Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Being the father of a two-year-old can be challenging, but it also has perks. If I happen to spill a little milk on the counter with my morning cereal, leave clothes on the floor, or drop some crumbs in the kitchen, I have a convenient scapegoat.

When my wife asks about spilt milk, socks, or crumbs I can simply shrug and say things like, “Kids, what can you do?” or “Just look what your daughter did.” While my wife does not always fall for this ploy, it is often effective.

Of course, if my wife looks a little closer and discovers cereal on my breath, a sandwich in my hand or realizes that the clothes on the floor are mine, my argument quickly falls apart. Playing the blame game can seem like a quick fix, but often backfires under closer scrutiny.

A similar version of the blame game is going on in the complex international climate change and biofuel debate. The concept of indirect land use change is being looked at by the U.S. EPA and continually pops up in international climate change regulation forums, including the Copenhagen Climate Conference, in Copenhagen, Denmark last month.

A major global concern in the climate change debate is the clearing of the rainforests in South America and other parts of the world. Indirect land use change theorists have concocted a series of loose connections in which they try to place blame on U.S. farmers and the biofuel industry for clearing of the rainforests.

The argument goes something like this. The U.S. makes biofuels from corn and soybeans and, as a result, the prices for these commodities go up. The higher price of soybeans encourages landowners to clear more land in South American rain forests to plant more soybeans.

On the surface this sounds like it makes sense, but the reality is that the connection between U.S. biofuels and the rainforest is non-existent. There are many factors outside of the price of soybeans that go into the clearing of the rainforests.

“John Cain Carter of Allianca de Terra, a Mato Grosso, Brazil land alliance, has been front and center on the debate of Amazon deforestation and the principal reasons why it is happening. Mr. Carter, a former U.S. Army Ranger, is not shy about dispelling myths of corn and corn ethanol’s role in deforestation,” said Dwayne Siekman, of the Ohio Corn Growers Association who was part of a six-person delegation from the National Corn Growers Association seated at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. “His simple and direct answer is ‘the notion that the U.S. corn farmer is playing a role in the deforestation of the Amazon is asinine. No one in Brazil makes decisions based on how much ethanol is produced from corn in the U.S.’”

Carter explained that simple local economics, and not U.S. farmers, are to blame for the clearing of the rainforests. Much of the damage in the region is a result of illegal land-grabbers. So, since most U.S. farmers are not illegal South American land grabbers, they really do not have much to do with the situation.

Carter describes life in his corner of Brazil much like the lawless Wild West portrayed in the movies. Until recently, luxuries such as indoor plumbing, law enforcement, and other things we take for granted were not available. Do you think people without indoor plumbing care about corn ethanol production in another country?

The argument of indirect land use change is shaky, at best. But as a result of this thinking, indirect land use change supporters think that the carbon footprint of biofuels should include consideration for the clearing of South American rainforests. When biofuel critics factor this into the domestic regulatory debate about whether biofuels are better for the environment (and the climate) than petroleum power, they have a stronger case against biofuels.

The bottom line is that the climate change debate is wrought with examples of the blame game and we must scrutinize proposals from our lawmakers and leaders to find out the reality of the situation. We need to move forward with facts on this issue and not the whims of whoever is playing the best blame game for their own agenda. Ultimately, a changing climate can either be blamed on humans or God, and only one of those parties can be taxed.


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.