of inner city kids breathing smog choked air and Africans burning fires in unventilated houses maybe you will disabuse yourself of the feel good notions of the guilt-ridden dilettantes that you hew to.

  120. MOIKAL!!!!!!
    PECKER!!!!!

    Moikal Pecker is so darned dumb.

    HOW DUMB IS HE????

    He is so dumb, he thought “Carbon Dating” was an internet match-making service!

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Seriously, folks. He is such a retard!

    HOW RETARDED IS HE?

    He thought the Krebs Cycle was made by Schwinn

    HAHAHAHAHAHA.

    But, oh, you guys are the greatest. MOIKAL PECKER thinks a subsidy is a type of athletic supporter.

    HAHAHAHAHA.

    Thanks. You’ve been great. Give your waitress a tax break, and be sure not to exhale to increase the CO2 in the bajingajing.

    (oh and Horst Graben is a twaddlenock)

  121. I apologize for being away from the discussion so far today. I was finishing another article. This may be too late, but I have seen a number of reports that estimate the corn based ethanol nets only 15 to 20 percent of energy after fuel production costs are taken into account. Basically, a huge energy cost is distilling the alcohol from the water. Anyway, the only thing I could lay hands on with quick google search is this Oregon State U release describing such a study here.
    There are bunch more such studies. Note that the OSU study says that net energy balance for cellulosic ethanol is 84%. However, another new study finds that the capital costs of cellulosic ethanol means that there is no price advantage for it over corn-based.

    No simple solutions anywhere; vested interests everywhere.

  122. Ron:

    Thanks for those late links

    Awik: Thank you sir, may I have another?

  123. And on nuke power. It is subsidized. Let’s rid of all subsidies, but on a carbon tax and let the cheapest and most efficient power source win.

  124. that would be “put on a carbon tax”

  125. NO SECONDS, HORST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  126. Ron B:”And on nuke power. It is subsidized. Let’s rid of all subsidies, but on a carbon tax and let the cheapest and most efficient power source win.”

    Do you support a carbon tax on food as well due to the direct relationship to human respiration and farting?

    This is another major carbon pollution source that needs to be eliminated to save the world.

  127. “There is no research on butanol and various other organic compounds, since they have higher energy densities than ethanol.”

    Dr. T, of late there has been a fair bit of research into dimethylfuran as a gasoline substitute. The cal/mole looks to be a bit better than gasoline(!). A new industrial production technique looks feasable. Toxicity is being studied.

    And Micheal, this process is carbon neutral because the aforementioned moles use the excess carbon to line their nests, thus sequestering it in the ground.

  128. this process is carbon neutral because the aforementioned moles use the excess carbon to line their nests, thus sequestering it in the ground.

    Will these moles be subsidized?

  129. “Will these moles be subsidized?”

    Well, I heard that Avogadro supported Big Mole.

  130. Well, I heard that Avogadro supported Big Mole.

    Cool! Do you happen to have his number?

  131. joules/mole? instead of cal (kcal)???

  132. “joules/mole? ”

    Work with me here, Urk. Moles need calories. It’s all good.

    Suppose I could have used BTUs…

  133. “Cool! Do you happen to have his number?”

    Yeah, right here on this wall, let’s see, umm, 867-5309.

  134. “It is subsidized. Let’s rid of all subsidies, put on a carbon tax and let the cheapest and most efficient power source win.”

    That makes a ton of sense. I’m not sure how we’d enforce something like that in India or China, but it makes a ton of sense.

    …throw it into a grand proposal to replace the income tax, and I’ll vote for Bailey for President!

  135. Hi Ron,

    And on nuke power. It is subsidized. Let’s rid of all subsidies, but (put) on a carbon tax and let the cheapest and most efficient power source win.

    No, no! Bad idea! Bad idea!

    Well, the first part is good, but the carbon tax is bad. Here is a partial list of why a carbon tax is a bad idea:

    1) The NET damage from carbon dioxide emissions, worldwide, is absolutely trivial. In fact, a very strong case could be made that the NET worldwide effect of warming from the 1880s to 2007 has actually been positive. Of course some people are being damaged…but others are benefiting. For example, ski slope operators may suffer, but summer resort and water park operators may get a few additional weeks in the season. And carbon dioxide is great for growing crops. Carbon dioxide is not like carbon monoxide…CO2 is not something that only has essentially only harmful effects, and no helpful effects.

    2) Further, a reasonable case could be made that the NET effect of even another 1 or even 2 degrees Celsius of global average temperature rise would still be positive. It’s only if you start getting above 2 degrees Celsius additional rise above the present temperature that you start getting into unquestionably negative net effects.

    3) Because the unquestionably negative net effects only happen beyond 2050 (or even 2100) you need to discount heavily for the fact that those people will be immensely better off than we are, with capabilities probably beyond anything we can imagine. So you’re taxing the poor and less-well-off, for the benefit of the richer and better-off. That’s downright immoral.

    4) And you also need to discount for the fact that the world has plenty of real problems that exist right now. Global warming is not a problem that exists right now. As I wrote, the world is probably actually better off *in net* from the warming we’ve had since the late 1800s.

    5) Because the NET damage from carbon dioxide emissions are so trivially small, there’s no way you can have a tax that is less than or equal to the damages, and still have any effect on people’s behavior.

    6) Even if you had an effect on people’s behavior in the U.S., it wouldn’t have any effect on people’s behavior in China, India, Russia, and everywhere else. You’d need a worldwide tax. That is NOT going to happen. The Chinese, Indian, Russian, and other governments are not that stupid.

