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Monday, April 19, 2010

Corn Ethanol Propaganda Blitz Backfires

For the full effect, turn your speakers on and click on the box with four arrows in the lower right-hand corner of the video before playing it.

I see it has already drawn a video response from a company that retrofits cars to run on E-85. I cringe at the thought of the hateful comments this video will elicit. Human nature can be an ugly thing to behold.

I put the above video together as an example of anti-propaganda propaganda. The truth is complex; propaganda is simple. The $13.7 billion number in the concluding Google search applies to all lobbying in the united states, not just corn ethanol or biofuels.*

About $8 million was spent on lobbying by various biofuel groups in 2009.

Also note that my title is, ah, presumptive and with a little time may grow into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Propaganda hit its zenith during the World Wars. All sides used it to garner support from the public by fanning the flames of xenophobia. Germany's propaganda in particular was appallingly effective at this.

The concept of evil is all in our minds. In reality, everyone thinks they are the good guys. Here's a recent article on that subject.

Growth Energy has launched this $2.5 million dollar campaign to secure an additional $30 billion in subsidies in the next five years and to get the amount of ethanol blended into our gas increased by 50%, oh, and they are also planning to get our government to fund a dedicated ethanol pipeline to the coasts (so they can export it) making corn ethanol too big to fail.

General Wesley Clark is one of the main players behind this blitz. He has a typical militarist's "us against them" worldview, which I'm guessing overrides the rational, scientific, environmental, and economic arguments against government support of corn ethanol.

IMHO, he's being used by the corn ethanol industry, which would happily export every drop of corn ethanol if they could get a higher price for it overseas as the biodiesel producers were doing (before being slapped with countervailing import duties). And if he protests when they start doing that he will more than likely have to find a new job because this is not really about national security; it's about profit. He just doesn't know that yet.

The following is a screen shot of a Google search I did yesterday on "food vs fuel:"

Note at the top the three sponsored links meant to deflect what you will find with this search term. Is Google being used as a propaganda mill by the highest bidders?

Go here to their $2.5 million dollar propaganda blitz er, ad campaign you have probably already seen on television (note that the word "corn" never precedes the word "ethanol" even though 99.8 percent of all ethanol produced in the United States comes from corn and that the word "food" is also conspicuously absent):

ETHANOL has not shipped a single job overseas--AMERICA'S "ECONOMIC" FUEL--Growth Energy

Well, that's not entirely true. The fertilizer, pesticides, and diesel fuel used on farms and the trucks that transport ethanol, and many of the components in farm equipment as well as the ethanol refineries came from overseas.

I'm not a big fan of fossil fuels but let's be honest here. Which fuel is worse? Imported oil is refined in America, creating many jobs. Saudi Arabia imports its refined gas and diesel. Oil does not send jobs overseas, although buying a Prius or any computer certainly does.

We don't have to wait millions of years to replenish our ETHANOL reserves--AMERICA'S "RENEWABLE" FUEL--Growth Energy

Roughly 75% of the energy contained in a gallon of corn ethanol came from non-renewable fossil fuels. Not to mention, the corn is wholly dependent on fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels. You can't call a fuel that is utterly dependent on fossil fuels renewable. Well, I guess they just did, but not with a straight face.

ETHANOL has contributed $0 to the governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela--AMERICA'S "SENSIBLE" FUEL--Growth Energy

Here they are fanning the flames of xenophobia to hawk their product. Last time I checked, Saudi Arabia was our ally in the Gulf war and even paid for half of it. We still have five air bases located there.

We have not imported oil from Iran for decades. Note, however, that they still manage to sell every last drop to someone. That's because the world is now flat and oil is highly fungible (look it up). We can't crush our "evil" enemies by not buying oil from them.

No wars have ever been fought over ETHANOL--AMERICA'S "PEACE" FUEL--Growth Energy

...yet. Corn ethanol only represents about 2% of our supply. Using all of our cropland for corn ethanol would replace maybe 12%. To replace all of our imported oil with ethanol will require a lot of imports from places like South America where sugarcane ethanol is about ten times more energy efficient to produce.

