Greenpeace Listens to Reason!?

And changes their minds, no less!

The practice of generating ethanol as a motor fuel from corn grown in the United States has long since been revealed as a total and complete boondoggle.  Even if our entire corn crop were converted into ethanol, it would only meet 17% of our transportation needs.

According to Popular Mechanics, replacing all our petroleum usage would require an astounding 71% of America's arable land.  Despite the record high price of oil, corn ethanol still requires a 51-cent-per-gallon government subsidy to be competitive with oil, in part because it cannot be shipped in an ordinary oil pipeline and must go by rail.

The technical challenges are not the real problem.  Americans are adept at tinkering, and there are already plans to build a national ethanol pipeline that's equipped to deal with the challenges of that particular chemical.  The real trouble is found much closer to home: in the supermarket.

The thing is, modern commercial agriculture runs on corn.  Corn syrup goes into most processed foods, and many meat animals are fed on corn, to say nothing of cornstarch, cornmeal, and so on.  Anyone who does grocery shopping knows that food prices have risen tremendously over the last year; according to the Washington Post, eggs have gone up by an astronomical 30%, milk by 17%, and other staples similarly.

Ordinarily, this kind of inflation would be seen as a national crisis; fortunately, at least part of the problem in the United States is offset by other things getting cheaper.

Third-world countries are not so lucky.  Last year, Mexico was wracked by riots over the price of (corn) tortillas, which had risen by 400% in three months!  American conversion of corn into ethanol was the direct cause of the problem because so much corn was being diverted from the food market to the oil market.  Yet the environmental extremists continue their demands for ethanol, ethanol, ethanol...

Until now.  In an amazing incident of refusing to take "Yes" for an answer, British greens from Oxfam to Greenpeace are protesting the government's decision to require biofuels at the pump, a requirement which they themselves had protested to get put in place!

According to the BBC:

The DfT [British Department for Transport] is itself under pressure from an EU policy demanding the inclusion of 5% biofuels in road fuels by 2010 in an attempt to cut carbon emissions.

The EU's Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas earlier told BBC News that this target should only be reached if the biofuels could be proved to be sustainably produced.

But many will question why energy experts promoting biofuels in the EU were allowed to go unchallenged so long by the views on biofuels of agriculture specialists or soil scientists.

What seems to have happened is that the DfT established their policy based on the rules of Eurocrats and the demands (at the time) of the environmentalists.  However, while doing the bidding of the extremists, they neglected the seemingly obvious point of asking their own chief environmental scientist, Professor Robert Watson, whether this was a good idea.  He read about the plan in the newspaper and immediately went to the press.

It's regrettable that he had to fight fire with fire - that is, fighting a stupid environmental rule by relying on stupid environmental logic.  His argument was that biofuels such as ethanol are not sustainable, because it takes more energy to grow them than they produce and because the total carbon released through the entire process is greater than what you get from petroleum - both of which are perfectly true and perfectly obvious to anyone who's more interested in facts than in propaganda.

His logic plainly shows that these issues should be resolved in the marketplace rather than by government mandate.  But setting all that aside, there are two earthshaking precedents from which we can take hope:

  1. Greenpeace, and their fellow greenies, actually listened to someone else's scientific evidence, and then
  2. They changed their minds.

Of course, they went back to their usual nutty protests and undemocratic demands, but that's not the point.  When was the last time an environmental group changed their minds about anything?

In the specific case of Greenpeace, their own founder has changed his mind on the subject of nuclear power (he now supports it) but he's been more or less disowned.  More recently, Greenpeace has been attacking such core liberal supporters as Leonardo DiCaprio for his apocryphal claims about forest preservation.  Ted Kennedy's wind farm hypocrisies are still the subject of several Greenpeace campaigns.  Could it be that someone in there, somehow, has finally found a brain?

In many ways, America follows behind Europe regarding political trends.  Europe long ago fell victim to the global warming scam, socialized healthcare, and all manner of other ills.  But this is one trend that we need to see far, far more of.

Break out those posters of crying Mexican babies hungry for the corn tortillas that wrongheaded U.S. regulators force us to pour into our gas tanks!  You never know what good might be accomplished.  Who knows, maybe we'll be so lucky as to get Greenpeace in the U.S. protesting against ethanol requirements, just like they're doing in England.

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
About. Freaking. Time.
March 28, 2008 4:20 PM
I won't deny that environmental NGOs have on many occasions supported ideas or policies initially that they later regretted. But in the case of biofuels, they have become un undeserved scapegoat. Or rather, they deserve no more opprobrium than other interest groups.

Many environmentalists and environmental groups have been skeptical about (liquid) biofuels from the start -- at least biofuels made from virgin crops (as opposed, for example, from used cooking oil). Others have pushed for them, at least initially.

But the real engine behind the biofuels juggernaut is a coalition of crop farmers, agri-industry (those who process crops and supply the farmers with their seeds, fertilizers and other inputs), and the politicians that represent their constituencies. More recently, with the enormous subsidies being provided for biofuels, venture capitalists have joined the chorus. Not wanting to loose their shirt, having misjudged the effects of rising feedstock prices, they are now among the fiercest defenders of biofuel support policies and mandates.

So save your attacks on "greenies" for some other issue. You're barking up the wrong tree-hugger.
March 29, 2008 2:49 AM
Don't get too excited. GP just likes controversy. If their own side gets too popular and makes too much money off a particular campaign, they get anxious and have to attack them.
March 31, 2008 10:17 AM
One thing bloggers usually fail to mention is what it costs to grow a bushel of corn. Do you suppose that has anything to do with the price?

Odd isn't it that planting intentions for corn in 2008 are down from 2007.

Hopefully, the days of cheap corn are over for good.

March 31, 2008 12:20 PM
Ironically, the increased acreage devoted to corn for ethanol has displaced several other crops which acually yield oil without distillation. Soybeans and rapeseed for instance. And both are much easier to grow and plowback to restore nitrogen to the soil, unlike corn.

There are 10's of thousands of acres of past jojoba bean plantings (Google it) going to waste in Arizona - same thing - oil without distillation.

Archer Daniels Midland aka ADM, is the real culprit in this crime against reason and humanity.

Their subsidies are second only to those given the oil industry to offset exploration and developement costs.

Tree-huggers who scream for 'renewable energy' are also to blame in this.

Ultimately, energy costs, and renewable energy costs so much more than fossil fuels in every respect that it defies credulity to accept.

The greens are quick to say that 'we can't drill our way out of this' OR 'passive/renewable energy' is the ONLY way out of this'.


Technological advances in exploration, drilling, refining of fossil fuels can offset the current situation and when coupled with some vigorous R&D in internal combustion and hydrogen fuel would have us energy independent within a decade.

But that would mean relying on the evil corporations and not some schmuck with an overgrown whirlygig in his backyard.

April 2, 2008 6:37 AM
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