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Tilting at Windmills

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April 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA IN THE CORNFIELDS....Can Barack Obama win in Iowa even if he doesn't pick up very many local endorsements? Mark Kleiman crunches the numbers and says it's doable with a well-funded ground campaign:

Last time around, 125,000 Democrats turned out for the Iowa caucuses....So a candidate who turns out 100,000 of his own supporters is going to blow the field away....An organizer hired for the last two weeks before the caucuses ought to be able to round up 50 attendees. So 2,000 organizers ought to be able to turn out those 100,000 voters.

Let's say a field organizer has to be paid $750/week, which might be on the high side. Then 2000 organizers for two weeks would cost $3 million. [Blah blah blah.] So it looks to me as if the whole thing could be done for $6 million. At the fund-raising levels now being established, that's chump change.

Now, as Mark points out, if everyone else has astronomic amounts of money too, then maybe 100,000 supporters won't be enough in 2008. But I think there's something more fundamental here: all the money in the world isn't going to raise total turnout all that significantly. At least, it hasn't in the past. So what's more likely is that total turnout will remain at around 125,000, or maybe increase modestly to 150,000 or so, and the candidates will simply be spending more money per vote. And as Howard Dean discovered in Iowa last year, there's a limit to what money and sheer numbers of ground troops can do. Ringing someone's doorbell five times just isn't going to do any good if you haven't been able to make the sale after ringing it twice. And running ads ten times a night buys you barely more than running them five times a night. Once you saturate a market, there's nothing more that money can buy.

In any case, I doubt Obama will try to win Iowa with huge wads of cash anyway. He'll save it for places like California and New York. In fact, if anything, I'd guess that Obama's experience in community organizing is his biggest asset in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. It's nice to have money, but knowing — really knowing — how to motivate and organize your organizers is probably even more important.

Plus ethanol. Don't forget about ethanol.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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Posted by: Rectuma on April 5, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum: Plus ethanol. Don't forget about ethanol.

Yup, a handout for corn farmers and various other politically influential parties. Sounds like an Obama style domestic policy - straight from the bad old days of Democratic policies. On the plus side he did oppose the Iraq fiasco from the start, so he's better than Hillary.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Just how many senators from the Midwest forget about ethanol?

Exactly.

Posted by: danimal on April 5, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

The more I hear about Obama, the less enthousiastic I become. He seems ever more like regular politician hedging his bets without the benefit of having a lot of experience.

I've always been partical to Hillery, But I could be enthousiastic about Dodd or Richardson. But Obama is quickly reaching Biden status. Not good.

Edwards isn't for me, but at least he seems to a genuine populist. I wouldn't vote for him in the primary (if I was allowed to vote in an USA election that is) but I could see why people whould.

Posted by: Ernst on April 5, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

People talk about Obama's community organizing experience like it's a spell in his bag of wizard tricks. It doesn't mean he's more or less likely to win caucuses - it's a part of his life that's shaped him into the consensus builder that he is today.

Posted by: clark on April 5, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget geography: Obama has a strong and deep base of support where? In neighboring Illinois. He's got plenty of shock troopers who can just have a day trip in the cornfields pushing the Obama candidacy. So while he can establish a strong local base as an organizer, he can also very easily tap his already established Illinois base.

as for Alex's comments,
As if all the Republican candidates won't be pandering to the Iowa corn farmers. It's an American candidate right of passage. Besides, sweet talking the corn boys is one thing, it's what you do in office. Last I checked, it was the GOP Congress and Bush that enacted the most massive farm subsidies ever to bribe folks in preparation for the '04 election. Part and parcel of the bad current days of the GOP mismanagement of the American government.

Posted by: agorabum on April 5, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Remember last time around. The Dean campaign flooded Iowa with out-of-state volunteers, and I think it backfired. Also, the Gephardt and Dean campaigns spent all their time attacking each other, doing damage to both campaigns. Kerry won with the organization he'd built in-state, and that's the area where Edwards is now ahead.

I wonder if any presidential candidate will have the guts to say that corn-based ethanol might be OK as a stopgap measure but it's a poor idea long-term, and there are much better crops to use, as the Brazilians are demonstrating.

Posted by: Joe Buck on April 5, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is the corporate (ADM) ethanol candidate. But winning in Iowa is about disciplined party organization, which is why Dean had trouble there.

The caucus is an interesting way to poll for the party presidential candidate. The participant has to physically go to a an assembly and present their choice with a show of hand. The participant subjects themselves to lots of peer pressure in this system. This peer pressure can have many consequences, and I think influences some party members to not participate or to vote for the candidate that is the least controversial or politically dominant in their area. Voting against the mainstream or dominant political coalition can be used to discriminate against the individual in the community long after the elections are decided.

Posted by: Brojo on April 5, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

My $.02: Obama's not one of the same old faces, and that's going to be the most crucial aspect, psychologically, in the current, overly warm climate. And I'm starting to feel that only Edwards can survive previous association with the DNC, as he is not widely blamed for Kerry's quasi-defeat.

Posted by: Kenji on April 5, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's rising fortunes depress me. He'd probably make an okay prez, and so would Hillary. I don't think either of them can win in a general. (I slightly prefer Hillary, but both are suck-ups to the neo-cons). I'd probably have to go with Edwards, even though his folksy schtick is annoying. (And I'm from a small town in the south myself).

Posted by: luci on April 5, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Democratic candidates? I like 'em all. It's a very good year.

Posted by: anonymous on April 5, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

What gets lost in all this talk of fund-raising and whatnot (with the unspoken assumption that the candidate with the most money will garner the most votes). Stop focusing on the money and let's talk about ideas, please.

Posted by: JB on April 5, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Let's thank those 125,000 Democrats for saving John Kerry's bacon and giving Democrats the worse possible candidate last year. Great job Iowa. Great fuckin' job.

Posted by: DoubleB on April 5, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'm counting on Obama and Hillary to make eachother unviable candidates, so someone more serious like Richardson can step up to the plate.

