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Biofuels or Biofools?

Can biofuels be produced from plants that will run vehicles? Yes, they can. Can biofuels replace all or an appreciable part of the 85 million gallons of petroleum that the world consumes on a daily basis? No, they can't. Here's why.
Biofuels or Biofools?

Published on 13 Aug 2006 by Partnership for a Sustainable Methow / Energy Bulletin.
by Dana Visalli


English ecologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated in 2003 that it takes 98 tons of prehistoric, buried fossilized plant material to produce each gallon of fossil fuel that we burn in our cars.1 98 tons to the gallon is poor mileage even by SUV standards. Dukes also calculated that the amount of hydrocarbons burned in fossil fuels each day was equal to the amount of carbon sequestered by all of the plants on earth every year. These measurements hint at the challenges human society will face if it tries to replace fossil fuels with biofuels.

What are biofuels? Briefly, they are liquid fuels made out of recently living organisms, predominantly plants. The primary biofuels are ethanol (made from plant sugars), cellulosic ethanol (made from wood and other plant fibers) and biodiesel (from plant-derived fats and oils). The most common source plants for ethanol are sugarcane, sugar beets and corn. Cellulosic ethanol can be made from wood and fast-growing plants like grass (especially switchgrass). Biodiesel is commonly produced from soybeans (in mid-latitudes) and palm oil trees (in the tropics).

Can biofuels be produced from plants that will run vehicles? Yes, they can. Can biofuels replace all or an appreciable part of the 85 million gallons of petroleum that the world consumes on a daily basis? No, they can't. Here's why.

1. Biofuels have a relatively low energy return on the energy that must be invested to produce them (see Getting a Decent Return on Your Investments also posted at www.sustainablemethow.net). This energy return is particularly dismal for corn-based ethanol, which is variously estimated to be between 1:1 (no energy return at all after spending 5 months growing and processing the corn) and 1.3:1 (30% more energy than was invested in growing and processing). Compare this to the energy return on gasoline, which is estimated to have been as high as 100:1 from the early "supergiant" fields" when they were producing freely, and is now between 30:1 and 10:1.

The best current biofuel energy returns are from sugarcane in Brazil and palm oil in Malaysia, both of which are purported to return eight times the energy invested (8:1). However, this ratio does not take into account the degradation of fragile tropical soils from intensive yearly cropping, nor how high production will be maintained once petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides become unavailable, nor the loss of the farmed land to other uses.

2. It is estimated that 40% of the earth's annual photosynthetic productivity is already utilized by humans, largely for food and building materials, with most of the other 5-20 million species (the actual number is unknown) on the planet making do with the remaining 60%.2 Attempting to produce large quantities of biofuels will rapidly accelerate habitat destruction and the further demise of other species.

3. All of the best cropland on the planet is already under cultivation to produce food. Large-scale appropriation of crops for fuel will unavoidably compete with food production. For example, it is estimated that 20% of this year's U.S. corn crop will go ethanol production rather than to food for humans or feed for livestock. As Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute has pointed out, "The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year. The grain to fill the tank every two weeks over a year will feed 26 people." If we turn to large-scale biofuel production, we will have to choose between feeding our cars and feeding human beings.

4. The human population continues to grow at a rate of about 1% a year, which yields a doubling time of 70 years. While almost no one is predicting that the current 6.5 billion people will reach 13 billion (because the number of children per woman continues to drop in most societies, and because there is not enough, food, fuel or water on the planet to support 13 billion people), our numbers are expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. In addition, energy use in the U.S. and throughout the developed world continues to grow by about 2% a year. If it were possible, we would double our current 85 million barrels of oil used today to 170 million barrels by 2076. Any assistance from biofuel production would be completely overwhelmed by growth in human numbers and increasing energy use.

Do we have other options? Yes. One would be to learn live in the real world. On this particular planet that translates into recognizing that 1) energy is limited, 2) resources are limited, and 3) all habitats and ecosystems have a carrying capacity; if pushed beyond capacity for too long they collapse.

