Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From the Center for Global Food Issues

Recently I watched John Stosell’s program on “Politician’s Top Ten Promises Gone Wrong.” Ethanol’s promise gone wrong was surpassed only by the housing subsidy bubble and the promise that more and bigger Europe-style government was the answer to the future.
Six years ago, when President Bush expanded the corn ethanol mandate, I wrote that producing more corn ethanol would take too much of the scarce prime cropland the world needs to produce its food. Almost immediately, in 2008, a spike in oil prices created a global shortage of corn, with food riots in two dozen countries. (The price of corn is inevitably global.)
Now this year’s Corn Belt drought has brought us face to face—again—with high-priced hunger for the world’s poor, no answer to global warming, and a sinful waste of the world’s currently scarce financial resources.
It’s now obvious that corn ethanol is too expensive to burn, and burning it is driving world food prices too high. The tragedy is that corn ethanol isn’t even needed! We’ve had no global warming trend in the past 15 years, even though CO2 levels in the atmosphere keep rising.....
During a symposium held recently at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yale historian, Tim Snyder told the attendees: “Climate change acts as a “multiplier of other resource crises  leading to “the ecological panic that I’m afraid will lead to mass killings in the decades come.” In his attempt to predict the future, he is relying on historic resource crises that have led to mass killings, revolts, invasions, and famines. However, almost all of those resource crises came during the earth’s “little ice ages,” not during our planet’s warm cycles. (Neither Hitler nor Mao Tse Tung were driven by resource crises; Japan may have thought it was, but their invasion of China cost a terrible price)
On the whole, the warmings have been the good times. The long summers, sunny skies, and moderate rainfall in the Medieval Warming tripled human numbers around the globe, according to respected Medieval population scholar Josiah Russell. The long Roman Warming delivered similar benefits, with ample food and a massive increase in economic growth, trade, and prosperity.
The key resource crises have always been about food. It’s hard to grow much food if your farmers are beset by short, cold, cloudy summers, century-long droughts and violent, flooding storms. The six cultural collapses in Egypt’s famously fertile Nile Valley were all caused by centuries of too little rainfall in the Sudanese and Ethiopian highlands during the “little ice ages.” Half the Egyptians may have died in the resulting famines, and records say that parents literally ate their own children. That was truly a resource crisis!.....
The earth has failed to warm at all for 15 years now, and American farmers are afraid of losing the “renewable fuel” mandate for corn ethanol—which has given them record crop prices and incomes since 2007. So, they’re proposing a new entitlement designed to ensure that they’ll never lose money again. Their proposed new federal farm bill would guarantee that farmers’ incomes don’t decline—and if future farm prices rise even more, the Feds’ guarantee would ratchet up too.
Thus, if the congress should decide the planet isn’t parboiling itself after all, the taxpayers would be on the hook for even more farm subsidy than today. Forget about that federal debt problem. Everyone else can pitch in to cut government spending, but farmers shouldn’t have to. Never mind that they’re now earning more than the average American, and have far more net worth.
Bruce Babcock at Iowa State says the new program could give farmers $8 to $14 billion per year, compared to the $5 billion they’ve been getting in direct subsidy payments— on top of their ethanol subsidies. And if they lose the ethanol mandate, and crop prices fall, the government direct payments will get even bigger.
Gasoline prices have doubled under Obama. Even so, the 10 percent ethanol that the EPA forces into our gasoline—“to save the planet” from fossil fuels—still costs even more than the gasoline. While delivering 35 percent fewer miles per gallon. Recently, the EPA approved mixing even more ethanol into our gas—15 percent instead of 10. Automakers warn they cannot stand behind their engine guarantees at the higher blending rate. .....
I had my second-most-remarkable moment while at the Heartland climate skeptics’ conference in Chicago last week. The conference was terrific, for climate scientists, geologists, economists, NASA engineers, and interested attendees. The highlight for me, though, was Sebastian Lunning, who co-authored Germany’s best-selling new book, The Cold Sun:Why the Climate Catastrophe Won’t Happen.
Lunning’s co-author, Fritz Vahrenholt, made the headlines. He’s a veteran German leftist who has now publically renounced man-made global warming. Vahrenholt protested chemical factory residues in the 1970s, and has lately managed a big wind farm array. But when he was invited to advise the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he tried to correct some of the IPPC’s reporting errors. They told him to kiss off.
Miffed, he looked more closely at the UN and its claimed climate evidence. He found it didn’t hold up......
The Heartland Institute, a Chicago libertarian think-tank, put up a billboard outside Chicago on May 3rd that showed a photo of a seedy-looking Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. The cut line read, “I believe in man-made global warming. Do you?”
