UN climate panel: By the way, we should probably cool it with the biofuels

That corn ethanol isn’t even remotely “green” is one of the biofuel industry’s worst-kept secrets. Back in 2010, super-duper courageous climate crusader Al Gore himself admitted that “first-generation ethanol, I think, was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small… One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.” There has since been plenty of even mainstream-media ink spilled on the many ways in which ethanol subsidies incentivize farms to bring marginal lands into production, destroying potential conservation areas and increasing fertilizer and water use as a result.


Not that any of those inconvenient truths have deterred lawmakers from districts with agricultural interests from falling all over themselves to protect the several types of generous subsidization coveted by Big Ethanol, nor swayed the sixty-two other countries around the world that have their own forms of biofuels mandates; but even the big-government bureaucrats and climate scientists at the United Nations aren’t bothering to act too excited about biofuels anymore, as they noted in their latest paroxysm of an IPCC report. The Scientific American summarizes:

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has for the first time acknowledged the risks of uncontrolled biofuels development, a skepticism that has slowly emerged into the mainstream scientific community, say academics.

IPCC’s Working Group II report, released this morning in Yokohama, Japan, indicates that the U.N. scientific body on climate change has loosened its 2007 position that defines biofuels as a mitigation strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report affirms that the science that has raised questions around the sustainability of biofuels in the last six years, said Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles program.

“I think that’s switched from being something novel and controversial to something that is common sense,” he said.


The IPCC notes that they still see some potential role for biofuels as part of the global energy mix, but they are at least starting to get a little more forthright about their environmental risks and tradeoffs.

And speaking of farm-state politicians falling all over themselves to protect Big Ethanol’s interests… via the Des Moines Register:

A bill aiding Iowa’s biofuels industry was approved 48-0 Tuesday by the Iowa Senate.

Senate File 2344, which was sent to the House, will increase the tax credit for E15 blended gasoline during the summer months, extend the biodiesel production tax credit for five years to retain and attract biodiesel production to Iowa, and add biobutanol – an advanced biofuel – to the state’s renewable fuels industry, said Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, the bill’s floor manager.

In addition, an amendment to the bill extends tax credits to retailers that sell biodiesel, E15 and E85 motor fuels for an additional two years, from 2017 to 2019. …

“This vote sends a clear message that Iowans are serious about increasing renewable fuels production and use, expanding consumer fuel choice and growing Iowa’s economy,” said Grant Menke, policy director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Huh. “Expanding consumer fuel choice and growing Iowa’s economy” is certainly an interesting euphemism for “artificially directing taxpayer money and private-sector resources toward a politically favored industry at the expense of more productive uses.” I find this kind of Central-Planning-Lite woefully inadvisable on any level, but that’s federalism, I suppose — the only problem is that these state subsidies are merely feeding off of the larger federal subsidies that artificially manipulate national demand in the biofuel industry’s favor.


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David Strom 10:41 AM on September 22, 2023
John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023