Biofuels could play a meaningful role in a society that lived with some ecological modesty. There is no real long-term option for us other than living by nature's non-negotiable ecological rules. Nobody argues with gravity, why argue with the simple reality of a spherical, limited-in-all-directions planet? If we want our species and life in general to flourish, we will have to drive less, fly less (or not at all), buy less, build smaller homes, have smaller families, and relearn how to live local, community- and watershed-based lives.


1. Burning Buried Sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy, by Jeffery Dukes. globalecology.stanford.edu/DGE/Dukes/Dukes_ClimChange1.pdf
2. Human Appropriation of the Products of Photosynthesis by Peter Vitousek, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne H. Ehrlich and Pamela Matson (1986), dieoff.org/page83.htm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Partnership for a Sustainable Methow is an action-oriented non-profit group dedicated to helping create a sustainable community in the Methow Valley of North Central Washington. www.sustainablemethow.net

homepage: homepage: http://www.nwrage.org

cool info 23.Dec.2006 21:39

cyclist

Yup, I found myself laughing and gagging at a prius driver as he went by me today on my ride home.

If its alleged 'efficiency' is translated into that pathetic miles per gallon crap you can be sure it is still screwing up the weather for 100% sure

have a nice day

things to do 23.Dec.2006 21:52

da house

Let's not get carried away with this whole "biker versus Prius driver versus SUV driver" thing. For starters, your diet, even if you are a typical vegan, is on par with the environmental "contribution" from that Prius driver's driving habit. Your typical heated home, also, during winter months, is more of an energy consumer than that Prius driver's habit. So, supposing that Prius driver were a vegan (far friendlier than meat eating) who lived in an unheated home? That's right. He's doing better than a meat eating, home heating bicycle rider. By far. Just a thought. So before folks start pointing fingers, look inward. We all have things we could do to reduce our environmental footprint, and when we're near maxed out with what we can do ourselves, there's a whole industrial nation out there that consumes more that we Americans ever will with out personal habits.

Conclusion is correct but reasoning totally fallacious 24.Dec.2006 06:28

Mike Novack stepbystpefarm <a> mtdata.com

"English ecologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated in 2003 that it takes 98 tons of prehistoric, buried fossilized plant material to produce each gallon of fossil fuel that we burn in our cars.1 98 tons to the gallon is poor mileage even by SUV standards. Dukes also calculated that the amount of hydrocarbons burned in fossil fuels each day was equal to the amount of carbon"

Dukes was not thinking clearly.

For some reason he imagines that all that plant matter BECAME fossile fuel instead of the Carbon being returned to the ecosystem relatively quickly. The RIGHT way to do the calculation is to use "conservation of Carbon atoms"

You calculate the mass of the Carbon atoms which were extracted from the ground to produce a gallon of automotive fuel. Note that this is MORE than a gallon's worth because some fuel was used to get the fuel out of the ground, transported to the refinery, lost in the refining process, used to transport from the refinery to the filling station, etc.

THAT allows you to calculate the mass of cellulose (plant matter is essentially sugars and starches) which contains that amount of Carbon atoms. And THAT then is the amount of plant matter that became fuel for the car. Yes indeed, there was a great deal more plant matter deposited, but whatever its fate, it didn't end up as car fuel.

HOWEVER -- the conclusion (that biofuels will not provide a "solution") is correct. The reality is that if by solution we mean some way in which over six billion humans can live sustainably on this planet using no more than what gets replaced annually (and lets add that SOME of the ecosphere is left for non-human life) then let me tell you a sad truth. THERE IS NO SOLUTION TO THE EQUATION. Not if you insist on having over six billion humans living halfway decently. The choice is ours. Not IF we will reduce out population to some level that might be sustainable but HOW this happens.

