Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hey Migz! Feed the Cars or Feed the People?

BIOFUELS were again being pushed in the Media today by Senator Migz Zubiri (who should really be out helping to arrest his benefactor in Maguindanao, the fugitive from Justice, Lintang Bedol). Now, I rarely agree with United Nations Rapporteurs especially on "human rights" and so-called "internationalized justice." But the call for a moratorium on biofuel production by Jean Zigler, UN Rapporteur on the right to food makes a good bit of sense to me, whereas Zubiri just reeks of the kind of Greenpeace politics that can only make the situation worse with pseudoscientific crapola.

For countries like the Philippines, with its puny 300,000 square kilometers of land area (compared to the US at 9.8 million sqkm and Brazil with 8.5 million sqkm), simple arithmetic compelled me to oppose Zubiri's snake oil called the Biofuels Act of 2006. It may be green and sexy to be for "renewable energy" -- which is the main selling point of the biofuels idea, it is in my opinion a bad choice for a country like the Philippines, where hunger is said to be at record levels. Whatever the true hunger statistics are, it simply makes no sense to be feeding the cars and not the people. Even though the UN's recommendation for moratorium targets biofuels made from food stocks like corn (for methanol) or coconut (to make cocodiesel), the effect of planting stinky non-food-stocks like jatropha reduces the land available for growing food.

Considering the serious turn in the price of oil this past week and the very dark energy picture worldwide, we certainly cannot afford the feel-good proposals of politicians like Migz Zubiri. His biofuels advocacy is not only shortsighted, he is only deceiving the people that we can somehow solve the energy crisis without a good deal of personal and universal sacrifice.

Because there are simply no immediate technological solutions, certainly not along the lines that Zubiri's friends in Greenpeace can turn from snake oil to fuel oil, I think that we should put the highest priority in laws as well as in practice to CONSERVATION. Some ideas:

(1) This Christmas season, the sale and use of Christmas lights ought to be outlawed or at least given the greatest possible emphasis for non-use except perhaps on Christmas and New Year's Eve, but not a month-long orgy of blinking waste. Cities, shopping malls and private homes need to set practical targets of reduction and carry them out with resolve.

(2) I am for matching the fluctuations in global oil prices with punitive EXCISE TAXES on gasoline in order to strictly limit demand and to encourage carpooling and the use of public transportation.

(3) Planned, rolling blackouts throughout the country ought to be considered before they become unavoidable.

(4) I would subsidize the replacement of all incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient fluorescents and even LED lights.

All in all, we simply have to conserve and suppress energy consumption and demand, becauses prices and supply are not going to be cooperating very much with our profligate lifestyle.

For the longer term, I think that other forms of renewable energy than biofuels need to be given high priority for research and evaluation. For example wind, solar and wave energy sources have to be developed and encouraged with tax and other financial support incentives.

I am also for re-commissioning the Bataan Nuclear Plant as proposed by a Japanese engineering outfit that has deemed the proposal viable.

14 comments:

blackshama said...

Biofuels can be best described as "energy carriers" where according to thermodynamics laws just carry transformed energy (in this case from sunlight via photosynthesis). Thus as best biofuels can only be a stop gap measure before we can shift to a more sustainable energy economy. This means we should harness energy MORE DIRECTLY and thereby increase efficiency. The choices could be solar, wind and hydrogen and to the horror of greenpeaceniks, nuclear energy.

Unfortunately we are at least a century from a complete shift to these energy resources.

While the ethics of using ethanol and coco methylesters with regards to food security and sustainability is something we have to discuss, a possible solution is to use as a transitional measure for biofuel production, plants that can grow in marginal environments and are not used for food. There are several woody grasses that can be used for producing ethanol from cellulose. But then again we haven't found an efficient way of doing this.

Of course you have hit the nail on the head. Increasing efficiency requires getting more work for less energy. The economy should direct resources to its most important functions. Also we have to put a cap to economic growth.