The "NO WAR FOR OIL" bumper sticker was invented by big biofuel. If you have one on your car you are a dupe. Corn ethanol is not a ticket to world peace and note that our military budget has not been impacted by increased ethanol production.

Our efforts to maintain peace in the Middle East has to continue, oil or no oil, because the world is now flat. Mutually interdependent trading partners are the best chance for maintaining world peace. An energy shortage that brings our trading partners down would bring us down with them, as our banking and housing debacle just did to them.

No U.S. soldiers have been deployed to defend our ETHANOL reserves--AMERICA'S "INDEPENDENT" FUEL--Growth Energy

...yet. According to George W. Bush, our soldiers were deployed to root out weapons of mass destruction and to punish the guy responsible for bringing the Twin Towers down (who actually had nothing to do with it). Is Growth Energy saying our president lied to us? Are they saying he really went to war to protect our oil "reserves?" I'm stunned.

No beaches have been closed due to ETHANOL spills--AMERICA'S "CLEAN" FUEL--Growth Energy

...yet. Remember, corn ethanol only represents about 2% of our supply. Ethanol tanker spills have been causing their share of damage already. The largest fish kill in Illinois history occurred last year when a train pulling corn ethanol tankers derailed. The year before that 25,000 fish were killed and an entire population of an endangered mussel species was wiped out when another biofuel refiner dumped waste into a river in Missouri.

*I tried to replace the words "total spent on lobbying 2009 ...$13.7 billion" with something less potentially misleading like "$30 billion in subsidies, a 50% blend increase ..." in an updated video but was abruptly censored by somebody at Google (who I suspect is a big corn ethanol proponent) with the message, "We're trying to keep these appropriate for everyone ..."

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finally, a Handy-dandy Species Extinction Calculator

Pile of bison skulls collected from prairies to be used for dye and fertilizer go with your Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter.

An article over on Mongabay titled, Turning to the matrix: a more accurate way to predict extinction, discusses a new computer model to help biologists predict extinction rates based on how badly a bipedal carnivorous predatory ape species has devastated a given area of the planet.

You can use your mouse to twiddle the various dials to predict how many species your children and grandchildren will never hope to see alive thanks to us.

Click here for single landscape.

Click here for multiple landscapes.

I'm sure you've seen Avatar, but did you catch the film Call of Life (not to be confused with Call for Life) by The Species Alliance?

Follow the YouTube link to the film's trailer and you will find a single comment:

"What a bunch of delusional crap!"

How poignant. It comes with a link (not provided by me) to an anti-wolf film by a stereotypical Homo sapiens male. His preferred form of recreation is hunting and he hates wolves (because they compete with him for for his status symbols--trophy kills). He also loves to hunt them, which is icing on his cake.

Click here to see the most popular feature films released so far this year. They are almost exclusively focused on two things: sex and violence.

This is what we are. We won't find solutions pretending the world is populated by women. The only thing that keeps you and your family safe at night is the threat of violent force by our sanctioned and regulated police force.

You could safely bet your first born that the person in your backyard wearing that ski mask is not a female. Without a police force to protect the planet's biosphere, it will continue to be destroyed, eventually taking billions of people with it.

The world needs the equivalent of a UN peace keeping force--heavily armed Ranger Ricks--to protect designated nature preserves. Let's call it Ecosystem Protection International (EPI).

See Depopulation may be harming the Amazon rainforest for evidnece that the only thing standing in the way of other groups who want to profit from resources are other groups.

I have a hypothesis. Most people are not particularly concerned when told that billions are going to perish because the thought brings them a measure of anxiety relief (subconscious pleasure). If so it would be a relic from our pliesticine evolution when elimination of another group would free up resources for your own group's use.

Of course, everyone assumes that they won't be among those who will perish. The fact that we are also driving much of the rest of the life that we share this planet with to extinction does not even register with most people. In the past we were only capable of driving isolated ecosystems to extinction (with the attendant human population crashes). What we are witnessing is just the same old, same old on a planetary scale.

Update [5/6/2010] Check out this TED talk found on Treehugger.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Climate Debate Apogee

Foil hat image from Wikipedia Commons.

