Gore: ‘First-Generation Ethanol Was A Mistake’

It’s not often that politicians apologize for their actions without having to, but Al Gore voiced his regrets at a green energy business conference in Greece. From The Washington Post:

Former vice president Al Gore said Monday that he regrets supporting first-generation corn-based ethanol subsidies while he was in office.

Reuters reports that Gore said his support for corn-based ethanol subsidies was rooted more in his desire to cultivate farm votes for his presidential run in 2000 than in doing what was right for the environment:

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens, Greece. First-generation ethanol refers to the most basic, but also most energy intensive, process of converting corn to ethanol for use in vehicle engines.

Gore went on to say that “first-generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.” Gore now supports so-called second-generation technologies that do not compete with food — using farm waste or non-food sources such as switchgrass to make ethanol. He added that he did not expect to see a clean energy or climate bill for “at least two years” following Republican victories in the midterm elections.

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  • Tybshy

    Hydrogen is the fuel of the Future

    • pinroot

      Combustion of hydrogen produces water vapor, which is THE number one greenhouse gas. Some estimates are that it contributes between 92% – 96% of the greenhouse effect here on earth. If people are worried about the trace gas CO2 with concentrations of ~380 ppm causing problems, how are they going to feel about releasing water vapor which already has concentrations of 1000 to 40,000 ppm (depending on where you measure it)?

      As for Al Gore, he’s just a corrupt sack of crap trying to create fear and hysteria in order to cash in on it.

  • Tybshy

    Hydrogen is the fuel of the Future

  • Liam_McGonagle

    It all comes out now. Tipper’s gone and we await the long march of skeletons out of the closet. . .

    Still, as skeletons go, that’s a pretty wonky one. If the right wing ever hangs this guy (and why would they bother now?), it won’t be for supporting first-generation ethanol. It’ll be for not suporting the North American Beef Council.

    http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-national/turn-vego-to-save-planet-gore-20091104-hy5i.html

  • Liam_McGonagle

    It all comes out now. Tipper’s gone and we await the long march of skeletons out of the closet. . .

    Still, as skeletons go, that’s a pretty wonky one. If the right wing ever hangs this guy (and why would they bother now?), it won’t be for supporting first-generation ethanol. It’ll be for not suporting the North American Beef Council.

    http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-national/turn-vego-to-save-planet-gore-20091104-hy5i.html

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Is that finally becoming clearer to ya now that you don’t need those subsidies from lobbyists, AL? Woulda been nice if you could have picked up on that riff about a decade ago, asshole.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Can I just offer one theoretical counterpoint that may put the ethanol thing in the wider perspective of technological innovation?

      All innovation is extremely precarious in its earliest days. Yes, there is an aspect of human psychology which lusts for novelty, but it’s competing against a lot of equally strong impulses, some of which have a lot more immediate, tangible effect than the theoretical elegance of a new idea. People also crave security, familiarity, comfort and ease; hence Hollywood’s tendency to make the same 5 movies over and over each year.

      Some particular innovations have it harder than others. Some are going head-to-head with existing infrastructure, as is the case with biofuels vs. petroleum-based fuels. Not only do these biofuel innovations have to deal with people’s natural reluctance to invest their individually scarce resources on what may turn out to be a stillborn pipe dream that may collapse to a zero salvage value next year, but they also have to contend with powerful, powerful lobbies of the existing regime–Big Oil.

      Let’s not shit outselves for one second about how powerful Big Oil is. They managed to completely co-opt the Minerals Management Service that was supposed to oversee them through a tawdry series of sex and drug scandals. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1995137,00.html

      And is it really a coincidence that the secretive, power-mad administration who plunged us head-first into two of this nation’s most dreadfully useless wars was led by a President and Vice-President who both almost literally rode a wave of Middle Eastern oil into the Oval Office?

      There’s a case to be made that Al made a calculated decision to build the political momentum he’d need to take on those forces by appealing to another interest group with even more considerable cultural, if not political and financial, influence: Middle American agriculture. Considering what he was up against, did Gore have a lot of other choices? Can we identify any? Fuck if I can.

      So another way to look at Al’s revelation here is that he regrets taking the machine on too early, before the technology was robust enough to produce the installed base necessary to really take on Big Oil–not necessarily that he regrets having to shmooze with special interest agricultural lobbyists, who in any case could hardly be as powerful as the international cabal of Big Oil.

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        The complaints about the negative aspect of converting edibles into fuel, the amount of bio-space exhausted to match fuel production, and the comparative waste of effort and expense to subsidize a single gallon of ethanol wasn’t really big revelations…these were arguments that were on the ground at the time…they just didn’t have advocates that could spend millions in order to receive subsidies for billions.

