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Cows Are the Real Hogs: The IPCC and the Demand Side of Agriculture

One small but important breakthrough in the new IPCC report on climate mitigation, released Sunday in Berlin, is that the chapter on agriculture, forest, and other land use (AFOLU) looks at the demand side, not just supply. In other words, it not only asks how we can create less global warming pollution in producing food and wood products, but also what kinds of food and wood products we ought to be producing and consuming if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. Read More

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What Are We Doing with our Planet’s Land? A Report from Berlin

I’m in Berlin at the Global Land Project conference, a biennial gathering of about 1000 scientists who study how we Earthlings use our world. I gave a talk on beef compared to other meats in the informal “Pecha Kucha” format, which requires you to use only 20 slides, each displayed for only 20 seconds. It was fun, but the big excitement has been hearing new ideas presented by researchers from all over the world.
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A Tipping Point for Palm Oil, Deforestation, and Peat?

History is happening all the time, but usually without us realizing it. Only rarely do we experience a change so dramatic that we know that what’s happening today will be remembered fifty or a hundred years in the future. The kind of thing that you’ll tell your grandchildren about. This is especially the case for so-called “tipping points,” celebrated in both scientific and popular writing. Usually, you only realize that something was a tipping point after you’re well past it. But sometimes…

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Biodiesel Update: Now with More Soy

I’ve said before that the food versus fuel debate is about more than corn, and specifically that using a large share of America’s vegetable oil for fuel would be counterproductive, and would do more to expand unsustainable palm oil production than to sustainably cut oil use and reduce carbon emissions. Read More

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Through the Blend Wall or Not: Experts Weigh in on Ethanol Blends and the Future of Biofuels

How much ethanol can we use? Not as much as the corn ethanol lobby says, but considerably more than the oil industry wants you to think. The trench warfare between oil and corn ethanol interests over the future of biofuels policy distracts us from the more important questions. To understand the practical constraints facing the near term implementation of biofuel policy, it’s important to remember that there are 15 million flex fuel cars on America’s roads today capable of running on blends of 85 percent ethanol (E85) – it just isn’t broadly available. The implications reach beyond just corn ethanol. Read More

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The EPA and Biofuels: Smart Goals, but an Outdated Roadmap

It may sound backwards, but the EPA’s proposal at the end of last week to reduce the 2014 biofuels mandates in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) is just what we need to make sure we realize the promise of truly low carbon biofuels that cut oil use while minimizing competition with food. But while adjusting mandates in light of up-to-date data is smart, the EPA’s proposal goes too far, and could slow forward progress. Before finalizing the rule, the EPA should carefully balance near term challenges with the need to maintain progress toward long term oil saving and climate goals. Read More

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Talking Biofuels: A Conversation with University of Illinois Biofuel Experts

I’ve long admired and relied on the work of the ag economists at Farmdoc Daily, particularly Scott Irwin and Darrel Goode. They’ve done a lot of insightful analysis on the agricultural market impact of biofuel mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard — analysis that I rely on to make the case for a flexible, cautious approach to implementing the standard to ensure our clean fuel goals don’t come into conflict with food security and climate protection. I was lucky enough to spend a day recently with Scott, Darrel and other researchers at their home base of the University of Illinois, talking over the future of biofuels. Read More

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The Future of Biofuels Part 3: Biodiesel

Faithful readers will have seen my data-based analysis of the US mandates for biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)  big choices on how to administer the program looking ahead. These choices highlight how the “food versus fuel” debate extends far beyond corn. The bottom line is that if the agency expands the RFS advanced mandate to make up for the slow commercialization of non-food “cellulosic” fuels, it will undermine the environmental and fuel security goals of the fuel standard, and contribute to food supply problems worldwide. Read More

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President’s Proposed Energy Security Trust Could Help, But Much More Needed to Address Oil Use

During President Obama’s State of the Union address, he spoke to the importance of cutting America’s oil use. As part of that, he proposed the creation of an Energy Security Trust that would use revenues from oil and gas production to invest in research for clean vehicle technology. The goal: to “shift our cars and trucks off oil for good” and “free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.”

So, would a proposed trust help or hurt efforts to cut oil use? Or is it too soon to tell? Read More

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Is the Drought a Perfect Storm for U.S. Beef?

In writing about climate change it’s hard to avoid the use of catch phrases and clichéd metaphors, as much we try to stop shooting silver bullets and keep all those pesky canaries out of our coal mines. At times, though, such oft-repeated words are used in paradoxical ways, jarring you into thinking about them a bit more deeply. This happened to me a few days ago when, in response to new Department of Agriculture data on the U.S. livestock industry, a beef producer referred to the impacts of the persistent drought as “a perfect storm.” Read More

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