Here's the rules: There ARE no rules! Karl Rove saw to that!
Let's have a nice, dirty fight.
Let the hair-pulling and underwear wedgies begin! The more cameras, the better!

Posted by: Extradite Rumsfeld on April 5, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

gee, i didn't know we had a presidential election last year. must have slept through it.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on April 5, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'm counting on Obama and Hillary to make eachother unviable candidates, so someone more serious like Richardson can step up to the plate.

Somehow I have a feeling that that may indeed happen.

I'm intrigued by Richardson, but I gather he does have some baggage to deal with.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 5, 2007 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, I'd like someone to wish the Republicans into the cornfield.

Posted by: anon on April 5, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Obama doesn't seem to do well outside of his base of support - educated, white, urban, sophisticated and he doesn't seem to be able to relate well to working class people or rural or suburban voters. He really bombed trying to talk to the Firefighters union. Obama screams metrosexual. Like posterboy for metrosexual. He also doesn't hold up when he faces serious questioning. He bombed on his first MTP. He's trying to play the corporate game and pretend to be progressive at the same time. Maybe empty rhetoric and lots of cash will work in CA or NY but probably not likely in Iowa.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 5, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Our elections, whether primary or general, are not decided by money, ideas, charisma, eloquence, or organization - past a certain threshold, all serious candidates are more or less equally matched - but by mistakes. Through mistakes Gore lost to Bush, through mistakes Dean lost to Kerry, through mistakes the Republican party lost the recent midterm elections, and through mistakes McCain is currently drifting off into irrelevance. I don't like HRC, but I fear she is the least mistake-prone of the three major Dems now. Obama and/or Edwards will have to execute almost perfect campaigns to 'unseat' her from the nomination.

Posted by: lampwick on April 5, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Last time around, 125,000 Democrats turned out for the Iowa caucuses....So a candidate who turns out 100,000 of his own supporters is going to blow the field away....An organizer hired for the last two weeks before the caucuses ought to be able to round up 50 attendees. So 2,000 organizers ought to be able to turn out those 100,000 voters."

That's nonsense, becasue it assumes that there is an unlimted supply of Obama voters out there in Iowa, who only need to be rounded up 50 at a time by paid orgainizers and sent to caucuses.

Posted by: rea on April 5, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

> Plus ethanol. Don't forget about ethanol.

Gotta love ethanol: just as our civilization is collapsing from lack of oil (well, lack of foresight as expressed in lack of oil), we will destroy all our cropland in a desperate attempt to keep the Chevy Suburbans and Hummer H3s running. Then we will starve to death in the cold and dark.

Yup, gotta love ethanol.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on April 5, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

> he doesn't seem to be able to relate
> well to working class people or rural

My experience in central Illinois during the Senate campaign does not bear this out: a heck of a lot more rural people than I would have thought said they liked Obama (in informal settings). Admittedly Obama was a church-goin' guy running against a Republican sex fiend, but then again Obama is.... a church-goin' guy. And the election totals proved that they were willing to vote for him under the right circumstances.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on April 5, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol? Someone has to explain to me the ethical justification for burning food to power our SUVs (or even our hybrids) in a world where so many people are hungry.

Plus, it is a big win for ADM and, short-term, for some farmers. Long-term, for the land, and for the farmes' descendants, probably not so. And I think it takes something like two calories of petroleum energy to make three calories of ethanol energy. Plus, there are all the other environmental problems that accompany that sort of intensive agriculture. I'm not against renewable energy sources -- I just don't think ethanol is one of them.

In a previous thread, someone tried to connect the "Ethanol-as-scam" notion to Larouche. I don't know what Larouche says about ethanol, and don't much care. But even a broken clock is right twice a day -- well, an analog clock, anyway -- so the simple fact that Larouche says something doesn't automatically make it false.

Posted by: thersites on April 5, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky, no matter how many times Obama goes to church, he's still Mr. Metrosexual, and against a disastrous opponent he may have appeared acceptable but not desirable.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 5, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

People, don't get obsessed over ethanol. Environmentalists are a big voting bloc in Democratic primaries in Iowa, and they are not happy about the ethanol industry. It's bad for the water quality, and it will lead to more big hog lots.

Environmentalists want to hear about wind, solar, and other truly renewable fuels.

Obama will have a volunteer army here and could conceivably win the caucuses. I think Edwards has the edge, but it will be a dogfight. I expect Hillary to finish a distant third behind Edwards and Obama.

Posted by: desmoinesdem on April 5, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'd guess that Obama's experience in community organizing is his biggest asset in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

That and he makes excellent speeches and a very good impression in person.

About ethanol: he's from another corn state and he did not have to change his opinion on ethanol, as Sen. Clinton did, when he started campaigning. She was against the ethanol subsidy before she was for it, and she was only became for it because she needed to carry Iowa.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler, If you like a lot of fluff and lofty, empty rhetoric, Obama's speeches might be considered excellent. But then, so would the speeches of most high school valedictorians and writers like Peggy Noonan. Haven't we all listened to enough "let us go forward with Hope" speeches in our lifetimes to recognize BS when we hear it? Too much fluff not enough substance to be considered excellent.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 5, 2007 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol is a variation on the same old theme, and you don't get out of trouble by applying more of the same thinking that got you in trouble in the first place.

The energy required to produce ethanol is, iirc, 2/3 what is realized.

Then there is the environmental impact. My problem with ethanol is the environmental impact. The runoff of herbicides and pesticides that kill waterways...The environmental impact more than offsets any realized returns on energy.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 5, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

In the Cranky v. Chrissy debate about Obama's appeal in Iowa, I can say that I grew up on a farm in south central Illinois. My father still farms there and in 2004, he met Obama with a small group of fellow lily white farmers and they were blown away. My father has been a fan of his since.

Don't make the mistake of thinking these guys are all a bunch of rubes, especially on the Democratic side. My father and several of his friends vacation in Europe, eat at fine restaurants in St. Louis and have a much wider view of the world that most urbanites and suburbanites assume.

