08 July 2008

Fools rush in.

The Eco.org.nz website gleefully announces the "strengthened" NZ biofuels bill. In fact, they have completely mucked it up! From their site:

“(3) The principles of sustainable biofuels are as follows:
“Principle 1: Less greenhouse gas
“Sustainable biofuels emit significantly less greenhouse gas over their life cycle than obligation engine fuel. In relation to this principle, the Order in Council must—
“(a) specify a methodology for life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from obligation engine fuels; and
“(b) specify minimum levels of no less than 35% greenhouse gas emission reductions for qualifying biofuels in comparison to obligation engine fuel.
“Principle 2: Food production“ Sustainable biofuels do not compete with food production and are not grown on land of high value for food production. Without limitation, the following biofuels do not contravene this principle:
“(a) byproducts of food production described in the Order in Council:
“(b) ethanol from sugarcane grown in circumstances and in areas described in the Order in Council:
“(c) rotational oilseed crops grown not more than 12 months in any 24 month period on the same land or as otherwise specified in the Order in Council. “ In relation to this principle, the Order in Council must—
“(a) specify a methodology for assessing the effects of the production of a biofuel on food production and for assessing whether those effects amount to competition; and
“(b) specify a mechanism for recognising particular land (including land outside New Zealand) as being land of high value for food production.

What's wrong with this?

The mistake governments are making with biofuels is to subsidize them. Subsidies increase consumption, when we need less consumption! Subsidies do the opposite of promoting conservation. The result is a screwed up agricultural sector. The correct solution is to implement either a properly designed carbon tax or cap & trade system. Then people would be encouraged to conserve, and biofuels would become a natural economically viable alternative to petroleum.

But with the bill described above, we have government trying to meddle in such details as which land has"high value for food production," and minimum standards of carbon emissions for biofuels. The thinking is that we need to avoid taking land out of food production for biofuels, as if land use should be decided by government!

In fact, we need to take land out of food production and put it into biofuels. Currently, we are eating far too much meat and dairy, which require huge tracts of land and cause correspondingly huge environmental impacts. By changing our diets a little bit, we could afford to put some of the land into biofuels. Give peas a chance.

Furthermore, we have to set the market incentives correctly. The government should have the nerve to control carbon emissions directly. Then quit eco-monkeying with details best left to farmers.

Sometimes the environmentalists are the environment's worst enemy!

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