April 7, 2007

Alternative Energy Hurts The Poor?

Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have joined in criticizing the United States for its efforts to find alternative fuel sources. They claim that ethanol and other biofuel technologies take food out of the mouths of the poor:

Cuba and Venezuela have launched an offensive against biofuels, warning that the US-backed rush towards ethanol will worsen global hunger and poverty.

Fidel Castro has written two newspaper articles in a week voicing alarm at the prospect of countries boosting sugar and corn crops to make ethanol, a fuel that can be used an additive or a substitute for petrol.

By diverting crops to feed cars rather than people, the price of food would rise and the world's poor would go hungry, Mr Castro wrote in the Communist party's official newspaper, Granma. ...

Mr Castro's ally, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, also attacked biofuels in a sharp U-turn that put the two leaders shoulder to shoulder against Brazil and the US, the two big ethanol champions.

The two socialists had at one time favored ethanol and biofuels. They had even planned joint production plants with Brazil, whom they condemn in their latest statement. That changed when Bush started endorsing biofuels last month, especially as a method of reducing American dependency on foreign energy sources. That apparently changed the mind of Chavez, who sells the US a large chunk of its oil production each year.

The two aren't alone in their criticism, however. Many environmentalists fear the impact of biofuels on agrarian landscapes as more land gets devoted to a narrower number of crops. Since the same crops feed livestock and create ethanol, the increased demand for the produce will probably raise the price of meat. Increaded need for irrigation could also stress clean-water supplies. However, when The Economist partially endorsed Catro's criticism, they bought into his scare tactics as well -- like claiming that 3 billion people would die of thirst from ethanol production.

It's odd how their enthusiasm for making money off of biofuels never considered its effect on the poor until George Bush found the potential as lucrative as Venezuela and Cuba. Three billion dead people never entered into their calculations then. The reversal demonstrates the depthless, knee-jerk anti-Americanism of Latin America's two old-school socialists.

UPDATE: Maybe Castro and Chavez should focus more on khat production as a threat to drinking water supplies:

Sitting high up in the rocky mountains of northern Yemen, the country's capital Sanaa is finding that its dwindling water supply may not be able to sustain the ancient settlement. ...

The country imports most of its food, largely because it has too little water to feed itself. Yemenis have about one-fiftieth as much water per head as the world average.

And, to confound confusion, insupportably large amounts of water go on a non-essential crop - khat. ...

Moralising apart, khat is having a baleful effect on Yemen. Of the country's scarce water, 40% goes on irrigating khat - and khat cultivation is increasing by 10% to 15% a year.

I can hardly contain my anticipation while waiting for the socialists of Latin America to scold Yemen for its khat production.


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» So much Hot Air from Don Surber
Ed Morrissey wrote about Castro dissing American ethanol efforts as harming the poor. I wrote about this last month: Castro is sorta right. He is full of beans on it harming the poor. Still, sugar ethanol, si. Grain ethanol, no. That corn should be u... [Read More]

Comments (10)

Posted by Neo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 9:50 AM

I can't wait to find out how hybrid cars hurt the world's poor as well.

Posted by Wilf [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 10:03 AM

The notion of 3 billion people dying from thirst because of ethanol production is wonderfully silly, but then again, at least according to our supreme court, that would result in a substantial reduction in that horrendous pollutant, carbon dioxide. Just think, three billion folk not exhaling carbon dioxide every three or so seconds, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Why, that would almost guarantee an ice age, wouldn't it?

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 10:05 AM

If Hugo Chavez, and the rest of his anti-American oil-producer friends, like Ahmadinejad, would quit the outrageous slander and threats against America, then maybe Americans wouldn't be as eager to exploit the alternative sources.

Posted by SDN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 11:01 AM

Actually, they're right, though not for the reason they claim. The problem is that Congress has mandated ethanol for American fuel and then restricted it, effectively, to ethanol made from corn. This has resulted in diverting a huge chunk of the US corn crop, making it unavailable for export to poor countries overseas. For example, the price of tortillas in Mexico has gone up 30%+. Government: the only law they'll always obey is the law of unintended consequences.

Posted by AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 1:51 PM

I had written to the President and my representatives in early February of this year that our use of corn to produce alcohol for ethanol, E-10 (the environment polluting MTBE replacement as an oxidant to reduce NOX) and E-85, had increased by 3 fold the price of corn products in Mexico and to expect criticism in the near future. I saw this price increase in January when I was in Baja, Mexico. My taxi drivers confirmed it and local papers reported it. This is a major problem in Mexico with many earning less than $5.00 US per day. It took longer than I expected for the story to be picked up by the US media; of course, when Castro and Chavez talk about it, our media leaps to cover it. To complicate matters, as mandated by Congress, our government still pays Americans to keep land out of cultivation; such stupidity. Are our Congress and Dept of Agriculture so blind that they could not foresee this problem developing in Mexico and understand that and other unintended consequences of placing such a high demand on corn?