My father also has a highly developed bullshit radar and he said the fact that Obama's grandparents were Kansans was readily apparent. He didn't get the slightest feeling that his Midwestern sensibility was a put on. He conversed easily and genuinely with them. And this is a bunch of guys who have talked to every Chicago politician of the past half century who has come downstate looking for farm votes.

BTW, I am still agnostic on Obama's candidacy.

Posted by: BW on April 5, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

BW, I'm sure your personal experience is valid but I certainly hope that it is not representative, because my own highly developed bullshit radar (finely developed and honed in the DC public school system) tells me Obama is a phony.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 5, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

I concur with Cranky and BW's assessments on Obama's small town and rural appeal.

(Didn't realize that there were so many downstaters on here.)

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.): Ethanol is a variation on the same old theme, and you don't get out of trouble by applying more of the same thinking that got you in trouble in the first place.

Please, folks, corn ethanol is a scam (except for bourbon). Cellulosic may be another matter. Of course you shouldn't fall for the line that corn based paves the way for cellulosic.

BTW, if ethanol does have potential, why don't we start by eliminating the tariff on it? Oh, that's right, primaries are held in farm states.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

When done right it's not about ringing the doorbell to make the support sale, but to make the turnout for the caucus sale. You clinch that with the babysitter, the ride in the van, whatever it takes. Money and bodies help a lot.

Posted by: snoey on April 5, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

That's nonsense, becasue it assumes that there is an unlimted supply of Obama voters out there in Iowa, who only need to be rounded up 50 at a time by paid orgainizers and sent to caucuses.

Exxxxxxactly! What the hell is Kleiman thinking? We saw from the Dean campaign that money alone can't buy caucus supporters. If it were that simple, Edwards and Clinton would also have 2000 organizers out there rounding up supporters, and the number of Dems at the caucus would be at least 500k, or a 400% increase from 2004. That's just pretty unlikely.

And what does any of this have to do with the effect of local endorsements? Sure, Obama has enough money to run in Iowa. I assume most of the candidates will, since it's the first damn primary. Whether one of them can win, or whether one of them can do so without local endorsements, is still an open question.

Posted by: Royko on April 5, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Just as an aside, in Brazil, where I'm spending more time these days, there's a growing slave-labor problem related to ethanol. It's another resource-cartel situation, in which they've found thousands of indigent people to work in subhuman conditions to harvest sugarcane for the next crowd of oligarchs. That is the face of this industry in the 21st century. Personally, I prefer Woody Harrelson.

Posted by: Kenji on April 5, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

The energy required to produce ethanol is, iirc, 2/3 what is realized.

I think its lower than that with cellulosic (and probably still lower with algae), higher with corn.

Then there is the environmental impact. My problem with ethanol is the environmental impact. The runoff of herbicides and pesticides that kill waterways...The environmental impact more than offsets any realized returns on energy.

Most of that is just modern agriculture, and related to growing corn, whether or not its for ethanol; because many of the feedstocks you can use for cellulosic ethanol don't require the intensity of treatments that corn needs, they don't have that problem. (Plus, they don't require using prime agricultural land, and don't drive up food staple prices.)

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Let's throw all our candidates under the bus. Way to go folks.

For a lot of folks, corn ethanol makes sense. Not a permanent solution, of course. But what is? And, more importantly, what is ACTUALLY DO-ABLE right now? Clean coal? Maybe. Switchgrass? Maybe. Obama has talked about all of them.

I like the guy. He actually thinks. Why don't we all hold our venom until the actual primaries are here.

Posted by: KW on April 5, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

The more I hear about Obama, the less enthousiastic I become. He seems ever more like regular politician hedging his bets without the benefit of having a lot of experience.

Obama has more experience as an elected official than either HRC or Edwards.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Kenji: That is the face of this industry in the 21st century.

As I understand it, that's pretty much been the face of Brazil ever since Europeans came. It ain't for nothing that economists refer to increasing income disparities as "Brazilianization".

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK
Ethanol? Someone has to explain to me the ethical justification for burning food to power our SUVs (or even our hybrids) in a world where so many people are hungry.

1) Ethanol doesn't require "burning food", as humans can't digest many potential ethanol feedstocks.

2) People are hungry because of distribution of food, not inadequacy of overall supply. Foreign and trade policy might deal with that, using or not using ethanol, even from grain sources, won't have much effect except at the margins. That's not to say that using food staples for ethanol production is a good idea, it certainly is counterproductive in a number of ways. But its mostly peripheral to the real problem.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

KW: For a lot of folks, corn ethanol makes sense.

Yeah, but those folks are all corn farmers.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Obama could always try the alternative ethanol strategy-- buying every Democrat in Iowa a beer.

$26M would buy a hell of a lot of Schlitz.

Posted by: ajl on April 5, 2007 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Chrissy, Thanks for the response. What is your definition of authentic? And in terms of candidates, past or present, who fits the bill?

I should also add to my previous post that Obama apparently had a stone cold grasp of the farm issues and answered their questions knowlegeably. He didn't impress these guys with glib talk and neatly trimmed finger nails.

I understand the frustration with lack of policy substance and share it., but that is a characteristic of every campaign for as long as I can remember. I may not be an Obama supporter but neither am I turned off by lack of policy papers and a couple of poor public appearances nine months before a primary.

You seem to have an aversion to metrosexualism and equate with dishonesty. I can't agree. Hell, my brother is one and at the same time one of the most earnest and genuine people I know. We were both born and raised in a cornfield and I love him to death, as does my father and virtually everyone else we grew up with in that cornfield.

Posted by: BW on April 5, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Not a permanent solution, of course. But what is?

Hydrogen.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 5, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK
For a lot of folks, corn ethanol makes sense.

If by "a lot of folks", you mean "people who have financial interests in the corn industry", you are probably right.