Climate Gate was inevitable. For a while there the lay press and television news was rife with headlines about various and sundry climate science "hoaxes." I dutifully chased down one claim after the other, which all turned out to be hoax hoaxes. Luckily there are a few blogs out there that serve as liaisons to climate scientists, conveying explanations to the general public. Most researchers are not real interested in engaging the ignorant masses (and who can blame them). They just want to do their research.

Climate Gate reinforced my opinion that climate change is real. Nothing more convincing than watching three or four front page hoax claims go down in flames in quick succession. You would think that a line of debunked claims stretching past the horizon would dampen a skeptic's enthusiasm but then again, the majority of Americans don't buy the theory of evolution.

Climate Gate had the opposite impact on many people, reinforcing their suspicion that climate change is a hoax. The difference being that some sought out and read science-based sources to get the real scoop and others stuck with what they last saw in their local newspaper, or most likely, television news. Television is the backbone of ongoing adult education in America. Read "Entertaining Ourselves to Death" then rent the movie Idiocracy ; )

The game is over. Public interest is rapidly waning. Most have made up their minds. Not that it matters. It is unlikely that our government is capable of solving the problem--not real sure they should try. There is a very real chance they would only make things worse as witnessed with corn ethanol. Hopefully, solutions will arrive "despite" government, as sometimes happens. It is possible that a green energy meme has been set in motion as happened with family size in the past. Time will tell.

If we are to replace fossil fuels with something better, it will happen for reasons unforeseen at this time. The future is notoriously hard to predict. I once thought that personal computers in homes were a fad that would eventually give way to cheap word processors (which was actually starting to happen) and machines dedicated to computer games (which is happening). Then the Internet came along.

There are still quite a few sputtering armchair climatologists out there (a subspecies of Internet Baboon) participating in the skeptic echo chamber. One great explanation I've seen for their existence (on top of my contention that people are capable of and willing to believe anything they want) involves an aspect of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I'm not sure how seriously to take parts of this study. The authors were the recipients of the prestigious Ig Nobel prize (get it, ignoble?). The Dunning-Kruger studies are sometimes used (wrongly) to beat debate opponents about the head and shoulders with the claim they are too stupid to know how stupid they are.

It isn't about stupidity (whatever that is). It is about ignorance. We can be too ignorant to know just how ignorant we are. You see this a lot in comment fields.

I read the book Superorganism by Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson. It must weigh five pounds and represents the tip of an iceberg. Who would have dreamed that there is so much to know about ...ants. Imagine the equivalent of today's armchair climatologists engaging Wilson in debate on the subject of sociobiology, or ants for that matter.

I recall the time I used the Great Wall of China as an example of government waste in an article only to be called on the carpet by a scholar who studies great walls around the world (and apparently there are many such walls). In another article about rhino poaching I attracted a specialist in rhinos with similar results.

I also recall a beer commercial where the engineer put the finishing touch on the business jet he just designed (closing the radome). Miller time! The person who wrote that commercial had no idea what it takes to design a jet, or a radome for that matter ; ).

[Update 4/12/2010: A short, relatively respectful debate ensued in the comment field from which I drew a few more insights. What motivates the armchair climatologist? Some apparently see themselves as purveyors of truth and justice, struggling against the "establishment." This suggests to me that whatever it is that motivates the stereotypical conspiracy theorist is also at work here in the climate skeptic blogs.

In this case my nemesis used the bacterial-ulcer link and continental drift as examples where the established science was overturned by armchair versions of geologists and medical researchers. I love analogies but a bad analogy is worse than no analogy. For starters, my debate partner got it ass-backwards. The new science is climate change. The old guard is saying that there is no anthropomorphic climate change. He's defending what was once thought to be true.

The continental drift theory had been kicked around for centuries and was not particularly controversial. A concerted attempt to debunk it was made by a physicist as late as 1953 and his arguments would have looked very sound to armchair plate-techtonisists. I'm sure he would have had a large following had the internet existed.

The bacterial link to ulcers was discovered by researchers using the scientific method and peer reviewed publications.

All new theories, evolution, relativity, you name it, are met with resistance by other scientists The scientific method works because it meshes with human nature. Scientists love to prove their competitors wrong, which can also be an easy ticket to fame and glory. Finding flaws in a theory or hypothesis is much easier than forming a new one.