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The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means
The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means
by George Soros
Edition: Hardcover

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile the reading regardless of the merits of Soros' paradigm, 25 Jan 2009
This is a short and very insightful book regarding the ongoing financial crisis, but be aware that, as the title suggests, Soros' main purpose for rushing publication (April 2008 still in the midst of this crisis) was to put forward and test the validity and importance of the theory of reflexivity, a new framework or paradigm he is proposing for financial markets and social sciences in general. Part One of the book deals almost exclusively with the concepts and details of the refined version of his paradigm, which Soros first proposed in his 1987 book The Alchemy of Finance. He explains that reflexivity was his guiding framework during his very successful trading years, however his proposal was never taken seriously in academic circles. He is convinced that the ongoing international crisis will provided the opportunity for his proposed paradigm to finally be taken seriously and further developed by others.

Most of the book's content in Part One presents the rationale for this new paradigm but unfortunately most of the discussion is in the grounds of philosophy, and heavily influenced by the ideas of philosopher of science Karl Popper (see The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Open Society and Its Enemies) combined with theoretical concepts from social sciences, economics and some finance. Therefore, Part One is not an easy reading for those unfamiliar with these philosophical and technical concepts, as these chapters were clearly written for an audience of scholars and practitioners. He wants to be taken seriously in the academic world and not just as a successful speculator.

In a nutshell, Soros' reflexivity theory states that contrary to classical economic theory, which assumes perfect knowledge, neither market participants nor the regulators can base their decisions purely on knowledge. Their misjudgments, biases and misconceptions affect market prices, and more importantly, market prices affect the fundamentals they are supposed to reflect. He claims that markets never reach the equilibrium postulated by economic theory and financial models, and therefore policies and predictions based on market fundamentalism are both false and misleading. He explains that outcomes are subject to diverge from expectations, and he claims that markets move away from a theoretical equilibrium almost as often as they move towards it, and they can get caught up in initially self-reinforcing but eventually self-defeating processes.

Fortunately for the general public, Soros explicitly gives the readers the option to jump directly to Part Two, where he concisely discusses in detail the roots of the current crisis, along with his criticism to the prevailing paradigm in terms his new paradigm. Whether Soros' new paradigm is right or not, his analysis of past and the present boom and bust bubbles is worth the reading, as the key mistakes, misconceptions and actors self-deceiving behavior is analyzed in depth, and lets you understand why almost nobody saw this crisis coming, despite the lessons learned from previous bubble bursts and warnings by some prestigious individuals.

In Soros view the origin of the present international crisis or super bubble as he called it, can be traced to three trends. A first trend is to be found in the ever increasing credit expansion. Another trend is the globalization of financial markets and the last, the progressive removal of financial regulations and the accelerating pace of financial innovations. The last two trends began in the 1980s, when under Reagan and Thatcher administrations began an excessive reliance on the market mechanism, or what he calls, market fundamentalism, and the inception date of the super-bubble is the 1980s, when market fundamentalism became the guiding principle of the international financial system, and this process started with the recycling of petro-dollars generated by the 1973 oil crisis, and accelerated during the Reagan-Thatcher years. Chapter 6 is particularly interesting in understanding the chain of events and how the previous bubbles and crisis led to the present "super-bubble".

He claims that regulators abandoned their responsibility and because the newly invented instruments were so sophisticated that regulatory authorities did not fully understood these new instruments and lost the ability to calculate the risks involved, and they came to depend on the risk control methods and evaluations developed by the institutions themselves, and even worst, something similar happened to the rating agencies who were supposed to evaluate the creditworthiness of the financial instruments, as they too came to rely on the calculations provided by the issuers of those instruments. Soros found this the most shocking abdication of responsibility on part of the regulars, because if they could not calculate the risk they should not have allowed the institutions under their supervision to undertake them. By relying on the risk estimates of the market participants, the regulators unleashed a period of uncontrolled credit expansion. Soros is particularly critical of value-at-risk calculations, as high standard deviations occurred with high frequency and this warning signal was largely ignored by regulators and participants alike. Here he blames Alan Greenspan for allowing his political views to intrude into his conduct as chairman of the Federal Reserve more than would have been appropriate, and so he missed the chance to stop the real estate bubble.

