Archive for May, 2008

“In Defense of Biofuels” Published

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008


I’ve just published an article entitled “In defense of biofuels” in The New Atlantis. It is a comprehensive refutation of the current PR campaign being waged against biofuels by the oil cartel.

You can read it here:

Robert Zubrin

author; “Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil.”

Upcoming testimonies

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Gal Luft will be testifying in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 21 on “The Rise of Sovereign Wealth Funds: Impacts on U.S. Foreign Policy and Economic Interests”.

Anne Korin will be testifying in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 22 on “Rising Oil Prices, Declining National Security

We’ll post the testimonies after the hearings.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Set America Free Coalition member Robert Zubrin writes in the New Atlantis:

n the world markets, the cost of a barrel of oil is, at this writing, over $120. In the United States, a gallon of gasoline now costs, on average, roughly $3.50. Even when adjusted for inflation, both of those figures are now higher than they have ever been—higher than during the 1973 oil embargo, higher than during any subsequent peak. And yet, bizarrely, instead of focusing their attention on the staggering cost of oil and its ruinous implications for global growth and economic wellbeing, American policymakers and energy analysts have begun to decry a different fuel—one that holds the key to ending our dependency on expensive oil purchased from countries with interests inimical to our own.

Read the whole thing.

Once again, hat in hand, we go to Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

originally posted by Set America Free Coalition member Gal Luft on MESH on May 16:

Four months and thirty extra dollars a barrel later, President Bush is again in Saudi Arabia trying to persuade the Saudis to open the spigot and increase OPEC production. Last time the answer was a resounding no. Not even a gift of 900 precision-guided bombs helped convince the Saudis to show more oomph at the pump. The lesson for the Administration: speak softer and wave a bigger gift. This time the United States has agreed to help Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, develop “civilian” nuclear power.

Of course the Saudi interest in nuclear power has nothing to do with energy production but with Iran and the Sunnis’ fears of Iranian hegemony. Does President Bush really believe that helping the Saudis with nuclear technologies would cause Tehran to pull the plug on its nuclear program?

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi insists that the oil market is well supplied, blaming the high prices on hedge funds and speculators. Considering the fact that OPEC production level is not much higher than its level thirty years ago and that Saudi output is lower than it was two years ago, putting the entire blame on speculators is utter nonsense.

The Saudis have always taken pride in their role as swing producers, claiming to own over 2mbd in spare capacity. But what good is this liquidity mechanism if they are not prepared to use it? When last month Nigeria’s production fell by 330,000 bpd, OPEC did not lift a finger to compensate for the loss. At what level will they provide us with liquidity? $200? $300?

If the Saudis are right and it’s all about the speculators, why not put this to test? This is exactly what Bush should have suggested: pour some oil into the market for a limited period of time and let’s measure the effect on prices so we can determine who is the culprit. With projected revenues of $400 billion this year, the Saudis can surely afford to embark on such an experiment and clear their name once and for all. But as I wrote here in January, we’d rather beg than blame.

The spectacle of an American president begging for oil every few months only to be rewarded with a slap in the face is getting a bit tedious. What’s next? Naming one of our aircraft carriers USS Ibn Saud?

Don’t Americans deserve a choice?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Set America Free chair Anne Korin writes in the Miami Herald:

the best way to address the oil price increases is to steer a course toward stripping OPEC of its hold on the world’s unmentionables by stripping oil of its strategic value, which derives from its domination of the transportation sector (contrary to beliefs mysteriously held by many politicians, we hardly use any oil to generate electricity these days).

Doing so requires choice at the pump. It costs less than $100 per car to make this choice possible. Flex fuel vehicles, that can run on any combination of gasoline and a variety of alcohol fuels (not just ethanol, and not just agriculture based) look and perform exactly like gasoline only cars, with the added benefit of letting drivers choose what to fill up with. Every new car sold in America should be a flex fuel vehicle.

What would be the impact of this?

More than 90 percent of new cars sold in Brazil this year are flex fuel, driving fuel competition at the pump to the point where the Brazilian oil industry has had to keep gasoline prices sufficiently low to compete with ethanol and not lose even more market share. So low that it actually just received a government subsidy to do so. Competition in Brazil is working so well that a big Brazillian sugar and ethanol firm just bought out the distribution assets of Exxon in Brazil. Think of it: in Brazil, farmers took on oil, and won. Don’t Americans deserve to have a choice too?

