Government Influence Of Science — Mandating Losers

Democrats seem to want the federal government to invest huge sums of money in development of alternative energy sources. tarran, last year, pointed out that government has all the wrong incentives and thus often picks the most politically-palatable technologies, not the most effective.

This is currently occurring in Britain, a nation which has gone down the same path towards ethanol as the United States. What’s interesting is where the opposition is currently coming from— the greens:

Yet even as their star has risen at Westminster, biofuels have been raising doubts among greens. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, two environmental-lobbying groups, have given warning that biofuels may not be as eco-friendly as they seem. On January 14th a more august body took a similar line. The Royal Society, Britain’s national science academy, published a report that analysed the bewildering range of biofuels on the market. It concluded that, thanks to carbon emissions from fertilisers and processing, some biofuels may cause more climate change than petrol. That raises the risk of a spectacular official own-goal: if targets encourage people to use the wrong sort of fuel, transport may get dirtier, not cleaner. The Royal Society wants ministers to specify targets not for biofuel consumption but for greenhouse-gas reduction. The government says it may do that after 2010.

I’ve pointed out that in the US, we have a system where we subsidize corn and tax sugar. This is a situation where our ethanol mandate distorts the market by raising the price of corn, raising the price (and reducing the supply) of food crops, raises the price of fuel, and if Greenpeace is correct, doesn’t even improve the environment. Why does this occur? Because corn producers vote and lobby Washington, while sugar producers are largely foreign, and thus cannot vote for politicians in Congress.

Government and science don’t mix.