The Ethanol Expansion
The Future of Biofuels Lies in China
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  • Andrew Allison

    Given “Perhaps worst of all, corn-based ethanol has been shown to have a negligible effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and may even increase them.”, please explain why the Chinese decision to emulate the US folly is a good thing.

    • D4x

      Horgan might be conflating that the USA growing corn for ethanol may be a net increase, in the USA, for increasing greenhouse gas emissions. He does not specify CO2, or methane, or whatever other ‘bad’ emission’. Let’s assume he meant that the hydrocarbon inputs into large scale factory corn farms > estimated reduction with the 10% corn ethanol in gasoline for whatever fleet of gasoline-powered vehicles is in the model. China does not have the same farm inputs, or number of automobiles.

      China apparently already borrowed an earlier US folly: stockpiling corn to support Chinese farmer’s prices. 200 million tons = one year supply, for China. They have to find alternate uses before it rots, Only one more dot to my first thought: grind the surplus corn into meal, and teach Egyptians how to make tortillas. Egypt is a key net importer of wheat and rice. It does seem China is not stupid enough to decide high fructose corn syrup is a better idea than corn ethanol. One would think someone knows how to burn corn ethanol to make electricity, and that would be cleaner than coal. Or, China could create a new corn-based cuisine. Northern China has a wheat-based cuisine: noodles, not rice.

      It would appear that former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is indeed a perfect fit as America’s Ambassador to China.

      09 12 2017: https://af.reuters.com/article/africaTech/idAFL4N1LU07Y
      09/11/2017: http://www.agriculture.com/news/crops/walking-grain-off-the-farm-in-china

      A better question is why I keep having to decipher TAI posts that are still being forced into TAI’s model of what news needs a hug, and whether the hug is fit to print, or dying in darkness, or clickable-enough.

      Just want you to know I appreciated your last reply. I did not disappear – I have been enjoying the online version of “Manolo Blahnik: The Art of the Shoe”, opened Aug. 11 Museum Kampa Prague, Czech Republic, after massive crowds at Putin’s patronage: May 11 to July 23: The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Karma, as I had recently started Massey’s bio of Catherine the Great. Plus, it explained why FL Melania wore Blahniks to Texas, twice. Nice messaging to Manolo, a boost to Czech interest in shoes as art, and, some personal diplomacy with Russia! She wore Blahniks for POTUS’ Saudi Arabia speech on May 21, and to Jerusalem’s Western Wall on May 22.

      • Eurydice

        The main question I had from reading this article was “Why does China have so much corn?” Thanks for providing the answer. It might have been useful if Horgan had provided this information, but at this point I come here mostly to read the comments, not for the increasingly superficial articles.

        • D4x

          Most of us still come for the comments. Still the most literate commentariat, and no spam replies!

          An article about China’s corn surplus would be more interesting if TAI had explored nations, like Egypt, which have to import basic grains; or famines and food aid…or even impact on US trade with China. They still import US corn, yet stockpile China corn to support domestic farmer pricing. How weird is that?

          Of course, took me a few weeks, in a course on 19th century British history, to understand “Corn Laws” meant all types of basic grains, not Native American corn.

          TAI Features are so not-so-cleverly skewed, if you know anything about the topic. Took me two days to calm down and comment, after reading TAI Feature on “South Asian Vortex”. Except what I intended to be one comment turned into four. I could add four more. The real dilemma was the author made so much sense, but was still stealthy by ignoring so much reported fact that contradicted his conclusions.

        • Andrew Allison

          I can only assume that he’s paid by the word posted.