You forgot to say that the nation should restrict the importation of SUVs and instead promote the use of more efficient motor vehicles.

Carpooling should be encouraged and employees given incentives to do so. One of the things that really irritate me is the traffic generated by "conyo" schools (especially on Katipunan Road) where most students are chauffered at one student per car. Now these schools preach sustainability. The administrators of these schools should encourage car pooling where it would matter most by giving tuition fee discounts to students who would do so. Now instead of charging ever increasing "educational development fees" every year, they can dispense with this for energy efficiency.

Of course changing lightbulbs will help. Christmas light use should be just for a week each year. Malls will have to shorten their operating hours.

As for nuclear energy, I support the idea that we consider doing so but we have to adopt the newer designs.

DJB Rizalist said...

blackshama,
yeah the nuclear option is the most intriguing possibility. that westinghouse reactor is not a bad design (from the 70s). now i understand the chinese have some fool proof designs since they are planning to ramp up quickly to 300 (?) reactors. funny, i see some papers that list fission as "non renewable" but fusion reactors as "renewable". too bad the latters may be years away. doesn't seem like we've come much closer to that holy grail than in 1980 when i was in grad school and it was one of the really hot topics for phd work. so far, nada, though containment times are said to have gone up a hundred fold (to like one nanosecond or something, hehe).

Looks like we have to do it the hard way: conserve...thank god for global warming, eh?

Yak said...

djb
I read in an article once that in order to make jatropha (one of the sources of bioethanol) a commercially viable endeavor or business, the company needs at least 5,000 hectares of land. Mind you, these tuba-tuba plants are not edible. This is 5,000 hectares which could be utilized to produce food staples like rice, corn, cassava, etc.

If we're talking about land area, you are correct. The LA of the philippines is so small. I've been to the countryside and I have seen that there are a lot of vacant fertile lands and yet the philippines has one of the highest incidence of hunger and malnourishment. I also understand that more and more people in the provinces prefer to work in the city rather than till the land.

True, conservation is the key. More than that, i think one technology that hasn't been given much attention is that of biomass. I have seen in one show in a japanese channel that the garbage they collect is also the source of the fuel for the garbage trucks. It pays for itself. Given the amount of garbage, piggeries and poultries, i think his is one aspect people should exploit.

I recently read that a German company developed a 5MW wind turbine. Imagine one turbine could address the energy needs of at least 5,000 to 10,000 households with one wind turbine? Yes, the barriers to entry for this business would be very high but if the government would support these endeavors, we can do away with coal-fired and diesel-fired power plants slowly. I also agree with the revival of the bataan nuclear power plant. It would solve a lot of energy problems.

There are a lot of ways to preserve and conserve energy. What's lacking is the will.

DJB Rizalist said...

Yak,
Of all the alternatives, I really like the tidal and wave energy idea. Imagine, energy from lunar gravitation! Now that's hydroelectric power.

I just can't believe this archipelago doesn't have a couple of dozen places like the Bay of Pfundi to make the Maria Christina Falls look like a drycell battery.

Amadeo said...

It is sad to point out that Sen. Zubiri comes from and represents Mindanao where poverty incidence is much more acute than the rest of the country. Thus, one cannot understand his priorities on biofuels when at the very least he should be focusing on food production, like in agriculture, where the comparative advantage dynamic works best for the area. But then again he is very closely identified with the sugar industry.

Many residents in Mindanao are already great energy conservationists, since many areas even those not too far away from population centers do not even have electricity.

DJB Rizalist said...

AMADEO,
good point. i bet Migz has noticed the rather cozy relationship that evolved between the Brazilian hacenderos and their Military over there. Sweets for the sweet so to speak!

blackshama said...

This discussion is so timely for me. I'm in Washington DC for the People and the Planet gabfest. Nonetheless jatropha is on the menu. I spoke with Jatropha scientists and if they are right, Jatropha can grow best in places where kamote wouldn't even dare grow (much more other water intensive food crops).

