Corn Flakes

He wasn’t a great comedian so they called him a “humorist”. None of his anecdotes or one-liners outlived him and when one of his stories bombed – or hit a nerve – he followed up with his famous comment, “I only know what I read in the newspapers”.

It was Will Rogers’ way of telling his audience that they were a group of “know-nothings”– that they followed the crowd, went with the flow, stayed in the mainstream. And he was right. If it appeared on page one of the newspapers, it was “Gospel truth” back then. Just like now. The papers today are filled with favorable reports about biofuels, and the public, of course, is lapping it up. The media says it’s the way to beat high gasoline prices and threatened climate change, so let’s go for it. Let’s leap before we look, like we always do.

The other side of the story as reported by Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reads like this:

“WASHINGTON – Clearing land to produce biofuels such as ethanol will do more to exacerbate global warming than using gasoline or other fossil fuels, two scientific studies show.

“The independent analyses, which will be published today in the journal Science, could force policy makers in the United States and Europe to reevaluate incentives they have adopted to spur the production of ethanol-based fuels … and many members of Congress have touted the expansion of biofuel use as an integral element of the nation’s battle against climate change, but these studies suggest that this strategy will damage the planet rather than help protect it.

“One study, written by a group of researchers from Princeton University, Woods Hole Research Center, and Iowa State University, along with an agricultural consultant – concluded that over 30 years, the use of traditional corn-based ethanol would produce twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as regular gasoline. Another analysis, written by a Nature Conservancy scientist along with University of Minnesota researchers, found that converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands in Southeast Asia and Latin America to produce biofuels would increase global warming pollution for decades, if not centuries.

“Tim Searchinger, who conducts research at Princeton and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an organization based in Washington, D.C., said the research he and his colleagues did is the first to reveal the hidden environmental cost of producing biofuels.

“‘The land that we’re likely to plow up is the land that we’ve had taking up carbon for decades,’ said Searchinger, the lead author. Estimating that it would take 167 years before biofuel would stop contributing to climate change, he added, ‘We can’t get to a result, no matter how heroically we make assumptions on behalf of corn ethanol, where it will actually generate greenhouse gas benefits.’”

[So just this once, maybe we should look before we leap. Let’s look into the “Cui bono” aspect.]