For everyone else, its a pretty dumb idea; the only way its even competitive with other sources of ethanol is with substantial protectionist tariffs, and even that's only in the short run. OTOH, since its environmentally disadvantageous compared to other ethanol sources, why should it be protected in the first place?

Not a permanent solution, of course.

Its not even a temporary solution, or a step in the right direction. It is, plain and simple, a public subsidy to already wealthy agricultural conglomerates that serves no public purpose.

But what is? And, more importantly, what is ACTUALLY DO-ABLE right now?

A ZEV mandate like the one California had that actually got major manufacturers to put electric vehicles on the market, but which the auto industry succeeded in sponsoring politicians to weaken, combined with a "corporate average emissions" mandate, no protectionist tariffs to keep out clean fuels. The government doesn't need to subsidize, and protect with trade barriers, a particular fuel from a particular source as a handout to a particular wealthy interest, it needs to create the appropriate financial incentives to internalize the externalities associated with greenhouse gas emissions and then let the most efficient solution emerge from the market.


Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.): Hydrogen

One word? Did you watch a rerun of The Graduate recently?

More to the point, how do you make the hydrogen? The characterization of H2 (ironic, now that I think of it) as an energy storage medium, rather than an energy source, is accurate.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I understand the frustration with lack of policy substance and share it., but that is a characteristic of every campaign for as long as I can remember.

As far as I can tell, the criticism of Obama as lacking substance comes from people who only look at his inspirational speeches, purposefully ignore his substantive speeches, and have certainly never met the man in person. My conclusion is that these folks are predisposed to dislike Obama for some other reason, since the same and worse can be said of every other candidate.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Hydrogen.

Unless you are speaking of futuristic fusion, H is not a solution to the oil energy crisis. H is an energy transport medium not an energy source.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK
Hydrogen.

But hydrogen, for all the hype, isn't a permanent solution, or even a solution at all. Ethanol produced from photosynthetic plants (though corn is a bad choice) is solar generation plus a convenient energy storage/transmission medium. Aside from its collection incident to mining fossil fuels (which is clearly not a solution), hydrogen is a storage/transmission medium, and a particularly inconvenient one at that, not an energy source.

Hydrogen plus new clean large-scale generating installations might be part of a solution, but ethanol from a well-chosen feedstock is both more practical in the short run, has its energy come principally from a clean energy source already, and is a generally more usable fuel, in any case.

Better to use the investment in new, large-scale clean electrical generation to meet traditional electrical demand more cleanly, rather than use it to produce hydrogen as a motor fuel.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol doesn't require "burning food", as humans can't digest many potential ethanol feedstocks.

I should have expressed it in terms of using cropland that might be used for food production for fuel production. But I keep hearing that corn prices are going up (from a chirpy business reporter who thinks of this as a good thing) because of the increased demand.
Most of that is just modern agriculture,
which doesn't make it good.

Posted by: thersites on April 5, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

how do you make the hydrogen?

Water, sun and wind. It yields a secure, inexhaustible, emission-free fuel-source.

The chemical properties of hydrogen give it the greatest energy storage per weight of any gas. Electrolysis is the *clean* isolation method, and currently prohibitively expensive - but I still think it is worth pursuing.

Should my forays into the medium show otherwise, I'll change my mind...

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 5, 2007 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Let me reiterate that I am no expert here. This is not my field of science, it is an outside interest.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 5, 2007 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

But I keep hearing that corn prices are going up (from a chirpy business reporter who thinks of this as a good thing) because of the increased demand.

That *is* good for what few remaining family farms there are left. (My grandfather got more (in nominal dollars) for a bushel of corn during the 40s than he did in the 80s.)

Not so good for people who eat corn.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK
I should have expressed it in terms of using cropland that might be used for food production for fuel production.

Many potential ethanol feedstocks can use land that is marginal or useless for growing human foodcrops (and, in the case of algae, can use "land" that isn't actually land, per se.)

But I keep hearing that corn prices are going up (from a chirpy business reporter who thinks of this as a good thing) because of the increased demand.

Well, yeah, that's because the US uses corn for ethanol right now, and puts up barriers to prevent ethanol from places that are more sane from displacing corn-based ethanol in the US market, because current US ethanol policy isn't nearly as much about the environment as it is about subsidizing the corn industry.

This isn't a problem with ethanol, its a problem with current ethanol policy.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Of course fuel cells can seriously change the whole hydrogen issue. From http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid985.php

hydrogen's greater end-use efficiency can more than offset its conversion loss. From wellhead to car tank, oil is typically 88 percent efficient (the lost energy mainly fuels refining and distribution). From car tank to wheels, gasoline is typically 16 percent efficient. The average contemporary vehicle is thus about 14 percent efficient well-to-wheels. A hybrid vehicle like the Toyota Prius nearly doubles the gasoline-to-wheels efficiency to 30 percent and the total to 26 percent. But an advanced fuel-cell car's 70 percent natural-gas-well-to-hydrogen-in-the-car-tank efficiency, times 60 percent tank-to-wheels efficiency, yields 42 percent—three times higher than the normal gasoline car or one and a half times higher than the gasoline-hybrid-electric car. Thus the energy lost in making hydrogen is more than made up by its extremely efficient use, saving both fuel and money.
Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

And lest we forget the primary driver behind increasing energy and food demand (and thus increasing prices), the NYT reminds us:

"Diminishing cropland and water supplies are pushing China to seek more of its staples from South America."

It's people, people. Unless we get population under control, we're headed for overshoot* and massive die-off.

*IMO we are already there.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

I saw Obama speak here in Iowa last Saturday. He didn't blow me away with a great speech. But he did handle questions on a variety of topics pretty well. BW is right, he relates to the mid-western BS detectors very well. Back in '04 I went to a Dean meet-up, I was wined and dined by two different Dean organizers, but I still couldn't support him--because he came off as authentically odd in person. Money couldn't change that.

Ethanol doesn't really decrease the amount of food production. 50% of the corn crop goes into livestock feed. Ethanol production removes the fructose but leaves the protein that the livestock need--so it is still usable for feed. Now, the fructose is used in many other products, so the price of corn syrup will increase--but we consume WAY too much of that already. The main effect on food--both grain and livestock--is that prices will go up.

