Four Freedoms for the 21st Century

October 23, 2014 |

liberty-bell[Note: These remarks are condensed from an address by Biofuels Digest editor Jim Lane at the BCN Strategic Retreat in Alberta, Canada on October 23rd.

The remarks, by a tragic coincidence, were given roughly 90 minutes before a deadly attack on Canada’s Parliament House in what is being reported as an Islamic State-affliliated terrorist attack, the second on Canada in three days.

Canadians might ask ‘What has any of this to do with Canada — a peace-loving nation and energy independent?’ Two terrorist attacks including an attack on Parliament House and democracy itself — shows that the darkest army on the face of the earth, funded by the global petroleum trade, can come to anyone’s shores and attack anyone’s way of life.

The broader community might ask: where are the specific policy proposals here? What are we supposed to do? That’s a topic for another time. Let’s start with a broad statement of the purpose of alternatives — later, we can proceed to a discussion of how to foster them.]

Thank you to the organizing committee for the invitation to visit with you, and for relating to me that in this address you most especially would like to hear a restatement and re-examination of the rationale for the advanced bioeconomy.

In other words, what is this gigantic lift all about? That is, the sometimes painful if joyful birth of a colossal global advanced bioeconomy. Why does it matter? Why does your work matter, so much, to so many?

It is a good time to converse about it.

A remarkable time in the advanced bioeconomy

Over the past year we have seen some remarkable developments in the sector, starting right here in Alberta with the completion and opening of the Enerkem advanced biofuels plant in Edmonton. And, in Italy, the completion and opening of the 20 million gallon Beta Renewables cellulosic biorefinery in Crescentino.

Then, the opening of the 20 million gallon POET-DSM refinery in Emmetsburg, Iowa on September 3rd. Just a few weeks ago the 21 million gallon GranBio refinery opened in Alagoas, Brasil. Last Friday the 25 million gallon Abengoa refinery opened in Hugoton, Kansas — now the world’s largest of its type until the 30 million DuPont refinery opens in Nevada, Iowa around the end of the year.

About the same time, we expect the 22 million gallon Raizen refinery to open in Piricicaba, in Brazil’s Sao Paulo state, based on Canada’s own Iogen cellulosic technology. Which of course reminds us that the story of cellulosic biofuels in so many ways comes right back here to Canada and the opening of a pilot-scale project by Iogen in 2004.

Some celebrate failure, and some wish it. Some focus on the tragic pad fire that killed the three astronauts of Apollo 1, while others focus on the moon landing of Apollo 11. Each person must decide for themselves if they are against the future, because of the costs and ricks and failures — or for the future, despite the costs and risks and failures.

A dangerous world getting more dangerous

So much has happened in 10 years. The global financial crisis. Climate change highlighted by terrible drought in the US in 2012 and Brazil this past year. Smog so thick in Beijing that authorities have erected a huge electronic screen in Tiananmen Square in China to broadcast pictures of clear sunrises, so that the people don’t forget what they look like. The CIA trying to find new high-value markets for poppies in Afghanistan so the Taliban can’t self finance off the heroin trade.

We’ve lived in the days of Al-Queda, and now the days of Islamic State. The crisis in the Ukraine and the crisis in Syria. The nuclear disaster in Fukujima, and oil prices rising to as high as $130 per barrel for Brent Crude before subsiding to around $80 today — which is being hailed as “low cost oil” though most of us can remember $20 per barrel oil in the 1990s, just a few years ago.

We live in a dangerous world, getting more dangerous all the time, becoming more interdependent and connected all the time.

Right now, I’m told that the US is spending $90 billion dollars per year to defend the Strait of Hormuz and keep the oil lanes open. You might have heard of that figure. But what you might not have heard is that virtually none of that oil goes to the United States. 85% of it goes to Asia.

So why is the US there? They are defending the price of oil and global stability. You can imagine what would happen to the global economy and stability if those supplies did not reach Asia.

Recently, the Director of the Truman National Security Project, Mike Breen, in talking about the defense if the Strait, said that “If there’s a better example of the massive geopolitical consequences of our dependence on oil, I don’t know it. $90 billion and all those personnel at risk, to assure the supply of someone else’s oil, and to maintain the oil price.”

Mike Breen also asked people to consider where the money comes from for groups like Islamic State which he described as “the darkest army on the face of the earth — using assassination, rape, torture and beheadings of innocent civilians in pursuit of its objectives.” He said that ISIS controls 10 oil fields in Syria and Iraq and they pump 80000 barrels a day of oil which they sell into the global market for oil, generating $200 million a month for themselves which they use to buy arms, fighters, and loyalty.

He said that “We are shackled to a global market and shackled to a global crisis, funded by oil and fueled by oil. There is no escape from energy politics unless you free yourself from the geopolitical equation based on global oil.”