I respect other people's "religious" beliefs. But the realm of discourse in which they may be said to be true isn't the realm of material reality. Belief that a "solution" MUST exist because of a belief "if we share fairly there will always be enough to go around" is just that, a quasi religous faith. A few fishes and loaves shared feed the multitude but it's kind of late for miracles -- the seas have been dragnetted clean of fishes and the eroded fields with their depleted aquifers can't produce the grain for the laoaves.

Population is not the problem 24.Dec.2006 11:40

Working Class Mama

1% of the population is consuming and wasting vast amounts of resources far beyond their need. As a result the rest of us are left the crumbs, if anything at all, and the planet pays the highest price. As a side point, this article and some of the comments inaccurately imply that consumption is somehow regulated by population. Like as if people can only consume what is needed to remain alive. At the same time it contradicts itself by pointing at consumption as well, suggesting that people can consume at different levels. One commenter seemed to even go so far as to imply some sort of depopulation enforcement as a solution so that those left may be free to consume at absurd levels. The real problem is the level of consumption and ridiculously unfair distribution.
Often people want to scapegoat parents(in particular working class women) due to their internalized classism and sexism. I'm sure none of the readers/writers here have taken a vow of celibacy(sp?) for the planet(and really, who would?), so be careful where your finger sights are locked.
Corporations and the ruling class will do/say anything to pit us against one another. Even create astro turf organizations(faux grass roots). Remember who your allies are and that we have a common enemy(consumption and unfair distribution ie capitalism).
For the record, I agree at least on the fact that switching to biofuel is not ENOUGH. It's a start, but let's get to the heart of the matter and stop wasting so much time shooting at the symptoms.

Skepticism, not derision 24.Dec.2006 11:52

will get us somewhere

Lots of good points so far. My wariness about biofuels is twofold: that it comes from mega-agriculture, the kind of business that scars the arable earth and turns it into a chemical dustbowl; and that it provides yet another vehicle (so to speak) for bioengineering giants to make billions and justify their frankencrops.

Heated homes are a reasonable human request in any non-tropical climate, regardless of one's culture or fuel source. It's not exactly the easiest place to convince anybody to cut down on their fuel consumption. But buying/consuming/creating locally-grown food (a la the 100-mile diet) and other locally-produced items (like clothes, furniture, toys, etc.) has a tremendous impact, and might be an easier step for many folks to take. Just imagine if no one's broccoli crossed an ocean and then stopped at 14 truck stops on the way to the dinner table.

ya know... about that "doing" thing 24.Dec.2006 23:53

da house

What we are willing to do and what we can do are two different things. "Will get us somewhere" was wise enough to observe this. So, a couple of years ago, I had this idea to create a vast database, which would be accessed via a cell phone with a barcode scanner (Google beat me to the patent punch but hasn't done much with it yet). Basically, a person could go shopping and barcode a product with their phone. Or, if there are multiple choices, they could barcode all the different brands of, say, canned tomatoes. The cellphone would transmit these codes to a database and come back with data that was based upon what the consumer cared about. This might be environmental impact, or the religious beliefs of the canning company, or whatever. The consumer could then purchase what came closest to his/her professed values. But, since we activists won't launch such a costly system in the near future, how about creating a database. Local foods versus distant, organic versus not, etc? At first it could be simple. Pick your city. Which store stocks which brand which is from where and sells at what price? And then it could evolve. Anybody out there who would enter stuff into a database for that?

Missing the point? 25.Dec.2006 06:14

Mike Novack stepbystpefarm <a> mtdata. com

"1% of the population is consuming and wasting vast amounts of resources far beyond their need"

True, "Working Class Mama". I am neither denying that nor meaning to imply tat eradicating social injustice will not be part of the equation (the fairer the distribution, the larger the population that will be able to be supported on a sustainable basis).

But PLEASE -- take a closer look at both what I am saying and what you are saying.