That said, Ethanol is not the best, the complete, or the long-term answer. However, if corn-based ethanol can get the infrastructure--especially the E85 tanks and pumps--installed, then any type of ethanol can step right in. Yes, there needs to be real competition, but give it a little time.

Oh, one more thing. I've mentioned this before. There were several cycles when Iowa did not select the eventual nominees (we picked Bush over Reagan, Gephardt over Dukakis, Dole over Bush). Back then the big complaint was that we were always wrong; now it's that we get to crown the winners. Which is it, whiners? It's not fair that we get to always be first, but get your complaints straight.

Posted by: swinty on April 5, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK
Of course fuel cells can seriously change the whole hydrogen issue.

Not really. The fundamental problem with hydrogen as a "solution" is it isn't an energy source. Using it in a fuel cell rather than a combustion engine doesn't change that.

Sure, fuel cells can be more efficient than combustion, but fuel cells don't have to have hydrogen as their fuel. Biofuels, including ethanol, can be used in fuel cells, too.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK
Ethanol doesn't really decrease the amount of food production.

Okay, but...

The main effect on food--both grain and livestock--is that prices will go up.

The only reason the price would go up (since you aren't touching demand) is because you contracted supply. Its really basic economics. One of the things you just said isn't true.

That said, Ethanol is not the best, the complete, or the long-term answer. However, if corn-based ethanol can get the infrastructure--especially the E85 tanks and pumps--installed, then any type of ethanol can step right in.

But where is the evidence that corn ethanol is needed for any of those things? Corn ethanol requires tariffs to protect it against foreign sources of ethanol, not against non-ethanol fuels. Corn ethanol is a complete boondoggle.

Sure, an ethanol mandate might be needed to get that infrastructure in place, but there is no public interest in promoting and protecting corn ethanol to acheive that. Ethanol may have public value, policies that specifically favor corn ethanol are pure handouts to the corn industry. The present ones, relying as they do on tariffs that raise the cost of all ethanol, are actual a barrier to widespread ethanol adoption in favor of the handout to the corn industry to assure them a bigger piece of a smaller ethanol pie.

You want to get an ethanol infrastructure in place and encourage end-users to adopt ethanol, stop artificially inflating the price of ethanol.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Money won't win Iowa.

Obama is starting to look like Howard Dean, version 2.0.

Dean had tons of money, anti war support, did not win a single state.

Iowa will go to either Edwards or Hillary. My guess is Edwards. He is a likable populist. They know him. He has a good chance of winning Iowa.

Posted by: Nan on April 5, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Sure, fuel cells can be more efficient than combustion, but fuel cells don't have to have hydrogen as their fuel. Biofuels, including ethanol, can be used in fuel cells, too.

Fuel cells that use ethanol, methanol, etc. are not practical for cars. Most schemes use reformers, but there has been a trend away from them due to warm up time and other problems. Reformers at a gas station (a term for which our American abbreviation may prove farsighted) might be another matter, but that still means putting H2 in your tank.

Direct methanol fuel cells might be good for laptops, but are too inefficient for cars. Using lots of methanol also has serious ground water pollution problems. Direct ethanol is still strictly lab stuff.

Of course any of these things may change due to further R&D (AFAIK they aren't fundamental theoretical limits), but as it looks now there's a lot to be said for "old-fashioned" H2 fuel cells.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky,

"And the election totals proved that they were willing to vote for him under the right circumstances."

Obama was running against Alan Keyes.

Posted by: DonB on April 5, 2007 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

"But where is the evidence that corn ethanol is needed for any of those things? Corn ethanol requires tariffs to protect it against foreign sources of ethanol, not against non-ethanol fuels. Corn ethanol is a complete boondoggle."

After all the elimination of trade barriers has worked so well for the manufacturing industry and their workers, and the environment in other countries, and their workers.

It's interesting that this discussion began with a discussion about the candidates, their fundraising, and what money can do. The money, political power, and infrastructure behind corn ethanol right now are exactly what makes it the current most viable alternative. It is also the biggest danger for the future. If it is such a huge cash cow it may well cut off other better alternatives in the future. This is one of those debates that truly is a good one to keep stoking.

Incidentally, in the discussions down at the coffee shop (here in small-town Iowa) cellulosic ethanol and switch grass are the favorites for the future.

Posted by: swinty on April 5, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

What part of Iowa do you live in, Swinty? I have family in Decatur County, on the Missouri line.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 5, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

BW, I appreciate your post. As to authentic; Edwards, and although they are not current candidates, Gore and Clark strike me as authentic.

I have absolutely no aversion to metrosexuals. But I do think it's poison in a national political candidate. Look at Kerry and the whole windsurfing debacle.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 5, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama was running against Alan Keyes.

Before he was running against Alan "I renounce my lesbian daughter" Keyes, Obama was running against Jack "I like to watch my TV star wife blow other men" Ryan.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

So those whose BS detectors are honed by the DC public school system think that wind surfing is a characteristic of metrosexuals?

That explains alot.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK
Reformers at a gas station (a term for which our American abbreviation may prove farsighted) might be another matter, but that still means putting H2 in your tank.

That's a possibility that avoids many of the shortcoming of hydrogen as a distribution medium, and one in which hydrogen is a component of an ethanol (or other biofuel) solution but not a competing solution.

It retains some of the problems of hydrogen, too, but they may be worthwhile.

And hydrogen generated cleanly by large-scale means may itself be useful, though, again, I think there is enough demand for all the clean large-scale generation we can deploy to replace existing and future demand for the kind of electric uses that are already served by the electric grid that that's not likely to be the best way to replace motor-vehicle fuels.