She’ll be testifying in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the impact of increasing oil prices on national security on May 22.

The “conventional wisdom” is full of it

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Set America Free Coalition member Cliff May fires a strong salvo in the direction of those that haven’t learned that teaching someone to fish so he can feed himself is always better than giving him a fish:

It’s become the conventional wisdom and William Tucker, writing in The Weekly Standard, expressed it most eloquently: “Right now, we’re trying to run our cars on corn ethanol instead of gasoline. As a result, we suddenly find ourselves taking food out of the mouths of children in developing nations. That may sound harsh, but it also happens to be true.”

Give this a little thought: The suggestion is that American farmers are growing corn primarily to feed children in the Third World. And since people in these nations lack not only food but also money, it assumes that American taxpayers must buy this corn for them and pay to ship it across the ocean to them.

In other words, implicit in this argument is the notion that developing nations are not developing at all, and never will be. Instead, they must depend on Americans for their basic subsistence. Is this what we believe? Is this the model — the Third World as permanent American ward and welfare recipient — that we accept and envision for the future?

Cliff discuss the difference between relief (give a fish) and development (teach to fish) and notes:

the moment you send in free food, you collapse local prices and pauperize those farmers who have managed to raise crops and who want to sell them, make money, improve their farms and increase their production in the future.

In Africa, where I once served as a New York Times bureau chief, people are not poor because they are unwilling to work hard or because they can’t master agricultural skills, or because the land lacks the potential to produce bounty. They are poor largely because they are oppressed by governments that range from the inept to the tyrannical.

He discusses the real drivers of famine and food price increase, that have nothing to do with biofuels, and explains how biofuels can help lift the world’s poor from poverty:

[developing countries] could use indigenous crops, crop residue, weeds and, possibly, bio-engineered plants developed specifically to produce fuels for their own use and to sell overseas. Instead of importing American food as charity, they could be importing American farm equipment at market prices, the better to both feed themselves and produce additional products for export.

But the regimes that profit most from high oil prices want none of this. Most of all, they want no competition. So they are selling the notion that alternative fuels are impractical or environmentally disastrous or “take food out of the mouths of children in developing nations.”

Read the whole thing, for it is good.

More oil=less freedom

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Tom Friedman writes:

I’ve long argued that the price of oil and the pace of freedom operate in an inverse correlation — which I call: “The First Law of Petro-Politics.” As the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down. As the price of oil goes down, the pace of freedom goes up.

“There are 23 countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy,” explains [Larry Diamond, a Stanford University political scientist]. “Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria are the poster children” for this trend, where leaders grab the oil tap to ensconce themselves in power.

Friedman’s call for action: We “need to do everything possible to develop alternatives to oil to weaken the petro-dictators.”

Stay focused

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Set America Free Coalition member Bud McFarlane writes in the Wall Street Journal:

By far the greatest contributor to higher food prices has been the run-up in the price of oil, which impacts every stage of food production.
The same sustained growth in China’s and India’s economies that is contributing to the rise of food prices is matched by a corresponding increased demand for oil, which promises to keep oil prices high for the foreseeable future. Given the tightness of supply – with very little excess production capacity anywhere in the world – if oil flows from the Persian Gulf were disrupted (as al Qaeda has promised, and which could easily happen), we would see oil at more than $200 per barrel overnight. And it would stay at that level until the damage is repaired – a period of up to a year – during which time the global economy would likely fall into deep depression.

He calls for action on four fronts:

- Accelerate the introduction of second-generation biofuels (e.g. cellulosic ethanol and methanol) which don’t rely on any food crop as feedstock, and should not require any government subsidy.

- Establish an Open Fuel Standard. That is, require that any automobile sold in the U.S. be a flexible fuel vehicle capable of burning gasoline, methanol, ethanol or any combination of the three – a feature that costs just $100 per vehicle.

- Accelerate the production of plug-in hybrid-electric cars and trucks.

- Introduce the use of lighter, stronger carbon composite materials, as Boeing is doing in the new 787 Dreamliner aircraft, into the production of cars and trucks. A Pentagon study a few years ago concluded that this step alone could reduce our oil imports by 48%.