      • Andrew Allison

        “grind the surplus corn into meal, and teach Egyptians how to make tortillas” is brilliant.
        We were at the “Manolo Blahnik: The Art of the Shoe” exhibition just last month! Old Prague is a lovely city spoiled by too many tourists and pervasive a rip-off culture — I have a too lengthy list of examples.
        As an aside, if you walked to the Kampa, you must have seen the Dancing House. In case you didn’t look into it, it has an interesting history. The site is adjacent to the house in which Václav Havel lived for decades, and was bombed by accident (Prague was not a target in WW-II). When the whimsical design was proposed in the midst of Baroque Prague there was, surprise, considerable opposition but Havel strongly supported it. Oddly, at least to my eye, it works just fine. The original name was “Fred and Ginger” but Geary (who, contrary to popular belief was not the lead architect), thought it inappropriate to impose an American cultural icon on Prague.
        The overcrowding problem was the same in Salzburg. Given the enormous increase in (esp. Chinese) tourism, it may be time to limit the number of visitors (as Venice is already talking about) to such sites. Easy for me to say, of course, having been to most of them. One thing’s for sure: it’s the last time I’m going sightseeing in Europe in August!

        • D4x

          My apologies for missing your reply here at the time. Guess we’ll never know what happened to that surplus corn in China. Lucky you, to see The Art of the Shoe. I viewed it online.

          Last weekend, I was online-visiting some of the new US Embassies – there has been a near complete rebuild program since 1999, for better security, adding ‘green’. The State Dep’t Office of Building Operations (OBO) is humming. There was a retrofit for building systems for the Ambassador’s Residence in Prague. https://www.eypae.com/client/us-department-state/us-ambassadors-residence It was originally built as a private 148-room residence in the early 1920’s by coal-magnate Otto Petschek. I admit I am not a fan of most modern architecture, so no regrets on missing the Milunic/Gehry Dancing House, or hordes of Chinese tourists.

          • Andrew Allison

            Yes, a lot of modern architecture leaves much to be desired. The Dancing House, however, works for me — it manages to fit in with its Baroque surroundings.
            Speaking of architecture, Vilnius is amazing — the Old Town was very heavily damaged, in WW-II and the post-war reconstruction blends wonderfully with the surviving buildings.

          • Andrew Allison
          • D4x

            Yes, including powerful pushback comments at them joining in the anonymous rumour game that is doing enormous damage to the perception of America, here, there, almost everywhere. Since I was an early commenter, you have to scroll through today’s clickbait, or start with oldest.
            I am ready to give up online.

          • Andrew Allison

            Yeah, I’ve followed American Greatness since you suggested it and concluded that it’s not worth the time — there’s really not much there that anybody who follows, e.g. realclearworld & realclearpolitics doesn’t already know, and it’s rabidly conservative.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Presumably corn ethanol in China might contribute something to higher world prices for corn. As for the USA, the GOP Congress could reverse this RFS thing any day instead of doing as they usually do—–trying to otherwise screw up other things like healthcare. Think they’ll speak some truth to the farm states about ethanol?

    • Anthony
      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. I have mixed feelings on all that, first of all, because I don’t have that author’s apparent Catholic background, and secondly, because I am never quite as willing as some to immerse myself in a fiction work (The Silence, in this case) to reach a conclusion. (That latter remark admittedly is perhaps partially just a defense for being under-read in such materials compared to some people. I can never debate others via literature because I was an “accounting type”, not a “humanities type”.) Some thoughts, though:

        1) Just out of curiosity, I went to Bible Gateway site and searched for the word “empathy”, finding that they could not match the word as appearing in any of four popular Bible versions, including King James. Maybe, “I feel your pain” is something we have tried to over-develop in our senses when we can’t really do it anyway. And maybe, just wanting to be kind to others in a more “blanket” way is our best approach when one can become overwhelmed if immersed in large numbers of the individual tragedies of others. We can’t fix all the poor, the oppressed, the ill, the mistreated, the unlucky. We can, however, become depressed and jaded by it all—–which is why ministry, social service, etc., are famous for high burn-out rates.

        2) I (maybe we) recently saw a piece on the pitfalls of pure empathy, and one of those is the risk of being misled by the invitation to “put ourselves in others’ shoes” and over-internalize from stories told to influence our opinions. For instances, these: How will I FEEL if a Muslim refugee in America turns out to be a terrorist and blows up my kids? How will I FEEL if a crime is committed on my wife and I wasn’t carrying a gun to prevent it? How will I FEEL if some illegal alien casts a vote which negates mine? How will I FEEL if a Mexican takes my job or my neighbor’s job? Net, net, I think we find “empathy” today used in tricky ways that might be all over the map in validity.