I'm not down on hydrogen as a component of the solution, my point has mainly been that it doesn't deal with replacing any energy source, it just is a way to get energy that is generated by some other unspecified means to where it needs to be used. And not, always, a great way of doing that.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Mt. Ayr in Ringgold County--the next county west from Decatur. There is almost a Southern feel in those counties. Very hospitable, kind people, trying to make a living on hilly, poor land.

My school friend's dad was county prosecuter in those days. My brother, who is now a lawyer in Des Moines, had collected stories on how he ran the county like his little kingdom: refusing to prosecute DUI's, escourting hippies to the county line, and at least once, sticking an offender in his trunk.

Politically, the people are pretty mixed down there. My guess would be that a populist like Edwards would do very well, even in the general election.

I've lived in 8 towns in Iowa an currently live in the west central part. I also lived in Philly, Chicago, and Denver in the 80s and 90s.

Posted by: Swinty on April 5, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Wow! We may know some of the same people. (I'm mid-40's and had a couple of summer boyfriends from Mt. Ayr.)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 5, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Chrissy, Individual perception is a fascinating thing. If anything, I lean towards being an Edwards supporter. I've attended two of his fundraisers (04 for Kerry/Edwards & 06 and for Sen Nelson in Florida) and seen him close up. But the personal appearances were negatives to me. Seeing him from a few feet away left me feeling he was entirely too slick and polished. But I respect his work with the poverty center and don't doubt underneath he's a genuine guy. While I've never met Obama, he strikes me as similarly smooth on the surface but real, especially after hearing the judgements of people I respect who have sat and talked with him, which actually includes more than just the group I mentioned in my previous comment. As I said, our perceptions (and BS detectors) are a strange thing....

Posted by: BW on April 5, 2007 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK
After all the elimination of trade barriers has worked so well for the manufacturing industry and their workers, and the environment in other countries, and their workers.

If the trade barriers for ethanol were linked to environmental factors, labor conditions, etc., that might be relevant.

The tariffs on ethanol serve only to subsidize agricultural megacorps that have good lobbying firms, while keeping ethanol expensive and discourage its adoption on a wide scale as a fuel source. Its a tool to keep the corn industries share of the US ethanol pie large, and guaranteeing that any ethanol expansion in the US drives up food prices, at the expense of slowing the growth of ethanol adoption and any environmental benefits therefrom.

Its anti-environmental. By its impact on food prices, its anti-poor. Its good for big agribusiness, though, and that's all that matters to the politicians that support it.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

BW: Pleasure hearing your views. Agree about perceptions but I do think you are enlightened and sophisticated, (as probably your family is as well) in a way that unfortunately is not pervasive in the country as a whole.

Disputo: My understanding of metrosexual includes people who spend a lot of time and money on appearance and lifestyle. Expensive sports would be part of that. Explains a lot.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 5, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

My understanding of metrosexual includes people who spend a lot of time and money on appearance and lifestyle. Expensive sports would be part of that.

Like NASCAR?

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, good posts about energy.

disputo: H is not a solution to the oil energy crisis. H is an energy transport medium not an energy source.

That's an irrelevant comment. You could say the same thing about petroleum and gasoline, which basically have "transported" solar energy from the past to the present.

Hydrogen is made numerous ways: (1) by "cracking" water in high temperature nuclear reactors; (2) by reacting water with metal (magnesium, iron, titanium) to create metal oxides, and then heating the metal oxides with focused solar rays to restore the metal; (3) by electrolysis with an electricity source, which could be from solar, wind, or off-peak nuclear (or coal) generated electricity; (4) by "reforming" hydrocarbon fuels. all except (1) can be done at "filling stations" to a large degree (as described by others), obviating the need to transport large volumes of H2 long distances. (2) and (3) could in principle be done at home. All the major car companies have demonstrated (4) in SUVs, where unfortunately the reformers take up a lot of room.

Once the H2 has been made, it's "fuel" as much as any other fuel.

Cellulosic ethanol can be made from shrubs grown on soil too poor for food crops. Return of the solid waste from the ethanol plant to the farms (the trucks have to make the return trip anyhow) reduces the need for fertilizer. Ethanol is also effeciently made from more and more types of farm waste. And there are new ways to make fuel oil from mixed municipal waste.

There is no "silver bullet" or "panacea". The energy of the future, and the fuels of the future, will come from many technologies and many places. For the near term, it will come from subsidies paid to farmers in Iowa and Illinois.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

swinty: The money, political power, and infrastructure behind corn ethanol right now are exactly what makes it the current most viable alternative. It is also the biggest danger for the future. If it is such a huge cash cow it may well cut off other better alternatives in the future. This is one of those debates that truly is a good one to keep stoking.

well said. I hope that someone, someplace, is working on the problem of making ethanol from whole corn. Not just cellulose/lignite in general, but cornstalks and leaves in particular. Once that is done well enough, I think that the subsidy for ethanol from corn grain will be terminated.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

That's an irrelevant comment. You could say the same thing about petroleum and gasoline, which basically have "transported" solar energy from the past to the present.

For those who don't understand the difference between a stock and a flow, I suppose that that is irrelevant.

Posted by: Disputo on April 5, 2007 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler: Once that is done well enough, I think that the subsidy for ethanol from corn grain will be terminated.

Uh-huh, just as soon as we terminate our other agricultural subsidies.

Posted by: alex on April 5, 2007 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

disputo who don't understand the difference between a stock and a flow

You left out a step: showing that the difference between a stock and a flow is intrinsic to the definition of a fuel. consider gasoline (a flow), diesel fuel (another flow), and methane generated from municipal waste (another flow.) Are they not fuels? Is methane from underground a fuel but not methane from sewage? If H2 generated from H2O is not a fuel, is H2O, which is certainly a stock, the "fuel"? Would you consider plutonium from a breeder reactor not to be nuclear "fuel"?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

alex: Uh-huh, just as soon as we terminate our other agricultural subsidies.

I hear you. However, fuel derived from agriculture may on its own raise the prices of agricultural products, which will reduce the support for tax support.