The most important of these measures is the enactment of an Open Fuel Standard, so that the consumer has a choice at the fuel pump. Unfortunately, without a predictable market, such as would be provided by mandatory flexible-fuel cars and trucks, there is a strong disincentive among investors to risk the capital needed for second-generation alternative fuels like cellulosic ethanol to take off. But without such a mandate, we are keeping ourselves tied exclusively to oil, with all the risks that involves.

Some say that these mandates are contrary to free-market principles. But one could say the same thing about seat belts, air-bags and even the FM radios mandated during the Cold War to assure the government’s ability to broadcast nuclear alerts.

No one argues seriously that these things have not been in our interest. And just imagine how valuable it would be to reduce the $460 billion we will spend on foreign oil this year, or the threat to our economy that its disruption would represent.

Food vs. fuel a global myth

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Set America Free Coalition members Gal Luft and Robert Zubrin take on the anti-biofuel hysterics in a Chicago Tribune oped:

Here are the facts. In the last five years, despite the nearly threefold growth of the corn ethanol industry (or actually because of it), the U.S. corn crop grew by 35 percent, the production of distillers grain (a high-value animal feed made from the protein saved from the corn used for ethanol) quadrupled and the net corn food and feed product of the U.S. increased 26 percent.

Contrary to claims that farmers have cut other crops to grow more corn, U.S. soybean plantings this year are expected to be up 18 percent and wheat plantings up 6 percent. U.S. farm exports are up 23 percent.

America is clearly doing its share in feeding the world.

Read the whole thing.

What oil money buys

Monday, May 5th, 2008

The Australian surveys what petrodollars buy for the Saudis:

The Saudi Government – largely through its embassy – is believed to have funnelled at least $120 million into Australia since the 1970s to propagate hardline Islam, bankroll radical clerics and build mosques, schools and charitable orgnisations.
But the Saudi cash that has flowed into Australia, that also allegedly has paid the allowance of hardline Canberra cleric Mohammed Swaiti, who has publicly praised jihadists, is dwarfed by the $90 billion Riyadh is believed to have pumped into promoting Islamic fundamentalism internationally.

The article adds this additional insight into the regime that holds the world by its unmentionables by virtue of its control of a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and essentially all of the oil market’s swing capacity:

The most recent insight into the nature of Saudi society came with the release this month of the Human Rights Watch report Perpetual Minors, about the status imposed on women by Riyadh’s doctrinaire interpretation of Sura 4, verse 34 of the Koran: "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because God has given the one more (strength) than the other and because they support them from their means."
The report outlines how adult Saudi women generally must obtain permission from a male guardian to work, travel, study or marry, while being denied the right to make even the most trivial decisions on behalf of their children and being segregated from men under laws enforced by the Orwellian-sounding Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (the religious police).
In 2004, the UN ranked Saudi Arabia 77th of 78 countries for gender empowerment, defined as the ability of women to take part in economic and political life, ahead of Yemen. Australia was eighth, Norway first.
While Saudi Arabia exports its Wahhabi version of Islam to the world, Saudi society groans under the weight of its internal contradictions. The first class of female law students will graduate from King Abdul Aziz University this year, but the Saudi Ministry of Justice prohibits female lawyers from practising. Judges consider women to be lacking in reason and faith, and have refused to allow them to speak in the courtroom because their voices are shameful.
A Saudi labour code, which came into force in 2006, states that all Saudi workers have the right to work without discrimination, but also specifies "women shall work in all fields suitable to their nature".
Literacy among Saudi women and girls over the age of 15 has risen sharply, according to UN reports, from 16.4 per cent in 1970 to 83.3 per cent in 2005 and Saudi women make up 58 per cent of university graduates (most at teachers colleges), but education is dependent on the permission of male guardians, universities are segregated, and women are excluded from disciplines such as engineering, architecture or political science.
Last year, a 19-year-old gang-rape victim was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months’ jail for being in a car with an unrelated man when she was attacked by seven men. In 2002, a fire at an elementary school in Mecca resulted in 15 schoolgirls being burned alive because the religious police refused to let them out of the school without headscarfs.