Hunger in the Philippines has a lot of other causes aside from the environmental. Political and governance are more in the realtime than environment. We are not as bad as in Africa where climate shift is now a big factor in food insecurity.

Do you know that India has emerged as the 4th largest producer of wind turbines? They now give the Danes and Germans a run for their money!

As for India and China, they are pilloried here by the Americans. But they don't even bother to listen to America.

As for tidal energy, I have 20 units of oceanography credits under my belt and they taught me that the tidal range in the Philippines is too low for tidal energy to be practical. We are better off with wind and geothermal.

DJB Rizalist said...

It is certainly a time for answers and solutions. I saw a thing on the BBC the other day where they are making briquets from raw garbage and turning it into fuel, but combined with a very simple innovation on the native style ovens, they also get a very efficient and low cost cooking system.

WRite that stuff up on your blog after gabfest, I'd be very interested because I think even with stuff like solar, wind and tides, there is invention possible that might surprise even the scientists who are used to think along certain lines and at certain scales.

baycas2 said...

i hope migz already converted his caddy into a biocaddy (Biodiesel Cadillac Escalade EXT) one.

Biocaddy...the world's cleanest SUV.

DJB Rizalist said...

they can always plant jatropha (also called "stinkweed" because of its smoky carboniferous emissions when burned, on them thar golf courses.

viking said...

Here's my list ofenergy saving tips certified by the International Standards Organization.

viking said...

DJB,

1. Seriously, our Filipino landowners represented by the gayly metrosexual and credit-grabbing Dayana Zubiri (one day he'll claim he invented biofuels) stand to benefit from biofuels production. Some farmers, maybe. But if the trend becomes worldwide, food prices will shoot up but hey, aren't we supposed to use production factors to best advantage? The worst losers will be the urban poor, for whom safety nets need to be designed. The concern should not be food security but income security in the era of globalization.

2. It's a bad idea to limit Christmas lighting. Not because we might a rebellion by superstitious Christians but because it doesn't make sense. We have a monumental excess power capacity. During night-time off-peak periods, base load plants )hydro, coal, natural gas) have to be run at their economic minimum, and rates are really cheap. In fact, Napocor offers so-called 'dump' rates to large industrial customers in the One-day-power-sales program. A large part of the 'excess' power is used to pump water up from Lake Laguna to Caliraya, to be released and reconverted back to electricity during the daytime peak.

3. It's a bad idea to subsidize conversion from incandescents to fluorescents because prices now are almost at parity. I was pushing for a subsidy program in the mid-nineties because at the time, the price ratio was more than six.
What is more horrible is that you'd be depriving our beloved bourgeoisie the right to have cool ambient and accent lighting. Only the proles use lighting for exclusively functional reasons.
Aren't you revealing an authoritarian tendency here? What are you espousing, new conservatism or neo-conservationism.

4. FYI, a 27 megawatt wind power plant has been in operation in Ilocos Norte since 2005. Partly funded with a grant from the Danes, but owned by the aptly named Northwind Development Corporation.

ricelander said...

The nuclear option is viable but since there is the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant which was snowballed because it's a Marcos pet project, it's still out of the question until perhaps the haters of Marcos are out of power. Tchk, they just hate it when Marcos , the evil one, turns out right hehehe.

The wind power plant in Ilocos Norte has been in operation for quite sometime now, but, you see, it's a project of a Marcos, the son of the evil one, so...

Tiki Music said...

Actually, Greenpeace is not only critical of the emphasis on biofuel

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tags/biofuels

it also supports many of the points given by the writer. One might even say that the writer repeats many points that have been raised by Greenpeace for years.

Second, it is interesting that no one has raised the issue of peak oil (http://www.energybulletin.net and http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/BreakingNews.html) and its connections to the coming global credit crunch, rising food prices, pollution, and so on.