Monday, May 05, 2008

Obama Voices Biofuel Doubts

That's the headline over at the Wired Science blog.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that stays up on this topic that biofuels are looking less and less like what we need and more and more like the same problem that we have now just waiting to re-happen. It's the classic push-pull scenario where addressing one problem causes another serious one to appear. Biofuels are a very interesting sector of technology, it's a great lesson in thermodynamics to see machines (mechanical) powered by the same thing that powers other machines (biological), and 60+ MPG is a great thing but you can't mess with a necessity (food supply) to power a non-essential (sorry, but in the grand scheme of things, planes, trains, and automobiles are non-essential).

In an interview on NBC's Meet the Press, the Democratic presidential candidate said "there's no doubt that biofuels may be contributing" to falling food supplies and rising prices.

That's a terrible quote ("no doubt that [it] may be contributing") but a serious implication.
"We've got a serious food problem around the world. We've got rising food prices here in the United States. In other countries we're seeing riots because of the lack of food supplies. So this is something that we're going to have to deal with," said Obama.

Ya rly.

I try to be as careful as I can be with respect to jumping on the media bandwagon with ANYTHING, green or otherwise. I want the reason why we're supposed to be thinking/acting a certain way or the concrete reason to be scared of something. I don't need abject, out-of-proportion fear based on specious evidence (if you're laughing at me because you think global warming falls under that category, please stop reading this blog).

That being said, this food thing is getting a lot of attention. Just a few links for you:

Food riots in Haiti (CNN) ["Food prices, which have risen 40 percent on average globally since mid-2007, are causing unrest around the world."]

Potential rice riots in the Far East? (Times Online)
["Analysts give warning of governments across the region resorting to a “starve-your-neighbour” policy in an effort to becalm rioting domestic populations, and the UN International Fund for Agriculture has previously said that food riots will become commonplace."]

Food Crisis > Climate Change (Guardian)

Strikes, Protest in Egypt (BBC)

A UN task force for the global food crisis (AP)

I've seen a steady increase in stories like this from all over the web but that's only really been in April. I read about the corn shortage starting last year (connected to ethanol production) but that was the only big news. Now it's a generic "food crisis" as opposed to just one particular export (though rice is getting a large portion of the attention).

The point being that if we MIGHT BE (or are) facing a food crisis then we MIGHT (or do) want to look at something OTHER than food to be powering our nation/world. Diesel from used cooking oil is one thing but ethanol from edible, now expensive corn is not a good idea.

Anyways, the cherry on top of this story (the Wired one) is this quote:
Corn growers are especially powerful in Obama's home state of Illinois, and the candidate has long been a biofuel booster -- which makes his comments on Meet the Press all the more welcome.

It's not very often that a politician will just change their mind on something, especially if it is "close to their hearts." The fact that Obama will change is mind is a very good thing, especially about something like this. All too often it seems like families, companies, countries get stuck in an endless loop in certain respects because people are too scared to say "I was wrong and now I think I'm right."

Obama in 2008, baby!