If you have a RATIONAL (based upon numbers) reason to believe that eliminating inequitable distribution WILL result in the susatinable amount of production (your estimate of that please) divided by the number of humans (your estimate of that please) will result in a sufficiency of "things" (measured on a MATERIAL basis, not capitlist "price in money" which distorts reality of material tings).

Can you understand what I am saying here? Your are giving a FAITH BASED conclusion (no numbers). And I think your understanding of the numbers is WAY out of wack because based upon MONEY. I agree with you entirely that the rich 2% own half IF CALCULATED IN MONEY. But you can't eat money, it can't keep you warm, it can't keep the rain off your head, not DIRECTLY. Let me take this very very clear with an example. That ultra rich person may go out to a fancy resturant and SPEND on a single meal more than what some poor third world family gets to spend on food in a year. AND, because some of the ingredients of that fancy meat rich meal were expensive (in terms of grain used to fatten the beef, etc.) that meal does represent many times the MATERIAL CONTENT of a poor person's meal. So that rich person consumed maybe ten times the calories (convertedfor wasteful food -- actually two or three times the actual)of a poor person's meal. NOT the thousands of times figure you get when calculating by "price". Or to continue with more examples ......

an ultra fancy sports car costing $100,000 does NOT utilize ten times the physical materials, steel, plastic, etc. of a $10,000 el cheapo vehicle.

an oil painting by some old master valued at $1,000,000 does NOT represent 10,000 times the MATERIAL (measured in the canvass cloth, the wood sticks of the stretchers, the vegetable oil used as medium, the cemicals and minerals of the pigments) as something done the same size by a sidewalk artist you ca pick up for $100

So I agree with you in one sense. Inequitable distribution is PART OF THE PROBLEM -- and an important part but not for the reason you suppose. Making all share equally will not make a BIG difference in the situation because the "rich" simply don't have THAT much more when measured in material things and it won't go that far. But absolutely necessary in the equation because it's hard to get people to agree to make sacrifices when they believe the pain isn't being spread fairly.

HOWEVER -- I would be perfectly happy to be shown to be making a calculation error. If YOU can produce NUMBERS, estimates of what the sustainable production would be and NUMBERS for what amount would be acceptable for per capita consumption (I'll grant you that perfectly fair distribution) and when you divide you get a number > 6 billion I'll cheer. Just don't tell me to "take it on faith", don't mindlessly repeat mantras about what sharing can do, and don't, please don't insist on misinterpreting what somebody like myself is saying.

I am NOT saying "we should reduce our numbers so that the rich can continue consuming more than their share". No "should" involved. I am saying that the total amount of SUSTAINABLE production will be such that when divided even prefectly fairly at an amount of per captita consumption we consider acceptable the number of humans possible will turn out to be LESS than 6 billion. I am not saying we "should" do anything about this except choose HOW we want the crash to happen. It's going to happen one way or another.

If you disagree (that it's going to happen) SHOW YOUR NUMBERS. Failure to talk about numbers means that although giving lip service to being "materialists" you are just as steeped in mumbo-jumbo as the "religious".

fools will not be able to keep driving 50, 100, 200 miles a day 25.Dec.2006 07:08

"the american way of life is not negotiable" -- dick cheney

The point of the article is that there's not enough plant matter on earth to replace the petroleum being burned every year. It doesn't matter whether the petroleum or the plant matter is distributed fairly or not, or how many kids anybody has. The oil is going to run out, and unless there are rapid, dramatic and unexpected breakthroughs in fusion power research, the economy is going to crash, not just financially but in terms of tangible material necessities. Whether this crashing food supply is divvied up fairly or unfairly, to a growing population or to a flat population, is all irrelevant, except for the magnitude of the disaster.

Reality of the Future 25.Dec.2006 08:08

Charlie

Carbon fuels are as relavant to our way of life as water and air. We are so dependant on carbon fuels that it is unfathomable(sp) how we can undo what has happened over 100 years and continue to provide for a growing population. There is no question we are all heading to the cliff. The inevitable conflicts will reduce the population as it always does. Who will be left standing is the real question.

