'Food or Fuel'? You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

     Global warming must already have fried our brains. George Bush and the Congress can’t wait to pour more subsidies into corn ethanol. Indonesia is clearing tropical forest to grow palm oil for Europe’s diesel engines. Canada is about to build the world’s biggest biofuels plant – 300 million gallons per year – to burn up valuable foodstuffs like wheat and oilseeds.  

     Land is the scarcest environmental resource in the world. We need all the good land to feed people and all the poor land as wildlife habitat. Additionally, biofuels are a terribly inefficient use of land.

     In the United States, corn ethanol produces only about 50 gallons’ worth of gasoline per acre per year – and Americans use more than 134 billion gallons of gas per year. We’d have to clear another 250 million acres of Midwest forest to supply even 10 percent of our auto fuel demand.

     That would drastically displace bird and wildlife populations, while the soil erosion potential from deforestation in the Ozarks could threaten another Dust Bowl. Plus, the next big drought or crop disease epidemic could put food prices through the roof, pitting food needs against fuel and forcing famine onto poor countries. Mexico already has already a tortilla crisis because world corn prices have risen from $2 to $4 per bushel – and the potential is for $6 corn.

     For 50,000 years, humanity could feed itself only by exploiting wildlife. We hunted species to extinction or cleared wild habitats for low-yield farming. Finally, in the 1960s, we tripled global crop yields with plant breeding, nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides.

     The world is now feeding more than 6 billion people from essentially the same cropland that was inadequate to feed 2.5 billion in 1950.

     The U.S. has more than its share of the good land and some of the best farming technology, so we export corn, soybeans and meat to densely populated Asian countries helping protect wildlife in the species-rich tropics.  

     With genetic engineering, the world should be able to double crop yields again by 2050 to feed high-quality diets to 8 billion affluent people and their pets – unless we waste the world’s scarce cropland on biofuels. Unfortunately, the same eco-activists who urge us to give up fossil fuels to “save the planet” are now urging us to produce biofuels and oppose biotech.   

     Publicly, the green groups are dedicated to protecting wildlife, and raise money under that banner; but the palm oil push is destroying Asian tropical forest – habitat for the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger, and an endangered primate, the orangutan. Why not build passively-safe nuclear power plants and reprocess the fuel?  That wouldn’t require any of the scarce land.

     Or the greens could finally admit that our global warming isn’t really a crisis. Nearly 70 percent of the planet’s recent moderate warming occurred before 1940. That can’t be blamed on human-emitted CO2. The pre-1940 warming was caused by a moderate, natural, solar-linked 1,500-year climate cycle, which has been reported in more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific studies.

     The cycle’s evidence has been found all over the world in the past 25 years – in ice cores, tree rings, cave stalagmites and fossil pollen. The planet has been through the Medieval Warming (950 to 1300 AD), the Roman Warming (200 BC to 600 AD), the Holocene Warming 5,000 years ago, and at least 500 warmings before that.

     The earth’s net warming since 1940 is a puny 0.2 degrees Celsius.  Perhaps half of that, 0.1 degree C, can be blamed on humans. Meanwhile, under the laws of physics, the climate impact of the CO2 has been declining geometrically. The first 40 parts per million of CO2 emitted in the 1940s had as much climate-changing power as the next 360 ppm. Today’s weakened CO2 can’t melt the Antarctic ice.

     Until we develop technology that can truly replace fossil fuels, we can get massive amounts of energy from nearby, stable Alberta, Canada. Its Athabasca tar sands have 2.5 trillion barrels of heavy oil – ten times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. With steam injection, the tar sands are now producing oil for less than $30 per barrel. We could build Alberta a pipeline to bring the oil 400 miles to Montana.

     Especially if the alternative is to clear all our forests, destroy our wild species and sacrifice our own food supply to “save the planet” Al Gore’s way.

 DENNIS T. AVERY was a senior food policy analyst for the U.S. State Department, where he won the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement.He is the co-author, with atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, of the book, Unstoppable Global Warming—Every 1500 Years, available from Rowman & Littlefield. He also serves as a guest columnist for the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.

Readers may write him at the Center for Global Food Issues (http://www.cgfi.org/) P.O. Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.