Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Special: Green Blueprint

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have estimated that 600 million people will go hungry because of biofuels. To avoid such calamities, a blueprint for change is urgently needed. World food prices are contributing to the crisis of global hunger. Violent food riots are breaking out from Mexico to Pakistan and India, and in Africa, in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, and Senegal.

A recent Time World article reports:“The push to produce biofuels as an alternative to hydrocarbons is further straining food supplies, especially in the U.S., where generous subsidies for ethanol have lured thousands of farmers away from growing crops for food.”

Time Magazine, April 7, 2008, indicated that "diversions [to biofuels] raise food prices so the poor will eat less." That's the reason a U.N. food expert recently called agrofuels a "crime against humanity."

Michael Grunwald’s article The Clean Energy Scam makes the point that "ethanol increases global warming, destroys forests, and inflates food prices. Deforestation results from a chain reaction so vast its subtle: U.S. farmers are selling one-fifth of their corn to ethanol production, so U.S. soybean farmers are switching to corn, so Brazilian soybean farmers are expanding into cattle pastures, so Brazilian cattlemen are displaced to the Amazon. It's the remorseless economics of commodities markets."

From the same article, "'The price of soybeans goes up,' laments Sandro Menezes, a biologist with Conservation International in Brazil, 'and the forest comes down.' The basic problem is that the Amazon is worth more deforested than it is intact. Backed by billions in investment capital, this alarming phenomenon is replicating itself around the world. Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that it is ranked among the worlds top carbon emitters."

"In December, President Bush signed a bipartisan energy bill that will dramatically increase support to the industry while mandating 36 billion gallons (136 billion L) of biofuel by 2022. This will provide a huge boost to grain markets. The result is that biofuels increase demand for crops, which boosts prices, which drives agricultural expansion, which eats forests."

"As stated by Homero Pereira, a congressman who is also the head of Brazil's Mato Grosso's farm bureau: 'If you don't want us to tear down the [Amazon] forest, you better pay us to leave it up!' The market drives behavior, so without incentives to prevent deforestation, the Amazon is doomed. Biofuels aren't part of the solution at all. They're part of the problem."

The growth of biofuels is being driven by inept leaderships and unbridled market forces. As the issue of agricultural commodities demonstrates, without responsible stewardship, free markets can undermine Green and directly contribute to global starvation. Never more than today have we been in need of comprehensive strategic planning that encompasses international standards, legislation, and enforcement.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it this way, “More than ever before, solutions must bridge the local and the global. Hunger in Africa will be solved partly by helping farmers get the improved seeds, water pumps and soil nutrients they need for a good harvest. It also requires the traditional U.N. development effort--coupled with a new attention to the environment. Since problems spill across borders, security anywhere depends on sustainable development everywhere."

Bryan Walsh’s article Why Green is the New Red, White And Blue is nothing short of a call to war. He is amongst those who advocate an aggressive, ambitious, and effective plan that would leave the U.S. both environmentally safe and economically sound. "Forget single focus programs like the Manhattan Project or the Apollo program. Think instead of overnight conversion of the world war ll era industrial sector into a vast machine capable of churning out 60,000 tanks and 300,000 planes, an effort that not only did not bankrupt the U.S. but instead made it rich and powerful beyond its imagining and --oh, yes--won the war in the process."

Walsh continues, "[We need a] coherent strategy that mixes short term solutions with farsighted goals, combines government activism with private-sector enterprise and blends pragmatism with ambition, the U.S. can, without major damage to the economy, help halt the worst effects of climate change and ensure the survival of its way of life for future generations. Money will do some of the work, but what's needed most is will."

Ban Ki moon, says "As we embark on this great undertaking, we might recall the historic importance of American leadership in this fight. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy told the U.N. General Assembly, 'The effort to improve the conditions of man...is not a task for the few. It is the task of all--acting alone, acting in groups, acting in the United Nations. For plague and pestilence, plunder and pollution, the hazards of nature and the hunger of children are the foes of every nations. The earth, the sea and the air are the concern of every nation. And science, technology and education can be the ally of every nation.' Let us heed that sound advice."

According to Walsh, putting a charge on carbon emissions (cap and trade system) is the most important part of a blueprint to contain climate change. "The effect is the overall carbon levels fall, and there is even money to be made by being greener than the next guy. That drives investment and research dollars into renewable energy and efficiency. Put a price on carbon and suddenly the alternatives look a lot better."