I grant you, that's hypothetical. If U.S. and world-wide use of biofuels actually results in a drop in the cost of petroleum, and if it takes crop subsidies to make sure that the cost of biofuels remains competitive, then the subsidies will continue for sure. In other scenarios, the crop subsidies might gradually be reduced. Or not.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK
You left out a step: showing that the difference between a stock and a flow is intrinsic to the definition of a fuel.

Disputo didn't need to do that, because Disputo's statement you attempted to rebut with your claim about oil, etc., wasn't about the definition of a "fuel", it was "H is not a solution to the oil energy crisis. H is an energy transport medium not an energy source."

Your attempt to argue against Disputo by changing the subject to what is an is not a "fuel" is irrelevant.

consider gasoline (a flow), diesel fuel (another flow), and methane generated from municipal waste (another flow.) Are they not fuels?

Yeah, they are a fuels. The first two at least are also "energy sources", from a human perspective, since they can be tapped for energy that humans beyond that which humans expended to create them (the last may or may not be, its more complex, but it is at worst a way of recapturing what would otherwise be untapped human-stored energy.)

If H2 generated from H2O is not a fuel, is H2O, which is certainly a stock, the "fuel"?

H2 is clearly a "fuel". But it is not, generally, an "energy source".

Would you consider plutonium from a breeder reactor not to be nuclear "fuel"?

Since it can be tapped for energy beyond that expended in human activity to create it, it is not only a kind of "fuel" but also an "energy source", I would say. Not that that has anything to do, more than tangentially, with the issue at hand.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_ergosphere_archive.html
http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/
Have a look around these. This discussion did not just happen today.

Posted by: opit on April 5, 2007 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 8:17 PM

you can still say the same thing about petroleum, which is not an energy source, but a transient. If you take disputo's comment literally, there are no solutions here on earth because there are no energy sources; everything is the transient result of some long-ago flow, including the nuclear fuel in the sun.

"H is not a solution to the oil energy crisis. H is an energy transport medium not an energy source." For "H" substitute anything in both sentences: sunlight, wind, oil, uranium.

H is an important component to any solution of the oil energy crisis. What we need are really good energy transport media, not sources.

Of course, you never meant to defend his assertion that H was not a solution because it is not an energy source. Did you? You just didn't like my sustitution of "fuel" for "energy source". As if that had something to do with H not being a solution.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

more simply, the human solution to the oil problem is to create fuel from sunlight, wind, and radioactivity. Hydrogen is an excellent fuel in many respects, and will indeed be part of the solution, despite disputo's comment.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK
you can still say the same thing about petroleum, which is not an energy source, but a transient.

No, you can't. The energy humans put into petroleum in order to get useful energy out is less than the energy they extract from it; it is, under the distinction I laid out (and the one Disputo is, I expect, intending) an energy source.

You seem to have adopted a definition of "energy source" that requires something violate conservation of energy to be an actual "source", which, while it might be meaningful in some sense, is clearly not the distinction Disputo was using, and even more clearly not the distinction I laid out quite precisely. So, absent equivocation, no, you can't say the same thing about petroleum.

What we need are really good energy transport media, not sources.

Even ignoring your attempt to redefine the terms in the debate to change the topic, H2 isn't a "really good" energy transport medium. Its got a few very attractive features, and a whole lot of major drawbacks.

Further, what we need is, in fact, good sources (by the definition I presented, not your bizarre one). Good transport media may facilitate that by, for instance, allowing a good source in one context (say, large scale generation) to cover for the absence of an equally good source in another context (say, small-scale mobile generation), but what is ultimately needed is good sources.

Of course, you never meant to defend his assertion that H was not a solution because it is not an energy source. Did you?

Well, lets think about that, shall we? Consider that I wrote upthread:

But hydrogen, for all the hype, isn't a permanent solution, or even a solution at all. Ethanol produced from photosynthetic plants (though corn is a bad choice) is solar generation plus a convenient energy storage/transmission medium. Aside from its collection incident to mining fossil fuels (which is clearly not a solution), hydrogen is a storage/transmission medium, and a particularly inconvenient one at that, not an energy source.

Or, later:

The fundamental problem with hydrogen as a "solution" is it isn't an energy source. Using it in a fuel cell rather than a combustion engine doesn't change that.

Why, exactly, would you doubt that I was intending to defend Disputo's claim that:

H is not a solution to the oil energy crisis. H is an energy transport medium not an energy source.

Disputo's position is exactly the same position I've stated repeatedly in the thread. Why would you think I didn't intend to defend my own position?

You just didn't like my sustitution of "fuel" for "energy source". As if that had something to do with H not being a solution.

I didn't like your substitution only because it was the launching off point for your extended and irrelevant argument that Hydrogen is a "fuel", which is not in dispute, missing the rather important, from the perspective of human use, distinction that Disputo and I have drawn in this thread between energy sources and energy storage or transmission media.

(Of course, the difference is not an inherent quality, but a quality that exist in the relation to humanity. If a multi-trillion-ton tank of hydrogen stored by some past alien race drifted mysteriously to a soft landing on earth, that tank would be an "energy source"—and a clean, though presumably not renewable, one. And if some process of synthesis was run to generate hydrocarbon fuels from H2O and CO2 at a net energy loss, those fuels would be an "energy store" but not a "source".)

And, yes, the distinction you are missing, and that I object to you distracting from with your irrelevancies about "fuel", has everything to do with why hydrogen is not a solution.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 5, 2007 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: hydrogen is not a solution.

I guess we'll have to see about that. On present evidence, I think hydrogen is part of the solution. It just isn't the "only" solution, and in that it is not unique. there is nothing irrelevant in thinking about "fuel". Energy is abundant, even though it be a flow rather than a stock. turning it into fuel is the solution to diminishing oil.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 5, 2007 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

OMG. I hadn't realized before that CMD and MRM are different personalities inhabiting the same brain.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loathe people who resort to redefining words in order to mask their own ignorance and come up with whatever conclusion happens to pre-exist in their head at any given moment.