        I should be glad that Al finally got on the bandwagon…after all evidence points to there being no other sustainable choice…but it took long enough.

        That said, even as far back as the 80′s, Al has been a champion of change rooted solely in the context of the global warming debate…basically working tirelessly to handcuff every green organization into lockstep on one issue…and an issue thats tainted, at that.

        If that effort had been aimed at strengthening the EPA, FDA and more…by keeping the focus on the release of unregulated industrial poisons instead of just carbon…we’d all be a hell of a lot better off…but no…Al led everyone off the cliff like lemmings…and we haven’t done anything but slide backwards since the 70′s. If that’s forward thinking leadership…I’m opting out. I’m bitter because he had the influence and the power at the right time…and wasted it…possibly on purpose…but I’ll leave the conspiracy theories to the real wing nuts and just blame the bastard for failing to make a difference when he had the chance.

        • Liam_McGonagle

          Usually you and I agree on the basic factual situation, and our disagreements tend to center around rhetorical interpretations and ground level tactics. Or that’s my take on it.

          I think you may be saying in this most recent post that Al’s mistakes had huge consequences, but they weren’t based necessarily on ill-will or personal profit motive, just misplaced policy priorities that were perhaps influenced by the easy availability of data supporting 1st gen. bio. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you’re a climate change denier. Is that right?

          If so, why do we have to keep beating up on Al? He’s admitted it was a mistake. Can’t we interpret this lesson as a good thing–that a leader was able to own up to a mistake and make efforts to move on? Isn’t that ultimately what separates the Right from the Left–that the Left are actually willing to learn from the past and adapt, rather than senselessly repeat it?

          Or is the true dynamic underlying the Left an inflexible intolerance that far from being committed to positive evolution is happy to wallow in its own filth and condemn the rest of the world for being dirty bastards?

          The only people who never fuck up are the people who never do anything.

          • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

            I only deny ‘global warming’…which was a simplified ‘media friendly’ sales pitch designed to sell the ‘carbon credits’ scheme to people. Climate change is very real, very serious and very important…I begrudge Al for being a powerful voice that led an entire movement over the cliff into ineffectual noodling instead of serious action. Carbon credit markets are a boondoggle of epic proportions when we need realtime serious changes to the way we do business day to day. Like recommending aspirin for a brain tumor.

            I’m glad he’s on the right side of this issue…although he’s REALLY late coming to the table on it. The data was in back then…he didn’t hear it then because the fringe wasn’t welcome then or now…it just turned out that the fringe was completely correct across the board. There are many parts of the ‘Left’…but only two really count…the well connected bought and paid for Left…and the rest of us. Just a guess…but I don’t think of Al as the rest of us.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            I admit that I spend more time on economic issues, since I believe the resulting income inequalities set the groundwork for all other debates. So I will pass for the moment on any judgment regarding the merits of any specific policy option, though I should say that I agree generally that there are serious climate change issues that need to be addressed.

            And I have to say again that I’m a little surprised that you don’t find his admission of failure encouraging. I take that to mean that you believe he is fundamentally corrupt or elitist? On that point I think we fundamentally disagree. Maybe I am not interpreting your position correctly.

            I view his failure as due primarily to an operation of the information availability heuristic. Yes, Al wasn’t focused on the minority view regarding the poor conversion ratio of 1st generation, but I think that was more a function of being in a relatively isolated information environment, and that like 99% of us, he glommed onto the information readily available. What he should have done was to challenge his own outlook and prejudices more thoroughly–too much time w/ Tipper and her campaign to ban the Beastie Boys or whatever.

            So I think the real question here is did Al learn his lesson? Will he open his mind to the so-called “fringe” (I generally don’t like that term ’cause it has some un-earned negative connotations)? I think he may–though it may be too late to preserve any place of leadership within a re-vamped environmental movement. Not for me to say. Again, not because I think environmental issues are unimportant, but because I’ve made the strategic option to focus on economics, at least in the short term.

            What would be a total shame is if his epiphany was cut short by knee-jerk hostility from people who drown their valid, must-hear arguments in some tangential (and in my opinion, pretty dodgy) implications of financial impropriety. Yeah, Gore was a “senator’s son” as Neil Young put it, but not the typical senator’s son. He wasn’t hiding behind his mom’s skirt stateside during Vietnam, and he wasn’t hiding on the environmental issue either; he just made some poor tactical choices.

          • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

            I suppose its possible that he’s woken up on more issues than just this one. I hope so. He still has enormous clout…and I’d love to see it used for something effective and meaningful. Coastlines are retreating in Sub-Saharan Africa at a pace that can already be measured easily. Saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater wells is up planetwide. Glaciers aren’t making a big comeback anytime soon…and the shit really hits the fan when the water runs short. The planet will always have water…the question is will it have enough potable freshwater to sustain 7-8 billion people and all of their associated animals? Wanna see Tank Girl and Road Warrior become reality? Live long enough and they will. Water politics is the #1 issue without a competitor in sight…and keeping corporations from claiming water rights is the fight that will decide whether this century marks humans coming together…or tearing each other apart.If Al suddenly starts tackling hard issues and standing with people instead of marketeers and vested interests…I will applaud him loudly…I’m just not holding my breath on it…but this one admission of error is refreshing and good.I agree on the perils of the word fringe…but I’ve become somewhat inured to it. If the fringe is where they kick all the people with questions and determination to get answers…then dammit, I’m on the fringe and damned proud of it.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Is that finally becoming clearer to ya now that you don’t need those subsidies from lobbyists, AL? Woulda been nice if you could have picked up on that riff about a decade ago, asshole.

  • Anonymous

    Can I just offer one theoretical counterpoint that may put the ethanol thing in the wider perspective of technological innovation?

    All innovation is extremely precarious in its earliest days. Yes, there is an aspect of human psychology which lusts for novelty, but it’s competing against a lot of equally strong impulses, some of which have a lot more immediate, tangible effect than the theoretical elegance of a new idea. People also crave security, familiarity, comfort and ease; hence Hollywood’s tendency to make the same 5 movies over and over each year.

    Some particular innovations have it harder than others. Some are going head-to-head with existing infrastructure, as is the case with biofuels vs. petroleum-based fuels. Not only do these biofuel innovations have to deal with people’s natural reluctance to invest their individually scarce resources on what may turn out to be a stillborn pipe dream that may collapse to a zero salvage value next year, but they also have to contend with powerful, powerful lobbies of the existing regime–Big Oil.

    Let’s not shit outselves for one second about how powerful Big Oil is. They managed to completely co-opt the Minerals Management Service that was supposed to oversee them through a tawdry series of sex and drug scandals. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1995137,00.html

    And is it really a coincidence that the secretive, power-mad administration who plunged us head-first into two of this nation’s most dreadfully useless wars was led by a President and Vice-President who both almost literally rode a wave of Middle Eastern oil into the Oval Office?

    There’s a case to be made that Al made a calculated decision to build the political momentum he’d need to take on those forces by appealing to another interest group with even more considerable cultural, if not political and financial, influence: Middle American agriculture. Considering what he was up against, did Gore have a lot of other choices? Can we identify any? Fuck if I can.

    So another way to look at Al’s revelation here is that he regrets taking the machine on too early, before the technology was robust enough to produce the installed base necessary to really take on Big Oil–not necessarily that he regrets having to shmooze with special interest agricultural lobbyists, who in any case could hardly be as powerful as the international cabal of Big Oil.

  • Anonymous

    Combustion of hydrogen produces water vapor, which is THE number one greenhouse gas. Some estimates are that it contributes between 92% – 96% of the greenhouse effect here on earth. If people are worried about the trace gas CO2 with concentrations of ~380 ppm causing problems, how are they going to feel about releasing water vapor which already has concentrations of 1000 to 40,000 ppm (depending on where you measure it)?

    As for Al Gore, he’s just a corrupt sack of crap trying to create fear and hysteria in order to cash in on it.

  • Stan

    ManBearPig was a mistake.

  • Stan

    ManBearPig was a mistake.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    The complaints about the negative aspect of converting edibles into fuel, the amount of bio-space exhausted to match fuel production, and the comparative waste of effort and expense to subsidize a single gallon of ethanol wasn’t really big revelations…these were arguments that were on the ground at the time…they just didn’t have advocates that could spend millions in order to receive subsidies for billions.

    I should be glad that Al finally got on the bandwagon…after all evidence points to there being no other sustainable choice…but it took long enough.

    That said, even as far back as the 80′s, Al has been a champion of change rooted solely in the context of the global warming debate…basically working tirelessly to handcuff every green organization into lockstep on one issue…and an issue thats tainted, at that.

    If that effort had been aimed at strengthening the EPA, FDA and more…by keeping the focus on the release of unregulated industrial poisons instead of just carbon…we’d all be a hell of a lot better off…but no…Al led everyone off the cliff like lemmings…and we haven’t done anything but slide backwards since the 70′s. If that’s forward thinking leadership…I’m opting out. I’m bitter because he had the influence and the power at the right time…and wasted it…possibly on purpose…but I’ll leave the conspiracy theories to the real wing nuts and just blame the bastard for failing to make a difference when he had the chance.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Usually you and I agree on the basic factual situation, and our disagreements tend to center around rhetorical interpretations and ground level tactics. Or that’s my take on it.