Even if his paradigm is wrong Soros raises several very interesting and insightful ideas. Paralleling Heisenberg's uncertainty principle Soros asserts that our understanding of the world "is inherently imperfect because we are part of the world we seek to understand" and this introduces an element of uncertainty into the course of events that is absent from natural phenomena. This implies that "social events have a different structure from natural phenomena", and particularly economist do not accept this limitation because this will downgrade their "science", economists have to accept a reduction in their status, no wonder they put up resistance. He claims that financial models are mistaken and they do not represent reality, and its widespread use for the design of synthetic financial instruments is at the root of the current financial crisis

He makes several bold conjectures and among the more controversial ideas he asserts that the ongoing crisis will have far-reaching consequences, resulting in the end of an era, with a decline in the power and influence of the US and a decline of the dollar as the internationally accepted reserve currency. Among other significant changes, he thinks sovereign wealth funds (from China, Singapore, the oil producing Arab-states, etc.) will become important players in the international financial system. He also contends that market fundamentalism is no better than Marxist dogma, as both ideologies cloak themselves in scientific guise in order to make themselves more acceptable, but the theories they invoke do not stand up to the test of reality, they use scientific method to manipulate reality, not to understand it.

The book ends with a chapter on policy recommendations that rather presents Soros' summary on lessons learned for the future and identifies some key social issues that need urgent attention. Among the key recommendations, Soros concludes that obviously the financing industry needs to be regulated in order to prevent excesses, but severe regulation could impede economic development, so the right balance must be found. Leverage has to be controlled even if it results in the reduction in both the size and the profitability of the financial industry.

He also concludes that some of the newly introduced financial instruments are unsustainable and they will have to be abandoned, but the regulators need to gain better understanding of these instruments and they should not allow practices they do not fully understand. Risk management needs to be managed by the regulatory authorities, not the participants, that was an aberration.

Soros also advocates that additional measures are required to avoid foreclosure to allow as many people as possible keep their homes; they are victims of the housing bubble deserving some relief and to avoid the human suffering and social problems that are likely to hit senior citizens, Hispanics, and black communities.

Highly recommended, even if you only read Part Two or if you are skeptical about his reflexivity framework. Personally I think Soros is quite right to question the predictive capabilities of economic and financial models however, I do not think reflexivity is truly a paradigm, but rather one key assumption made in economics, and indeed in some application (such as finance) practitioners got mistakenly carried away and forgot to properly take this uncertainty into account, because then their models would be worthless.

PS: If you enjoyed this book, then I recommend you The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, with a similar but more solid theory on how to deal with uncertainty and risk, and written just before the Financial Crash. Also, Soros just published an update of his book under the new title The Crash of 2008 And What It Means: The New Paradigm For Financial Markets. Be aware that most of the contest is the same, just one chapter is devoted to his analysis on the latest developments of the financial crisis.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2010 8:11 PM GMT

The Great Global Warming Swindle [DVD]
The Great Global Warming Swindle [DVD]
Dvd ~ Martin Durkin
Price: £9.99

25 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity for making a serious critic of the science behind GW, 25 Jan 2009
The Great Global Warming Swindle is a controversial documentary, promoted as a counterbalance to Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Mr. Durkin certainly takes full advantage of the exaggerations and the fact that the man-made global warming theory is based on incomplete science and on "what if" scenarios produced with climate simulation models, that are being considered as unquestionable facts by the mainstream media and many politicians. However, and despite the collaboration of respectable scientists, such as Richard Lindzen, Paul Reiter, and Patrick Michaels, Mr. Durkin chose to edit and alternate these qualified expert opinions with comments by the narrator or by some others not so qualified interviewees making the documentary a smear attack on Al Gore and the IPCC. Even spicy conspiracy theories are proposed regarding Margaret Thatcher political agenda for supporting man-made GW, and another to suppress Africa's development by forcing poor countries to use expensive clean energy sources.

On the positive side, the documentary briefly presents the main alternative hypothesis for the origin of modern global warming, solar variations in combination cosmic rays, a physical phenomenon that seems to influence cloud formation, a key natural element of the greenhouse effect and one of the main uncertainties in the consensus theory. However, it is really a shame Mr. Durkin decided not to go deeper into the details of this alternative hypothesis or any other of the serious weaknesses of the prevailing theory; but instead, he chose to waste the opportunity for making a serious critic of the science behind man-made GW.

The Great Global Warming Swindle lack of seriousness is clearly reflected by the fact that the DVD content is not the same as the originally aired documentary in the U.K. on March 2007, because due to complaints and criticism, some significant factual errors had to be corrected, and one of the original interviewees requested to be withdrawn (M.I.T.'s Carl Wunsch). Even, Eigil Friis-Christensen, one of the leading researchers on the solar variation-cosmic ray theory, who together with Henrik Svensmark were the first to suggest a link between cosmic rays and global climate change, requested for corrections on the content, as findings from his research were not properly used in the documentary.