Posted by: Disputo on April 6, 2007 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

OMG. I hadn't realized before that CMD and MRM are different personalities inhabiting the same brain.

Okay, now you just are trying to justify your handle, aren't you?

Posted by: cmdicely on April 6, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK
I guess we'll have to see about that. On present evidence, I think hydrogen is part of the solution.

I'm not really clear about where Disputo stands on this point, but I, for one, have been saying repeatedly throughout the thread that hydrogen, as a transport medium, may play a role in facilitating implementation of better energy sources that are the solution, but it simply is not one of them. The claims that have been made, and you have objected to, about hydrogen not being the solution aren't fundamentally inconsistent with hydrogen being, as a transport medium, part of the implementation of a solution, so there's really nothing to "see".

there is nothing irrelevant in thinking about "fuel".

Your claims about fuel are certainly irrelevant as rebuttals to claims not about fuel they were offered against. Apparently, because you don't understand the claims that were being offered, don't seem to substantively disagree with them, and simply wanted to discuss an entirely unrelated subject.

Whether thinking about fuel is irrelevant in some abstract sense is not the issue.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 6, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

disputo: "H is not a solution to the oil energy crisis. H is an energy transport medium not an energy source."

Disputo made two claims. The second, that H is an energy transport medium and not a source, is irrelevant to any discussion of what the solutions might be to the oil energy crisis. Coal and nuclear might be "sources", wind and sunlight are energy transport mechanisms. But fuels made from coal, nuclear, wind and sunlight, whether stocks or flows, are the solutions (plural emphasized) to the oil energy crisis.

Hydrogen is an excellent, though imperfect, fuel. It will be a part of the solution (or one of the solutions) to the oil shortage crisis.

People frequently accuse me of being other people. Today I am said to be CMD. Whoever I really am, what disputo wrote, and I quoted, is stupid.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 6, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

All right, enough about the fuel-flow dichtomy. You eggheads are losing the rest of us.
Ethanol wins as a kind of partial, instant solution involving off the shelf technology .It's a stopgap, however.
A better long term solution may be breeding a plant specifically designed to be a fuel. Corn , of course, is bred specifically to be food, so it doesnt do fuel well. It would be nice if such a crop were a temperate climate type grass crop like corn or wheat.
If we got working on it right away, we would probably have something in ten years.unno how you build in incentives for that. Maybe another agricultural subsidy-hey, whats one more :-)

Posted by: stonetools on April 6, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's people, people. Unless we get population under control, we're headed for overshoot* and massive die-off.
*IMO we are already there.
Posted by: Disputo

Just so.

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la-na-oceans25dec25,1,1807687.story?page=3&track=rss
Slowing a tide of pollutants
Kenneth R. Weiss, Times Staff Writer
December 25, 2006


'ONE way to ease the effect of agricultural waste on the oceans would be to restore some of the millions of acres of marshes and streamside forests that absorbed and recycled nitrogen before the land was cleared for farms.

Scientists in Ohio and Louisiana estimated that if just 2% of strategically located farmland in the Mississippi drainage basin were returned to wetlands, it would significantly reduce the nitrogen that races into the Gulf of Mexico.

[snip]

And naturally, one side effect of the gold rush mentality that's driving ethanol is that is putting marginal and fragile land back into production and farmers are withdrawing acreage from conservation and restoration programs.

It goes even beyond that farmer Kunstler likes to quote ("taking the last 6 inches of topsoil and burning them in your fuel tank") and creates perverse incentives to reverse efforts to mitigate the damage caused by unsustainable farming practices while destroying more endangered habitat.

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 6, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

stonetools: A better long term solution may be breeding a plant specifically designed to be a fuel.

Such breeding is underway, with partial success already. As for "building incentives", that isn't necessary; once the US can make ethanol in large volume for less than what Brazil does, the ethanol will not (necessarily) need to be subsidized.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 6, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

MsNThrope: Scientists in Ohio and Louisiana estimated that if just 2% of strategically located farmland in the Mississippi drainage basin were returned to wetlands, it would significantly reduce the nitrogen that races into the Gulf of Mexico.

I am glad that you mentioned that. When writing about growing the "feedstock" (a pun on disputo's stock/flow distinction) for biofuels, it is always important to emphasize the reasonable conservation of farmland, riverbanks, estuaries, marshlands, and so forth. Such conservation raises short-term costs (which I think should be borne by consumers, but that's a different topic), but allows the renewal of the renewable energy "sources", and other agriculture.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 6, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: You seem to have adopted a definition of "energy source" that requires something violate conservation of energy to be an actual "source", which, while it might be meaningful in some sense, is clearly not the distinction Disputo was using, and even more clearly not the distinction I laid out quite precisely. So, absent equivocation, no, you can't say the same thing about petroleum.

The only difference between a "flow" and a "stock" is the timescale. Maize carries the energy from the sun to the ethanol to the auto on a short time scale. The coal and the petroleum carried the energy from the sun of the past to the present on a long time scale. Literally, the oil crisis is the result of the petroleum flowing out faster than it has been flowing in; and the fact that the "flow" of the "stock" will soon (more or less) come to an end.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 6, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK
Maize carries the energy from the sun to the ethanol to the auto on a short time scale. The coal and the petroleum carried the energy from the sun of the past to the present on a long time scale.

The time scale is a component of the issue, though not the central issue itself. The relation to human activity from the decision point forward is the essential distintion between an "energy source" and an "storage medium". As discussed above. I'm really not goint to waste much more time dealing with you on this, as you are either deliberately missing the point of the distinction you objected to or so congenitally clueless as to be immune to understanding. Especially given the fact that, as also has been discussed previously, there's no apparent actual substantive dispute here, just you going off an a tangent trying to rebut a point no one is making.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 6, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Especially given the fact that, as also has been discussed previously, there's no apparent actual substantive dispute here, just you going off an a tangent trying to rebut a point no one is making.

Except: hydrogen is an excellent fuel, and will be a part of any solution to the oil crisis.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 6, 2007 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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