        3) A couple of sentences in your linked piece stood out to me for perhaps odd reasons:

        “Christianity is not a cult. Its stated goal is not to control others but to set them free, even from the person evangelizing them.” (I’m not sure that actually is a stated goal in organized church—–but maybe it ought to be. Never heard it before. Just sayin’.)

        and

        “Christianity, after all, can only take root in individuals, and in our day, bona fide individuals are in short supply.” (More than a mouthful—–by the time most of us cannot avoid being so heavily influenced by family, school, workplaces, the over-hyped “teamwork” goals coached upon nearly everyone.)

        4) So, I’m “rambling at ya”. Thanks for the chance to do that.

        • Anthony

          Ramble whenever you like! And thanks for all four inputs (though if I remember, you and FirstThings’ author agree on your 2nd). Yes, Christianity is not a cult…. Just sayin.

        • Eurydice

          Yes, total empathy is a problem – one can’t just dip in and take a taste. “How will I feel” includes all the feelings that came before, all the validity an individual feels in the present and all the justification in the future. One can’t have total empathy, in effect become another person, and then pop out, turn around and judge that person. Well, maybe Meryl Street can, but there always has to be a core of identity in order to stay sane – at least, in this plane of existence. Who knows what happens in the next.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m more interested in a general empathy than too many specifics. As for judging people, I really don’t do it much anymore. From my raising, I could have stuck with “poor people have poor ways”, or “people with addictions are weak”, or “God helps those who help themselves” or any number of other platitudes which seek to explain why some lives turn out like roses and some fall into holes and traps. One way of looking at empathy is to wish others the level of forgiveness I have received or might need in the future, no?

          • Eurydice

            I agree. It’s the empathy that comes from maturity and shared human experience.

      • Eurydice

        What a fascinating piece, thank you. I will be thinking about this, but my random reaction was to think back to Homer and Hesiod and the idea that mortals couldn’t expect mercy and compassion from the immortal gods; they had to rely on other mortals. Also, I thought about the overall Death of the Expert that is around us – be your own lawyer, your own doctor, travel agent, professor, film critic, journalist, etc. Why not be your own god? – it’s all so exhausting.

        • Anthony

          You’re quite welcome and my pleasure (glad you found it of interest). Regarding Hesiod and Homer, well, most boasts of their poetic (spiritual may we say) influence. Still, the First Things’ essay is quite rich and compels (at least for me) a re-reading because the author gives the layman (secularists) so much to contend with, both historically and morally (yes, potentially exhausting).

    • Anthony

      Something you will find of interest: prospect.org/article/democrats-unsolvable-media-problem

      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. You would probably not be surprised (boring as it might be) to hear me return to my pet theme as reaction to this piece. YES, the left is currently enduring a systemic disadvantage, it seems , in the quantity and amplified volume of messaging thrust upon the country in the right/left noise game. To me, the QUESTION is who is willing to believe what? I’m an old (former) church guy who finds the whole aura of Limbaugh, Fox, Hannity, Huckabee, Coulter, Robertson, Pence and Trump (et cetera) to be not credible, not complete in truth which should be admitted on issues, and thoroughly off-putting. To my astonishment and regret, though, I have learned that conservative church members are a major (major) segment of the willing “buyers” of this fare. Yikes.

        • Anthony

          You’re welcome. Now, FG, how is it explained (the willingness of the buyers you lament)? And, your contention is never boring but revealing of both passion and commitment to place in public view your credible interpretation. Moreover, I have linked the piece to highlight how the ‘fog of disinformation’ poisons further our already polarized politics.

          “As new as it might seem, this is just the latest manifestation of a broader problem that goes back a long way, one of the degradation of truth, a conservative electorate taught to disbelieve what’s real and accept whatever lunatic things their media figures tell them.” How can America reconcile the fare?