Well, all of this is good, but no one is making a viable solution. 25.Dec.2006 09:33

Exile portlander_in_exile@yahoo.com

I've got your solution. But it's not going to be popular.

www.carfree.com

There is no way to Engineer ourselfs to energy independence. When people talk about Hydrogen, Ethenol, and such, just remember, big oil is talking. at the moment, the most efficiant way to get quantities of Hydrogen is to break it out of Hydrocarbons, yes, oil. What do they use/over use to grow massive quantities of corn, for ethenal? Yes, more hydrocarbons.

Get yourself a bicycle, get in shape, and get ready for the revolution, for it will be on two wheels, and rails.


Exile

Population IS the Problem 25.Dec.2006 12:31

one little mouse

Assuming it could be done, we very well might be able to feed the 6.5 billion people on the planet if resources were more evenly redistributed. For now, and even that's not going to happen.

The only we are able to produce as much food as we do right now is to literally consume the planet. In order to get the present crop yields we must use tremendous amounts of fosil fuels. We could go organic, but producion per acre would be considerably less. Then there is the issue of water. (gotta water those crops) The three most populous countries in the world; China, India, and the UNITED STATES are all facing water shortages. The Oglala aquifier that irrigates most of the mid-western U.S. has been in decline for deacades. Parts of Texas and Oklahoma are having to resort back to dry farming due to water scarcity. This will only get worse.

About 1 billion people rely on the oceans for thier food supply. Several major fisheries have already collapsed and at the current rate of harvest, ALL major fisheries will have collapsed by the 2040's.

We are consumming renewable resources far faster than they can replenish. Non-renewable resources are also being consumed like there is no tomorrow, and at this rate, there may not be.

Is the distribution of these resources inequal? You bet, and as they become more scarce, it will get much worse. Much, much worse. Our greater numbers will have to be divided into an ever shrinking pie. If we stop breeding now, maybe some of the next generation will inherit a few crumbs.

Does one have to be celibate not to feed the ego by spawning another planet devouring mini-me? No. Most of us have forethought better than that of cattle. Birth control does exist. For those certain they do not want to help make the population bomb more destructive, they can also opt for sterilization. I did.

exile is right 25.Dec.2006 16:27

Charlie

Start biking or read as I already said. Can you imagine for one second your average American actually biking to work. This country is pathetic, or should I say fat, dumb by choice, and lazy. The cost of freedom is this behavior by irresponsible people that don't think for themselves. Sorry for the truth.

But what drives population? 25.Dec.2006 17:59

Brian the Green

Population is a problem but it too is a symptom. Since the stratospheric rise in population has a cause, then it can't be a root problem which means we need to dig deeper.

The fuel for population growth is an unlimited food supply and sufficient space. Every biological species grows until one, or both, of these parameters provides a negative feedback loop.

The end of oil will reduce the food supply which will reduce the human population.

It is such a shame that most people buy into the myth that we must grow more food each year. If we grew enough food for 6.5 billion people in 2006 (actual human population), the experts and humanitarians will tell us we need to grow more food 2007 in order to feed 6.6 billion people. Why is anyone suprised that we then have 6.6 billion people at the end of 2007? If we had the ability to keep food supply constant, human population would level off around the available food supply.

The myth most people swallow is that food production chases population increases.

So next time you hear a story about biotech or the need for more food. Just remember, food FUELS population growth.

READ Malthus (and NOT isolated partial snetences) 25.Dec.2006 18:49

Mike Novack stepbystpefarm <a> mtdata.com

Brian is correct.