Real Energy Independence in an interdependent world

We have talked for many years about energy independence, as if the solution to all the problems of the world flow from one country, or another, discovering enough oil & gas to stop importing fuel.

It is worth remembering that Russia is energy independent — and the recent actions of President Putin demonstrate to anyone how the world is not made safe when one country becomes energy independent. We also saw in 1941, when the United States was not only energy independent but an energy exporter. Did that eliminate international conflict and render North America safe?

What is needed is not energy for this country or that country: affordable energy and the blessings it brings for some people — and unaffordable energy for everyone else, and the misery it breeds.

What is needed is sustainable energy for all, where no country is condemned to being a pawn on the chessboard of global supply.

We see hopelessness in many countries — the economic despair and the oppression of terrible political regimes, which are generally built around control of energy and food and water.

Despair breeds radicalism, especially among the youth of the world, who should be studying science and the arts and raising families and paying the bills, instead of learning to operate small arms and the ways of the guerrilla fighter.

It is not all bad — sometimes we forget to look at our advanced civilization with the correct degree of wonder, because we become embroiled in the challenges and remediating the ills of our industrial system. A wonder it is — bringing a lifestyle to many people that even royalty could not have enjoyed five hundred years ago.

We have done well, but we can do better.

So, you would like to know the argument for the advanced bioeconomy? I have one and only one message for you: Let Freedom Ring.

Four Freedoms for the 21st Century

Let us commit ourselves to Four Freedoms for the 21st century.

Freedom from fear – the fear of climate shift, fear of the forces of monopoly, fears over security in a dangerous world financed by petrodollars, the fear of volatile energy prices and the impact on our economies.

Freedom from waste – municipal, agricultural, forest, and industrial.

Freedom of choice –  clean alternatives in fuels, plastics, solvents, thinners, lacquers, foods, feed, clothing, latex, nylons, nutrients – products for the home and family, and products to affordably and cleanly power the economy around us.

Freedom of opportunity – for technologies, our agricultural assets, and our scientific talent.

Freedom is upon us, freedom is near us. But nothing will happen until we renew our resolve.

We have done well, but we can do better.

Who pays for the problems of a single source of fuel?

We make society pay for the negative consequences of petroleum — society pays, not the producer, through taxes and strategic reserves and insurance and disaster funds — and then we wonder why no one can develop a technology t

Imagine if there were no penalties in any sport at all. It would be ugly and brutal and violent and not much fun to watch and dangerous to play and would remind us all too much of the real world we live in.

Were the energy playing field to be leveled — were every cost to be fairly accounted for, and every financial advantage available to petroleum available to clean alternatives — I have no doubt that clean alternatives would win the day.

A Straight Deal

What this planet needs right now for once, in the fuels business, is a Straight Deal. We need all the cards on the table, not just the cards that are convenient for certain sections of established industries.

I happen to spend quite a bit of time with people who work in the petroleum industry. And I know first hand that so many of them would like to see their companies become true leaders in all fuels, not just the old fuels.

Some integrated energy companies have taken great strides towards the world beyond petroleum, and I salute the hard yards they have gained, and the investments they have made. But so long as companies evaluate new technologies based solely on short-term internal rates of return, rather than seeing them as necessary to a Company’s ongoing freedom to operate, they will never do as much as they can or should.

Freedom for freedom

Old line energy companies want their freedom, and they should have it.  But their freedom should be seen as part of a larger freedom that is more important. Freedom to operate requires not interfering with the freedom of others.

No one has the freedom to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater just because there is freedom of speech. No one has the freedom to play loud music in a residential neighborhood in the middle of the night. And that is because the freedom of one is subordinated not to the control of the many but the freedoms of the many.

Where the freedom of the one comes into conflict with the other, an adjustment is made. That is a principle of equity, and a tenet of freedom.

Change is here, let’s make it work.

We have the means for change. We have the technologies, the rural assets and the talent and it is time to use them.

We have done well, but we can do better.

No matter what you think, you are not alone. There are many who see the opportunities of the future in the advanced bioeconomy and are working towards that future.

They see it at BASF, at DSM, they’re investing in this sector. They see it at DuPont, Chemtex, Novomont, BP, and Shell they’re investing in this sector.They see it at Eni, Total, Valero, Koch FHR, Wilmar, Bunge, and Cosan and they’re investing in this sector. They see it at Abengoa, POET, Novozymes, the US Navy, Cathay Pacific,and United Airlines, and they’re investing. And many more.

What do all these companies have in common, what do they see?

They see that they have done well in the old economy, but will do better in the new. To seek better, to do better, to build better, and to buy better. That is the promise of the future and it is high time to strive for it. We will all do better in the new world that is coming to redress the deficiencies of the old.

Let Freedom Ring. Thank you.

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