I have been writing for over 17 years to have America duplicate Brazil’s effort which began on their part in the late 1970’s. Finally it is happening, but there is another problem of ethanol that has received little coverage and American will begin to see. Older vehicles have dirty fuel tanks and gas lines. The alcohol in E-10 cleans these components and deposits the material in the gas line filter. It is usually not noticed during normal driving, but when one rapidly accelerates, such as passing on a country road, the engine can be starved of fuel. I experience that in the 1980’s when many areas were experimenting with 10% alcohol in gasoline. Also in boats the alcohol may attack the plastic/fiberglass fuel tanks. Additionally from the Coast Guard, mixing MTBE gasoline with E10 will cause a jell-like substance to form, which will clog filters and worse in boats. http://cgauxsurfaceops.us/E10.htm. I have written about this problem to the DOT which has never responded to me. Also I have yet to see any warnings about this on gas pumps or in the MSM. But maybe I have just missed them.

Posted by ExRat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 1:52 PM

Peter Huber, in his book 'Hard Green", makes the point that environmentalists are now making about ethanol production and diverting cropland. He also observes that the environmental movement always supports energy sources that are not currently in use, and then opposes them when they are used. It has happened with wind power, and will probably happen with ethanol, not to mention geothermal and solar, if and as they become common enough to come under the magnifying glass of what I would call the "environmental religionists."

Posted by dave [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 4:32 PM

“The Economist partially endorsed Catro's criticism, they bought into his scare tactics as well -- like claiming that 3 billion people would die of thirst from ethanol production.” -Captain

Castro did NOT claim “…that 3 billion people would die of thirst from ethanol production.” This is what he said:

“More than three billion people in the world are being condemned to a premature death from hunger and thirst. It is not an exaggeration; this is rather a conservative figure. I have meditated for quite a long time on that after the meeting held by President Bush with the US automakers.”


After this quote he goes into the issue of ethanol as a fuel source. So what Castro did was state the magnitude of the hunger and thirst problem in the world, and then he talked about the ethanol issue. He did not in any way imply that turning to ethanol production would cause 3 billion people to die, but merely that policies such as the use of ethanol for fuel have an impact on the hungry in the world. This is correct, and Castro stated it accurately. The Captain did not.

“They had even planned joint production plants with Brazil, whom they condemn in their latest statement. That changed when Bush started endorsing biofuels last month…” –Captain

Up until 2005 Venezuela was still using leaded gas. At that point they finally switched to unleaded, and the reason they were talking about ethanol production with Brazil (and why they started importing it from Brazil), was to use it as an ADDITIVE for gasoline:

“Brazilian energy giant Petrobras made its first shipment of fuel alcohol this week. The first shipment of anhydrous alcohol left on Monday (25 July) from Rio de Janeiro on board the tanker Nara destined for Venezuela. The company's contract with the government of Venezuela is still being negotiated and forecasts, initially, monthly shipments of about 25,000 cu.m of the fuel.
The operation is the result of a memorandum of understanding signed in February, during a visit by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. The objective of the document is cooperation in the implementation of a programme for addition of ethanol to petrol. In Venezuela, a new law determines the end of the use of Tetra-ethyl lead in the mixture up to August. Initially, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) will add 8 per cent alcohol to petrol in the eastern region of the country. After an adequate period, the fuel may be used in the rest of the country at a 10% mixture.”
BBC Monitoring International Reports
July 30, 2005

See the PDVSA announcement here:

Using ethanol as an additive to gasoline in order to replace lead is a very different issue than using pure ethanol as a fuel. Chavez and Castro did not change their stance on anything.

Posted by Abdul Abulbul Amir [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 12:00 AM

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Turning high grade food into low grade motor fuel is silly.

Converting nearly all the farmland in the country to making motor fuel is NUTS!

Posted by The Yell [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 8:29 AM

Since when have we farmed anything like 100% of our arable soil? If the availability of corn takes a serious hit we can always plant more. Alaska could probably provide a few million acres for at least one season a year.

Posted by dave [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 4:01 PM

The Yell:
"Alaska could probably provide a few million acres for at least one season a year."

I don't think you can find 3 million acres of land in Alaska suitable for corn production, but let's assume you did. Let's also assume that you can get the same corn yield in Alaska that you do in the Midwest. Would this extra corn make a difference?

There are 2.471 hectares in an acre.

The corn yield in the US is 8.98 metric tons per hectare:

There are 0.91 metric tons in a US ton.

One ton of corn provides 109 gallons of ethanol (from my link above).

The US uses 364.5 million gallons of gasoline per day:

So if you do the math, planting corn on 3 million acres of primo Alaskan corn growing land will provide enough ethanol to last 3 and a half days (after we get everyone in the nation to buy a car capable of burning pure ethanol). I don't think that's the answer to our fuel problems.