Monday, June 23, 2008

Sachs takes down biofuels

These are comments from Jeffrey Sachs on biofuels and the food crisis last Friday. Pretty damning...

"My own view is that it is a significant factor. It's not the overwhelming factor, but it's a significant factor, and it's a mistake in my opinion, under the circumstances. ... To take 1/3 of the maize production out of the food system is by any account a very significant development which when there was ample food stocks and lower food prices may or may not have been justified -- I think it was arguable then -- but under the current circumstances does not make sense. It's also billions of dollars of consumer subsidies. I don't think Americans are really aware of how much subsidy they're paying for this right now. To pay for subsidy that drives up their food crisis for a technology that does not net save energy or reduce the carbon footprint and is now being justified in my view an unconvincing way ["stepping stone to a second generation"] my question would be, why not start with the second generation, thank you. There's nothing special about investing in ethanol that's going to help us get to the cellulosic ethanol which could be better because it would compete less directly with the food stock, but there we go there's a tremendous amount of scientific research that's needed, and we're not learning what to do by using the current approach. It's not that this is a major scientific input to a new discovery. This is an established technology, and not a very good one. What we need is a better techonlogy and I'm all in favor of investing federal money in that ... and seeing whether there could be improved biofuel technologies that don't compete with foodstocks. ... But we don't have that right now, certainly not at a commercial basis. ... I think the US government is basically justifying what is hard to justify right now and it's become much less justifable under the circumstances of world price trends, and then with the disaster underway in the American midwest of an even bigger crisis in total grain output, I think it calls it into question even more sharply."

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