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Climategate: Lord Monckton’s Mistake

The good gentleman was wrong when he claimed in Copenhagen that ethanol production has led to millions of people starving.

by
Robert Zubrin

Bio

December 19, 2009 - 12:00 am

Earlier this week, Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley made international headlines when he compared a group of global warming protesters who broke up a meeting of Americans for Prosperity in Copenhagen to “Hitler Youth.”

In addition to upsetting those sympathetic to the prerogative of groups of zealous young people to silence non-conforming opinions through direct action, the comment also excited criticism from history buffs, who have pointed out that the preferred Nazi instrumentality for engaging in such activities was actually the SA, or Brownshirts, not the Hitler Youth, and therefore the British noble’s comment was technically inaccurate.

Be that as it may, Lord Monckton subsequently made it clear that his harsh remark was based not merely upon the manners of the intruders, but upon their program, which he said could cost the lives of millions of poor people around the globe. Now this is certainly true. The leading slayer of people in the world today is, as it has been throughout history, poverty. Its sole antidote is economic growth. Thus any program, such as regressive carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes designed to prevent the development of third world countries can only be considered anti-human in the extreme.

In their crazed quest for racial purification, Hitler’s followers killed tens of millions. A global program of sacrificing human prospects in order to try achieve weather control could easily result in an even greater toll.

So there was real substance to Monckton’s remark. Yet then he went completely off the tracks. “Because of the biofuel scam,” he said, “world food prices have doubled. That is because of the global warming scare … and as a result of that, millions are dying in third world countries.”

In point of fact, world food prices have not doubled. Far from it. Corn prices last year were over $7 per bushel. Today, despite a continued increase in U.S. ethanol production, corn stands at $3.75 per bushel. The reason for this is that corn and other grain commodity prices have not been driven by ethanol production, but by oil prices, which have fallen 50% since their $140/bbl peak last year.

Beyond the commodity price, retail food prices are also strongly affected by transport and processing costs, which once again are heavily affected by the price of oil.  Thus, by attacking oil prices, biofuel production has actually served not to raise consumer food costs, but to lower them.

Monckton is also incorrect in ascribing the biofuel expansion to global warming alarmists. While it is true that some biofuel advocates have attempted to use carbon emission reduction as a rationale for supporting their industry, the actual global warming militants have been anything but supportive. Rather, led by such key figures as former Environmental Defense Fund staff attorney Tim Searchinger and population control advocate David Pimentel, they have vigorously attacked the global biofuel program precisely because it is contributing to economic growth in third world countries.

Moreover, the “food vs. fuel” argument that Monckton has apparently embraced comes straight out of the same Malthusian ideology that is the foundation for the thinking of the anti-development activists, as well as the prior generation of “overpopulation” alarmists (and, for that matter, the Hitler Youth).

Fundamentally, the Malthusian argument goes like this. (A) There isn’t enough of X to go around. (B) Therefore, human aspirations must be constrained. (C) Therefore an authority must be empowered with sufficient force to crush the lives of large numbers of people. Whether the “X” involved that must be controlled is Lebensraum, food, natural resources, or the right to engage in activities that emit carbon (i.e., live), the bottom line is always the same. Contrived scarcity is used to justify tyranny.

This is why Monckton’s error in adopting the food vs. fuel bunk is so serious. There is no fundamental difference between the overpopulation ideologue’s contention that food shortages will be caused by the addition of more people and the anti-biofuel  line that expanding alternative markets for agricultural produce will lead to starvation. Both have the same conceptual foundation, and both are equally false.

The Nazis also considered food supplies finite and attempted to conserve them by exterminating all those they termed “useless eaters.” They failed, and partially in consequence, the world population has tripled since the 1930s. Yet nearly everywhere, people have far more to eat, not less. This is because farmers produce in response to demand. The larger the market, the more food will be produced, and the cheaper it will be. Not only that, the larger the market, the greater incentives there are for research in more advanced methods of agriculture. The results of this have been striking.

For example, in significant part as a result of the corn ethanol boom, American corn yields per acre are now 25% higher than what they were seven years ago, and five times higher than what they were in the late 1940s. In 2007, the dtate of Iowa alone produced more corn than the entire United States did in 1947, and nationally, corn yields are rising at a rate that will double output per acre again before the end of the next decade. And the improved seed strains and techniques that enable this will not only benefit American farmers and consumers, but the entire human race as their knowledge and use spreads around the globe.  Aborting this progress in order to protect the oil cartel’s ability to impose scarcity can only do the greatest harm to the ability of humanity to keep itself fed or, even more importantly, to keep itself free.

So let’s give one cheer to Lord Christopher Monckton for bravely holding a harsh mirror up to some confused youngsters that they might see themselves in the roles they have been scripted to play, and perhaps choose other parts. Hopefully, though, the good gentleman will also use the glass to reflect some light on his own text, and request some other lines for himself as well.

Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of "Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil". His newest book, "Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism" has just been published by Encounter Books.
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