    I think you may be saying in this most recent post that Al’s mistakes had huge consequences, but they weren’t based necessarily on ill-will or personal profit motive, just misplaced policy priorities that were perhaps influenced by the easy availability of data supporting 1st gen. bio. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you’re a climate change denier. Is that right?

    If so, why do we have to keep beating up on Al? He’s admitted it was a mistake. Can’t we interpret this lesson as a good thing–that a leader was able to own up to a mistake and make efforts to move on? Isn’t that ultimately what separates the Right from the Left–that the Left are actually willing to learn from the past and adapt, rather than senselessly repeat it?

    Or is the true dynamic underlying the Left an inflexible intolerance that far from being committed to positive evolution is happy to wallow in its own filth and condemn the rest of the world for being dirty bastards?

    The only people who never fuck up are the people who never do anything.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I only deny ‘global warming’…which was a simplified ‘media friendly’ sales pitch designed to sell the ‘carbon credits’ scheme to people. Climate change is very real, very serious and very important…I begrudge Al for being a powerful voice that led an entire movement over the cliff into ineffectual noodling instead of serious action. Carbon credit markets are a boondoggle of epic proportions when we need realtime serious changes to the way we do business day to day. Like recommending aspirin for a brain tumor.

    I’m glad he’s on the right side of this issue…although he’s REALLY late coming to the table on it. The data was in back then…he didn’t hear it then because the fringe wasn’t welcome then or now…it just turned out that the fringe was completely correct across the board. There are many parts of the ‘Left’…but only two really count…the well connected bought and paid for Left…and the rest of us. Just a guess…but I don’t think of Al as the rest of us.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I admit that I spend more time on economic issues, since I believe the resulting income inequalities set the groundwork for all other debates. So I will pass for the moment on any judgment regarding the merits of any specific policy option, though I should say that I agree generally that there are serious climate change issues that need to be addressed.

    And I have to say again that I’m a little surprised that you don’t find his admission of failure encouraging. I take that to mean that you believe he is fundamentally corrupt or elitist? On that point I think we fundamentally disagree. Maybe I am not interpreting your position correctly.

    I view his failure as due primarily to an operation of the information availability heuristic. Yes, Al wasn’t focused on the minority view regarding the poor conversion ratio of 1st generation, but I think that was more a function of being in a relatively isolated information environment, and that like 99% of us, he glommed onto the information readily available. What he should have done was to challenge his own outlook and prejudices more thoroughly–too much time w/ Tipper and her campaign to ban the Beastie Boys or whatever.

    So I think the real question here is did Al learn his lesson? Will he open his mind to the so-called “fringe” (I generally don’t like that term ’cause it has some un-earned negative connotations)? I think he may–though it may be too late to preserve any place of leadership within a re-vamped environmental movement. Not for me to say. Again, not because I think environmental issues are unimportant, but because I’ve made the strategic option to focus on economics, at least in the short term.

    What would be a total shame is if his epiphany was cut short by knee-jerk hostility from people who drown their valid, must-hear arguments in some tangential (and in my opinion, pretty dodgy) implications of financial impropriety. Yeah, Gore was a “senator’s son” as Neil Young put it, but not the typical senator’s son. He wasn’t hiding behind his mom’s skirt stateside during Vietnam, and he wasn’t hiding on the environmental issue either; he just made some poor tactical choices.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I suppose its possible that he’s woken up on more issues than just this one. I hope so. He still has enormous clout…and I’d love to see it used for something effective and meaningful. Coastlines are retreating in Sub-Saharan Africa at a pace that can already be measured easily. Saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater wells is up planetwide. Glaciers aren’t making a big comeback anytime soon…and the shit really hits the fan when the water runs short. The planet will always have water…the question is will it have enough potable freshwater to sustain 7-8 billion people and all of their associated animals? Wanna see Tank Girl and Road Warrior become reality? Live long enough and they will. Water politics is the #1 issue without a competitor in sight…and keeping corporations from claiming water rights is the fight that will decide whether this century marks humans coming together…or tearing each other apart.If Al suddenly starts tackling hard issues and standing with people instead of marketeers and vested interests…I will applaud him loudly…I’m just not holding my breath on it…but this one admission of error is refreshing and good.I agree on the perils of the word fringe…but I’ve become somewhat inured to it. If the fringe is where they kick all the people with questions and determination to get answers…then dammit, I’m on the fringe and damned proud of it.