    If you want to solve the global warming “problem,” the way to do it is to develop new energy technologies that people want because they’re BETTER. Things like:

    1) Fusion. If that is developed to commercially competitive with coal-fired electricity, the game is over. All our energy problems are solved. Simply stopping funding on the ITER (International Tokamak Experimental Reactor) and dropping the money into technology prizes for other fusion technologies could very well bring forth commercial fusion. And if it DIDN’T, the money wouldn’t be spent.

    2) If fusion doesn’t work…

    3) New battery technologies (or super capacitors). The U.S. government currently spends something like $65 million a year on battery research…while spending billions on ethanol subsidies.

    4) Biodiesel from algae.

    5) Photovoltaics. Again, the federal government spends something like $70 million a year on photovoltaics. If we tripled that spending for a decade, and spent it carefully (e.g. with technology prizes), it’s quite possible that photovoltaics would be competitive with grid power, at least in the U.S. southwest and southeast.

    6) Methane hydrates. This would not necessarily “solve” the global warming “problem,” but estimates of the amount of methane in hydrates worldwide is 400 MILLION trillion cubic feet. That’s 1 MILLION years of the entire world’s present energy consumption. Again, go with technology prizes, not direct funding of research.

    I think you’re very wrong on the carbon tax. (I also think you’re wrong on global warming. It’s not a legitimate problem, given all the other problems of the world at present.)

    Best wishes,
    Mark

  136. Mark:
    “the way to do it is to develop new energy technologies that people want because they’re BETTER”
    but
    “Even if you had an effect on people’s behavior in the U.S., it wouldn’t have any effect on people’s behavior in China, India, Russia, and everywhere else. You’d need a worldwide tax. That is NOT going to happen. The Chinese, Indian, Russian, and other governments are not that stupid.”

    And what exactly would create the incentives for the new technologies, other than price mechanisms that do not reflect any climate change damage or risk?

    You are right that we need to cut a deal with other governments. Since developed countries are responsible for the current levels of GHGs, who’s to say that part of such a deal would be for us to start on carbon taxes first, snd to have them take effect elsewhere when certain GDP triggers are reached?

    There is no need to reach a deal with everyone simultaneously. And starting to price carbon at home, if in the form of taxes that replace income taxes, would actually be an improvement. Taxes could also fund your prizes and adaptation needs in poorer countries.

    TT

  137. Ron, one of the reasons that “environmentalist boosters of biofuels and the nature conservationist wings of the environmentalist movement are now duking it out” is a rather sad one that should be apparent to you – the forests that are most valuable for CO2 are tropical forests, which are being converted to economic use largely illegally, by elites who don’t care about the rights of traditional native holders. The preferable answer is in protecting local property rights and ending government kleptocracy, but perhaps restrictions on imports from certain countries might still be effective.

    Temperate forests (especially the monocultures) are not as valuable, and conversion to biofuels would bring helpful albedo changes (dark to light).

    TT

  138. Tom,

    I don’t understand your comments. Do you think the following statements of mine are somehow incompatible?

    “the way to do it is to develop new energy technologies that people want because they’re BETTER”

    and

    “Even if you had an effect on people’s behavior in the U.S., it wouldn’t have any effect on people’s behavior in China, India, Russia, and everywhere else. You’d need a worldwide tax. That is NOT going to happen. The Chinese, Indian, Russian, and other governments are not that stupid.”

    ???

    Those statements are in no way incompatible. I’m saying that if new energy technologies are developed that are better, there is no need to tax people to change their behavior. People in China, India, Russia, etc. will use the new technologies because the new technologies are better. There will be no need to try to convince the governments of China, India, Russia, etc. to tax their citizens to switch to lower-emitting (but more expensive) technologies.

    You go on to write:

    You are right that we need to cut a deal with other governments.

    But I said nothing of the sort! In fact, I explicitly REJECTED the idea of trying to force (or “deal”) with other governments.

    Since developed countries are responsible for the current levels of GHGs, who’s to say that part of such a deal would be for us to start on carbon taxes first, snd to have them take effect elsewhere when certain GDP triggers are reached?

    Again, this is simply ridiculously complicated and intrusive government meddling. If people have BETTER technologies that also happen to reduce CO2 emissions, they will use them. If they do NOT have those better technologies, there simply isn’t a compelling case to be made that poorer countries will ever agree to tax their citizens for the hypothetical benefit of the wealthier, better-off people of the future.

    Taxes could also fund your prizes and adaptation needs in poorer countries.

    If my fusion technology prizes were successful (i.e., collected in full, resulting in the commercialization of fusion) there would be no need to tax anyone. The world would switch to fusion because it’s BETTER from a whole lot of other standpoints. The fact that there are no CO2 emissions from fusion would simply be a bonus.

    The taxes proposed by William Nordhaus have a net present cost of more than $2.2 TRILLION dollars:

    https://www.reason.com/news/show/121926.html

    I’m saying that if technology prizes for fusion are successful (i.e. the prizes are collected, and the technology becomes commercial) the cost would be approximately **one-thousandth** of the cost of taxes proposed by Nordhaus. That is, the fusion techology prizes I’m advocating are on the order of $2.2 BILLION, as compared to the recommended taxes by Nordhaus of $2.2 TRILLION.

    There is no need to fund the fusion prizes I advocate by placing taxes on carbon emissions. The funding for the fusion prizes I advocate could be obtained simply by stopping U.S. funding for the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER), and placing that money in a fusion prize fund. (And if no one can develop the technologies that meet the prize requirements, the cost is ZERO.)

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