The Lieberman-Warner (bill) destined to reach the floor of the US Senate this spring, "calls for cutting carbon from most sources to 2005 by 2012 and then 70% below 2005 by 2050...The principal rap against cap and trade proposals is that they would be a drag on the economy. A new study by the National Association of Manufacturers, an industry trade group, estimates that Lieberman-Warner would cost the US up to 4 million jobs by 2030 while eroding US GDP by up to $669 billion per year. It's true that there will be costs associated with any carbon pricing plan; 'You want a clean environment you have to pay for it' says Peter Fusaro, founder of the green investment group Global Change Associates."

"An EPA study found that US GDP would grow just 1% less from 2010 to 2030 under Lieberman-Warner than without it--and that doesn't take into account the potential economic benefits. In an April study, the International Monetary Fund concluded that smart carbon-cutting policies could contain climate change without seriously harming the global economy."

"More than half of American states are committed to or considering mandatory carbon caps. To see why a serious cap and trade system doesn't have to come at the expense of economic growth, take a look at California. In 2006 Governor Schwarzenegger signed the most aggressive carbon regulation in the country (law AB 32), which mandates that the state's greenhouse gas emission be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of 25%. A 2006 report by the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that the law would actually boost the state's GDP by $60 billion and create 17,000 jobs by 2020 as the state's entrepreneurial tech culture churns out new companies to meet the need for energy efficiency."

"While energy intensive industries like cement-making may indeed be driven out, they could be replaced by clean-tech start-ups like Solar-city, which has become in a couple of years the state's fastest-growing solar installer. Nationwide, the American Solar Energy Society estimates there are already 8.5 million jobs in the clean-tech sector, which it projects could grow to 40 million by 2030 with the right projects. Past predictions that environmental laws like the Clean Air Act would decimate California's economy, however, proved false. Darbee of PG&E estimates that the state's green policies have eliminated the need for 24 power plants over the past 30 years--a process called 'demand destruction.' or cutting carbon before it's even born."

"Recent research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) shows that the US could slash the projected growth in the world's energy demand by at least half by 2020 just by taking advantage of existing opportunities to cut waste. Think of simple, costless changes like turning off the lights in offices at night--'that's money on the table,' in the words of efficiency guru Amoryo Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute."

"MGI says annual industry wide investments of $170 billion per year in improvements like green buildings and more efficient cars could yield an additional $900 billion per year in savings by 2020. More important, the emissions cuts resulting from better efficiency could deliver up to half the carbon reductions needed to keep warming at no more than 2 degrees Celsius hotter than the present--considered to be an upper safe level."

"Japan's Smart Top Runner program takes the best model in the marketplace and sets its performance as the industry requirement. Similar rules could be applied to architecture. Since nearly half of US greenhouse gas emissions channel through buildings, there is a sizable opportunity for savings if the government mandated green design rather than depending on architects and builders to adopt it voluntarily. And if utilities were able to institute variable pricing--charging customers more for power during periods of peak demand--there would be enormous improvements."

Ban Ki-moon expressed his faith in innovative solutions when he said "We have begun to appreciate more fully how the world’s dazzling know how can solve the seemingly unsolvable when we view our problems through the right perspective. 'What we need to do over the next 10 to 20 years is redesign our relationship with nature and energy.' says Nicholar Parkere, chairman of the Cleantech Group, a green research organization. Venture capital funding in the clean tech sector hit $5.18 billion in 2007, up 44% from the year before.'There are staggering things that technology can do, but we need to make this happen in as short a time as possible' says Jack Newman of Amyris Biotechnologies. "There may be nothing like free enterprise to unleash innovation, but there's nothing like government to put a whip hand to the process."

Walsh continues "A sustained battle against climate change will hit wallets hard, absorbing perhaps 2% to 3% of US GDP a year for some time, according to energy expert Henry Lee at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, though unchecked warming could end global prosperity. But think of it as an investment: that money, if matched by action internationally, can reduce emissions radically over the next half-century, contain warming and lead to a postcarbon world. Think tanks and war colleges have shown that the outcome of any crisis is usually determined by one dominant global player that has the innovators who can churn out the technology, the financiers who can back it, and the diplomatic clout to pull the rest of the planet along."

The rising cost of fossil fuels spur greater energy efficiency and increase the viability of alterative energy sources. However, without appropriate guidance and stewardship, market forces can drive commodity prices and contribute to starvation and deforestation. Comprehensive blueprints for managing environmental policies must factor market forces if Green is to be sustainable.

Balancing environmentalism with economic growth requires the right mix of environmental measures, scientific research, and entrepreneurial culture. A viable Green blueprint is an overwhelming and ambitious project requiring government research and development dollars, judicious farsighted legislation, efficiency standards, and rigorous enforcement.

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