Blog: Plan B 2.0 Ch 2

I really enjoyed this chapter because it, for the most part, presented facts, figures, and statistics and let the magnitude of them speak for themselves with just enough commentary involved to keep the chapter from reading like an excel spreadsheet. I much prefer this style to, say, Rachel Carson’s style of primarily style with a little substance.

A perfect example of this was on page 45 when Lester Brown said, “[…] Sudan’s population climbed from 9 million in 1950 to 40 million in 2007, a fourfold rise. Meanwhile, the cattle population increased from 7 million to 41 million, an increase of nearly sixfold. The number of sheep and goats increased from 14 million to 94 million, a near sevenfold increase. No grassland can survive such rapid continuous growth in livestock populations.” Those numbers would be persuasive presented alone and with that last sentence to summarize the list of figures it’s a convincingly-constructed argument. Brown certainly had the opportunity to go full sensationalist (declaring something like 99% of all life in Sudan will die in the next week if we don’t act within 7 hours and 17 minutes) like so many authors of previous readings but didn’t and his argument was stronger for it.

Something I disagreed with was “there is the option of producing automotive fuel from fast-growing trees, switchgrass, prairie grass mixtures, or other cellulosic materials, which can be grown on wasteland. the technologies to convert these cellulosic materials into ethanol exist, but the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol is close to double that of grain-based ethanol. Whether it will ever be cost-competitive with ethanol from grain is unclear.” (pg 50) Actually, it is pretty clear. Brown spends the preceding two pages discussing how “[t]he price of grain is now tied to the price of oil” (pg 49) and talking about how the rise in oil prices have driven up the price of grain. If we take him at his word then the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol will lower over time, since the technology exists, and the cost of grain-based ethanol will rise over time due to the supply of easily obtained fossil fuels diminishing and at some point cellulosic ethanol will be more cost-effective. What Brown should have said is “When it will be cost-competitive with ethanol from grain is unclear.” That minor point aside, I agree with the spirit of that section of the chapter as a whole in that I don’t think our government should be subsidizing the production of ethanol.

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