For some silly reason (maybe never having bothered to actually read the essay) people think Malthus was saying
1) the population WILL be limited by famine, war, etc.
2) that he was NOT including in that list(EVERY time) "or vice" by which presumably he meant sex without resulting births, in other words, birth control (POSSIBLY including infanticide) --- because although he never says what he means by a "vice" that could serve to control population, what other might do that (and to an 18th Century minister, which he was, birth control was a "vice")

But back to that first point. He did NOT say that the population WILL be limited but that it is and always was limited in a dynamic balance. A great deal of the essay is data, data showing that when something disturbed the balance the population returned to equilibrium (possibly at a new number).

In other words, the human population of this planet prior to our figuring out how to mine the many millions of years of accumulated fossil fuel, fossil fertility (eg islands of bird guano) and fossile water (aquifers) was what could be supported on a sustainable basis THEN. Now maybe with our better techniques (crop rotations, contour plowing, wider range of available crops, etc.) we can do somewat better. Do you think that's as much as 2-3 times better? Fine. Then you DO agree that the human population will end up under 2 billion (because there were scarcely half a billion of us in 1700).

People who are saying what I am saying are NOT necessarily (certainly not in my case) saying that social ineqity issues do not have to be addressed. We are saying that important as that is, it will NOT solve our problem. If you persist in taking what I am saying as "we should reduce our population" (ie: I am chosing or advocating that) then you are being willfully obtuse. I am saying that as ustainability is forced upon us our population IS going to decline one way or another and maybe we should choose the least painful methods for managing that.

once again 25.Dec.2006 20:19

cyclist

I say we DO get hung up in a cyclist vs car debate. One way works while the status quo is a half ass compromise and you know it. Are you really trying to convince us that riding a bike heats the atmosphere as much as driving enough to pay for one of those stupid, and over priced, priuses or what? Please re-examine the basis of your argument, while I laugh my ass off.

Have a nice day Mr Normal

I wonder 26.Dec.2006 08:31

Omarblak

I wonder how many mines are needed to fill how many smelters run off how many dams to make your bicycle. I wonder how long the world can support industrial culture, civilization, mass society, mega-cities, divorced(from the land, each other, nature, traditional human knowledge) populations, fragmented hyper-realities, collapse. I wonder if you folks really understand, tacitly you are defending your privilege and your complicity that is setting up billions to be destroyed in the fall. I wonder.

Population Vs. Energy Demands 26.Dec.2006 09:20

Exile portlander_in_exile@yahoo.com

It's way passed time for a change in our way of life. It would seem that the best way to limit population growth is to educate women, and give them control of their own lives. This would be a discussion on a different thread though.

Personally, This is a good case for de-engineering. Look back to a time before automobiles. We've got a chance to keep the good, and toss the bad. redesigning our cities and towns, with preference to non-motorized transportation, at the EXPENSE of automobiles. At the moment, automobiles determine development. When new development is slated, the first thing people do is a traffic study. It's time to make using a car less desirable. Start blocking roads off from cars, and leave them for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Start encouraging businesses to use bicycles when possible.

As an example, did you know that there are very good bicycles that can carry large amounts of cargo?

www.clevercycles.com

Imagine a society where obesity related illness are a distant memory, and the sounds of the streets are just people talking.

EVs are essential. Bicycles alone are not sufficient. 26.Dec.2006 13:51

Anon Anon

1)
Mike Novack, you accuse Working Class Mama of not providing numbers. Where are *YOUR* numbers to support your contention?:

"I am saying that the total amount of SUSTAINABLE production will be such that when divided even prefectly fairly at an amount of per captita consumption we consider acceptable the number of humans possible will turn out to be LESS than 6 billion."



2)
Bicycles and SUVs are pairs of opposites. SUVs are too big and bicycles are too
small for some applications.

In between are zero emission battery powered electric vehicles powered by renewable
energy sources including wind and solar.

Partisan Bicyclists, stop circling your wagons, and start bridging some divides
for a change!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I bicycle and walk every day too. But I also drive electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles are essential. Bicycles alone won't cut it.