          • FriendlyGoat

            I don’t know how to “reconcile the fare”, but would settle for some people from the right just “up and switching sides”. For a church person, I would recommend that if the religious focus where one is seems to be more centered on “Every word of this Bible is true” than on how Jesus really was MARKEDLY different from what had come before and a clear change to “religion” (not a mere continuum of OT), then it’s time to “up and run away”. This is one key.

            Apart from church, one needs to “get real” about such matters as health insurance, climate change, guns, gays, and that globalism means we are not evil or crazy to be concerned with the interests of the large majority of people who happen not to live in the USA.

  • Fat_Man

    I too pray that the Chinese will become devoted to the bizarre dogmas that drive “environmentalism” in the United States, so that they too will commit economic suicide. However, I believe they are far too pragmatic to fall into that trap and would not bet they will do anything remotely that stupid.

  • Jonathan Dembo

    WRONG. Raising world food prices HELPS the world’s poorest because most of them are farmers who grow crops like corn and other staple crops like rice. When these prices rise, their incomes skyrocket. They can sell some of their crop for cash, buy fertilizer to increase future productivity, pay rent and taxes, send their kids to school, afford medical care. I agree that making biofuels is stupid and a roundabout way of aiding rural economies, but it has been the most effective aid the US has ever sent to the world’s poor. And don’t ignore that it has been a major benefit to American farmers in an age when their incomes and numbers are falling.

    • Andrew Allison

      “A recent survey by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that globally biofuels expansion accounted for 20-40% of the price increases seen in 2007-8, when prices of many food crops doubled.”
      (http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/wp/12-01WiseBiofuels.pdf)

      • Jonathan Dembo

        Exactly my point. Thanks.

        • Andrew Allison

          WRONG. First, it should be obvious that it’s the producers of biofuels that are making money, not the farmers. It’s equally obvious that most of the world’s poorest are NOT farmers.

  • Angel Martin

    Energy independence for the USA is bad.

    But energy independence for China is good. ???

    • Jonathan Dembo

      No. Shale and fracking already gives us energy independence but we have been doing fine by diversifying our supply sources since the 1980s. Biofuels are essentially irrelevant to energy policy. It has been natural gas from fracking that has caused the US to reduce greenhouse gases faster than any other country in the world. Biofuels, meanwhile, have had next to no impact on pollution or climate change. It’s only real impact has been on raising food prices. China is not even planning for energy independence. They are going to build coal plants to run off imported coal. But energy independence is not a great advantage for a country; what is an advantage is that a country have reliable sources of fuel from any source. China will have that if they buy coal from Australia or the US.

  • Jonathan Dembo

    Whether the manufacturers of biofuels make money or not is irrelevant to me. Double their profit. Triple it or quadruple it. Give them whatever they want. I’d give them your first-born if I could. The few billions we spend on biofuels does more good than all the hundreds of billions of dollars we have ever spent on aid to the world’s poor, including the world’s poor farmers, since foreign aid began. By taking American farmland out of production, the biofuels initiative practically eliminated the world’s surplus of grains, which is mostly produced by US farmers (plus some in Australia, Canada and a few other countries). That is what drove up grain prices world wide. Ask any economist. It’s intended impact on pollution or climate change is totally irrelevant. The simple fact that we have stopped dumping our surplus grains on Africa, Asia, and Africa means that power shifted from the cities, where American free food is distributed to the rural areas where people try to live on the sale of their crops. It has also had a good effect on American farm incomes. Anywhere you go in farm country you see freshly painted and repaired buildings, new cars and equipment, and lands planted from fence-row to fence-row. Maybe we had to learn this by accident, but now that we know, let’s double down on it and bring prosperity to the entire third world.

    • Jim__L

      This is an interesting point.

      • Jonathan Dembo

        Think of it this way: how is an African farmer going to sell his crop if the American government is going to practically give food away for free? By raising the price of grains and other crops, we allow African farmers to earn enough to drill for clean water supplies, or install plumbing systems. Africans have the knowledge to create prosperity; what they lack is the ability to compete with American agribusiness.

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