Heartland had hoped to stir controversy over the “settled science” of the warming alarmists, and they succeeded—but the billboard was removed after the first day amid a fluster of outrage from Global Warming Alarmists. A flow of harsh emails is being sent to everyone ever associated with Heartland.
“Dear Mr. Avery, I am wondering if you are aware 1) that you are listed as a “Heartland Institute Expert;” and 2) that Heartland recently ran a billboard campaign comparing AGW believers to mass murders (in particular to the Unabomber)?
“A number of scientists have asked that they be removed from the HI list of experts because of this billboard campaign, and a number of sponsors have withdrawn their funding. I wonder if you will continue to be associated with them (Heartland)? And may I publish any response here: http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/? M. J. Murphy, BCL”
I respond:
“Dear BigCityLib: I am a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, and proud of my association with Heartland. I continue to agree with Heartland that man-made warming is a tiny element of the planet’s warming since the Maunder Minimum ended about 1715…….. “I think the billboard was an effective way to carry this message beyond the current “skeptic” ranks…..“May I publish your decision to renounce the man-made warming campaign and thus spare the public some of the anguish that has been inflicted by this well-meant but now obviously misguided effort? Dennis Avery”.....
A Canadian couple of my acquaintance has just published a book provocatively titled The Locovore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet. A new review in Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “daring, bare-knuckled, frequently sarcastic defense of the status quo in Western industrial agribusiness. From the point of view of the well-off, well-fed North American who does not have to toil much of the day for his subsistence, what’s not to praise in the West’s ability to provide the world with cheap, fast, uniform, reliable, bug-resistant, vitamin-enhanced food?”
Publisher’s Weekly correctly points out that high-yield farming has abolished famine on “our side of the world.” Modern transportation, they note, also allows us to consume all kinds of out-of-season foods......
Bjorn Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus have just joined one of the smallest clubs in today’s world: people who believe that high-yield farming is the path to a sustainable future for people and wildlife despite, and even because of, its pesticides, chemical fertilizers, irrigation dams, and blast-freezers.  Lomborg, famous for his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, summons a quadrennial panel of distinguished economists to examine where the world might invest more effectively to solve solvable problems. In 2004, his panel recommended more investment in fighting HIV/AIDS. In 2008, they suggested more investment in delivering micronutrients to malnourished populations. This year, as Lomborg wrote in the Wall Street Journal on April 24:.....
President Obama stood in the Rose Garden and pledged to prosecute “oil speculators.” Bill O’Reilly goes on TV night after night and blames “speculators” for gas pump prices, while guest after guest tell him he’s wrong. My wife asks, “What’s an oil speculator?”
Most of the speculators are common folk who buy futures contracts for oil to be delivered at some later date. The speculators actually have a lot in common with the rest of us who buy and sell stock when the price and product are attractive. If you want to play, go on line and find a futures broker. You’ll have to buy in big units—1000 barrels per contract—but you pay only about 10 percent of that value up front. Thus you have a lot of leverage. A small price change could yield a lot of profit. Know, however, that your position will be “marked to market” thru the life of the contract, so be prepared for “margin calls” demanding more of your cash if the market moves against you.
If the buying price is $90 per barrel, you’ll be hoping it goes to $92 or $95. If the price drops instead, you’ll think seriously about selling out before you lose more of your money......
My brother lives in Triangle Lake, a small community in Oregon’s Coastal Range foothills, surrounded by pastures and forests. Recently, a wealthy couple from Chicago bought a local property and is kindling what they call the “Pitchfork Rebellion” against pesticides. They allege environmental damage and health hazards to local residents from tree, crop and roadside spraying.
I thought of Larry and Linda when the American Farm Bureau Federation sent me a recent column that said Obama appointees have been are demonstrating what farmers and ranchers have known for years: that too many government agencies have become havens for activists not interested in the basic functions of safety and commerce, but in “reshaping” our society…..What will the Pitchfork Rebellion cost Triangle Lake, and what does EPA’s eagerness to jump into a meaningless fray mean for our futures?.....
President Obama says the Republicans want to throw everyone under the wheels of a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” machine. He says the dog-eat-dog of the free market will be bad for blacks, Latinos, women, and the handicapped.
He’s got it exactly backward. Peaceful competition in free markets is the alternative to Darwinism! Darwin believed in “superior species” winning out by crushing the “weakest.” But human behavior changes much faster than evolution. Free markets, especially, empower everyone to use their special talents, time, and abilities to the fullest. Then everybody prospers—not just special segments of the population.
The hunter-gatherers were the quickest, strongest humans Nature ever bred. The farmers who have followed them have been about ten percent smaller—with smaller brains. But the farmers could produce many times more food per acre, enough to feed larger populations—and thus put more spears and swords into the battle line. Today, our farmers supply ample food for the cities that produce most of our wondrous technology......


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