It is essential that zero emission battery electric vehicles powered by renewable
energy sources including wind and solar, replace gasoline cars and trucks
whenever and wherever possible. Affordable, nontoxic advanced battery chemistries
must be allowed into the marketplace. Big oil and auto efforts to block this
and retain patent control must be overcome.


3)
Winter time energy consumption to heat our homes must be slashed to the bare
minimum....whilst still maintaining a margin of comfort. Energy efficiency
must continue to be improved and be made a top priority.

Home sizes in the burbs must be reduced substantially. McMansions
must be all but eliminated. Locally, Don Morissette, some of his
builder/developer peers, and the Home builders association need
to be dealt with severely if they refuse to help with this.

It is time to protest and block the building of large homes here
locally in our burbs. No more developer driven neighborhoods.They are destroying
ourlandscapes.

The hyper-capitalistic structure of real estate brokerages must be reformed. No more
paying real estate agents on a commission-oriented basis.

The right way to look at the problem(s) 28.Dec.2006 06:36

Mike Novack stepbystpefarm <a> mtdata.com

That's the RIGHT way to look at these problems, "AnonAnon".

1) My numbers? Not necessary at THIS point. There are a lot of estimates out there if you care to look. I have seen very pessimistic ones as low as half a billion and optimistic ones around 2-3 billion but I think you are missing the point. We do not see very optimistic estimates in the 6 billion or more range for a reason other than the ill will/mistanthropy of those coming up with more pessimistic projections. All the people who are saying "there will surely be enough if we share fairly" consider NUMBERS to be irrelevant.

The FIRST thing we need to decide is IF "numbers matter" or the solutions we seek will be based upon quasi religious "faith" in a realm of discourse where numbers and physical reality mean nothing. Do you understnad? I would be perfectly happy for somebody (who thinks the human population doesn't have to crash) to stick some numbers out there indicating that this would be a REAL possibility.

2) Absolutely correct. For those hoping for a "technological" fix the possible (real) solutions will lie in between. here is a HUGE range of possibilities in between an SUV and a bicyle. For example, if we demanded of a "light car" with no more performance than 2-3 times that of a bicycle, say a top speed ~25 mph and a capability of going up a steep grade at ~10 mph and a range of perhaps 60 miles this woldn't take even 10% of the energy input to an SUV.

3) Perhaps missing the point of what I have been saying. My estimates of the population situation were for the planet as a whole. I was NOT meaning to imply that there were no possible soultions for some favored places (less pelessly overpopulated now, less trashed environment. For example, it is NOT inconceivable to me that the US with 300+ million humans but a ttal area about 3 million square miles overall of which perhaps 1 million square miles still prime condition land could support its current population at a technological level comparable to say 18th Century peasant society level (having about 2 acres of GOOD land per person).

BUT (a very big but) that is NOT the situation for the planet as a whole. Most places are much worse off. Keep in mind that I was replying to a person who thinks the solution is in "sharing fairly" (that this will be SUFFICIENT -- the possible necessity is another questions). If that is what you want I could perhaps list places for which I think INTERNAL fair sharing could support the current population. Thus all of Central America except El Salvador probably could have solutions at their current population levels but El Salvador (many times the population density of all the rest) would be a basket case.

I would say the the measures you describe in "3" are all excellent but only IF you are describing your own sort of "circle the wagons"

(I think I better explain that. Maybe we can convince our people that our situation is that desparate -- that measures of that degree of severity are necessary to survive (and I would agree with you that they are, in fact, that's the tip of the iceberg). I would argue that given NORMAL human behavior for human societies in general (NOT meaning "just in selfish capitalist ones") when convinced that their survival is at stake so that they must sacrifice severely for their children to have a chance people will NOT share with "others".

In otehr words, it's one sort of "normal politics that prevents serious discussion of the sorts of measures we need to begin to undertake internally. But sould we come to believe the necessity (believe that the situation is so desparate) then another sort of political reality would take hold which would make serious discussion of "starving/dying others" impossible)