Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The conflict between ethanol and animal feed

The NY Times reports that at least one major livestock producing state is objecting to the use of corn for ethanol, because it diverts corn away from, and raise the price of, animal feed:

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily waive regulations requiring the oil industry to blend ever-increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. A decision is expected in the next few weeks. Mr. Perry says the billions of bushels of corn being used to produce all that mandated ethanol would be better suited as livestock feed than as fuel.

This are exactly the type of conflict we wrote about in our study on corn-based ethanol production and the Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone".

From the conclusion:

The land cover analysis in this study raises questions about the availability of land to radically increase ethanol or other biofuel production. Reaching the proposed biofuel production goals will lead to trade-offs between cropland demands for food, feed, and fuel, even when the use of ethanol coproducts as feed is considered. The mitigation scenario demonstrates that reducing the cultivation of animal feed, the majority domestic use of corn and soybeans (2), is one way of attaining the croplands necessary for biofuel production.
A sharp reduction in feed cultivation and animal production in the U.S. is purely hypothetical; it would require a substantial change in culture and the reduction of an industry that provides income and employment to a large number of Americans. However, given the probable ceilings on cropland area, grain yields and use of ethanol coproducts as animal feed, a gradual decrease in use of corn and soybeans for animal feed may be a necessary consequence of the projected increase in demand for biofuels.


Talking about climate change and coral reefs

There are quite a few good comments (and one amusing bumper sticker) so far on how the scientific community can better communicate the immediacy of the climate change threat to coral reefs. Let’s keep the discussion going.


Canadian government hiding climate change reports

The Conservative government is developing a rather bad habit of quietly burying government reports about the impacts of climate change. Remember the huge “From Impacts to Adaptation” study put together last year by experts across Canada at the behest of Natural Resources Canada?

You don’t?

Oh right, there was no press release, and it was only made available published in a dark corner of the NRCAN web maze.

Now, the Globe and Mail has discovered that the federal government was planning a similarly “low-profile release” of Health Canada’s 500-page study on how climate change will affect the health of Canadians.

This government's actions are childish. And I say that literally. This is the political equivalent of a child stewing in the backseat throughout an unwanted trip then stubbornly refusing to get out when you arrive at the destination.

I'm offended more as a taxpayer than as a scientist. A lot of taxpayer dollars - via government salaries, consultant fees and research expenses - are used to create these reports. Now, I happen to think it is worth spending our tax dollars on these reports. Others may disagree. Either way, we all foot the bill, so we should be given amble opportunity to see what we've paid for.

Why even spend the money and time on doing this research if they are not going to be made available for the country to use for education and decision-making?


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Over the moon for Gore?

The climate and energy pundits are in a tizzy over Al Gore's recent speech calling for the US to shift to 100% renewable energy in the next ten years. Though many admire Gore's chutzpah, pretty much everyone is ridiculing the goal as unrealistic.

Of course it is. That's the entire point. If you're Al Gore - a free agent, but one with the ability to influence the US policy - you don't set a compromise target, you aim for the moon. The use of the moon shot analogy in his speech was no accident.

Any renewable energy goal set by Obama or McCain will be judged against Gore's standard. Until now, the US has struggled to pass renewable portfolio standards on the order of 10-20%. Now, if say Obama calls for a 25% RPS by 2020, it will seem realistic.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coral reefs: The fierce urgency of now

Maribo's been on hiatus while I was preparing for and attending the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium in Fort Lauderdale. The conference is held only every four years; if you do any coral reef research, IRCS is not to be missed.

One of the overarching messages of the conference, featured in the plenaries, countless individual scientific presentations and the press coverage, was the urgency of dealing with climate change to ensure the survival of the world's coral reefs. I'll have more on the science later. Right now, I'd like to what we do with the science.

Several speakers strongly argued that the scientific community must do everything possible to raise public awareness of the threat that rising CO2 and ocean warming poses to coral reefs. At least two independent talks invoked the Barack Obama slogan that titles this post.

In connection with the International Year of the Reef, a collection of US agencies has created a set of advertisements for use by the coral reef conservation community. A nice, well-intentioned effort. Yet only one of the five (downloadable) advertisements deals with climate change, and that ad simply suggests that people purchase compact flourescent light bulbs, which is hardly a groundbreaking energy efficiency tip.

This seems completely out of touch with the message from the ICRS. Doesn't the community need a far, far stronger message? Any suggestions?