For those with a genuine interest in the science behind GW, a more serious criticism and analysis of the weaknesses of the science supporting the hypothesis of man-made global warming is presented in the book The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud**And those who are too fearful to do so. For those curious or with an interest on the alternate hypothesis regarding the Sun's radiation and cosmic rays, read The Chilling Stars, 2nd Edition: A Cosmic View of Climate Change or Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, Updated and Expanded Edition (in both cases make sure to get the updated edition). Just be aware that this competing theory is still a work in progress. For a no nonsense critic of the economics behind the mitigation policies read An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. Lawson's book is much better than Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 25, 2010 4:30 PM GMT

An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming
An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming
by Nigel Lawson
Edition: Hardcover

68 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great common sense critic of Global Warming, and a smart discussion on the most cost-effective way to address the consequences, 25 Jan 2009
This is a short and well-written book, provocative and full of smart and no nonsense arguments. Lawson provides end notes for each chapter and all bibliographical sources are properly referenced. The book's aim is to examine each of the dimensions of the consensus view of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), including the science, the economics, the politics, and the ethical aspects. He is concerned with the uncertainties of long-term forecasting and the lack of a real cost-effectiveness analysis in the policies recommended and advocated by the majority view on climate change, particularly by the radical change in lifestyle that will have to take place in the developed countries, and the unnecessary burden that will be put on the poor in the developing world. Lawson questions the fundamentals of AGW orthodoxy just armed with common sense, his political experience, and some very clever back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Lawson opens the book arguing that although he agrees that there is a real warming trend, he is skeptical of the validity of predictions made with global climate simulation models, and more importantly, he questions if indeed the sole cause of this warming is man-made greenhouses and how big the contribution of CO2 is. Lawson also raises several issues regarding the IPCC process, its findings and policy recommendations, and throughout the book he strongly criticizes the The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, which he considers "at the extreme end of the alarmist camp".

He might not be right in all the issues, but certainly he will at least let you wonder about some of them. Besides the reasonable critic of the economics, I found particularly robust his argument regarding the lack of falsifiability of climate simulation models and their predictions, which means that these complex models do not meet one of the most basic criteria required for any theory to be considered within the domain of science (for more on falsifiability read Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)). He sarcastically notes the fact that all models have failed so far to predict that there has been no further warming between 2001 and 2007. And by the way, this trend continued during 2008, ending with one the coolest boreal winters in recent decades (just Google to verify by yourself). Personally I do not think this recent short trend means that AGW is not real but more likely just part of the normal blips within long term climate patterns, in this case regarding the effects of the normal sunspot cycles and La Niña, as Lawson later in the book explains. However, it is a good example of the risks of advocating a cause with incomplete science, oversimplifications and by obstructing any real scientific debate.

After making his case in Chapter 1 about why he thinks "the science of global warming is far from settle", Lawson proceeds as any respectable economist would do, and assumes a prudent position "to err on the side of caution". Therefore, for the rest of the book he works under the assumption that the AGW theory is correct as reported by the IPPC's 2007 Report (see Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007) - a PDF version is available for free through the web) .

First he goes on to discus the practical consequences of the predicted warming over the next hundred years, based on the IPCC scenarios and policy recommendations. Next he analyzes the importance of adaptation, what Lawson claims is the IPPC's most serious flaw regarding the impact of global warming, as there is a "systematic underestimation of the benefits of adaptation" and "the most cost-effective way of addressing the likely consequences" as opposed to reducing CO2 emissions. He also is critical of the Stern Review and the Kyoto Protocol and the practical difficulties of reaching a global agreement. Then he discusses the different technologies and market alternatives being implemented and available to reduce emissions, closing with his own proposal to impose a carbon tax across the board, but implemented simultaneously with a reduction of other taxes to compensate for the extra revenues and avoiding any additional burden on the taxpayer. The book closes with a discussion about the discount rates used by the IPCC and the Stern Review in their economic analysis, with a more detailed discussion on the latter. The book ends with a warning about the dangers of the environmental movement, calling it "the new religion of eco-fundamentalism" and claiming that "we appear to have entered a new age of unreason."

I highly recommended this book for those with a genuine interest in the AGW controversy, and particularly in the aspects regarding the economics of mitigation and/or adaptation that will be necessary and that is being debated right now.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 1, 2013 7:25 AM GMT

The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud - and Those Who are Too Fearful to Do So
The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud - and Those Who are Too Fearful to Do So
by Lawrence Solomon
Edition: Hardcover

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Despite the title rudeness, a must read for those with an apolitical position or genuine interest in the science behind GW, 15 July 2008
First, don't be fooled by the title's lack of politeness, this is a serious book and I do highly recommend it for those interested in the global warming issue from an apolitical point of view, or with a genuine interest in the science behind the anthropogenic global warming theory. With a different approach from the typical GW skeptical literature, this is a real and earnest scientific counterbalance account to Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and above all, a tribute to free inquiry and the essential right to rational disagreement inherent to the scientific method, including questioning of the prevailing or mainstream paradigm, as any critical discussion is a fundamental element of scientific progress. As Karl Pooper brilliantly summarized this concept, "the game of science is, in principle, without end. He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test, and that they can be regarded as finally verified, retires from the game."

This book is written by an experienced environmentalist advocate who believes in global warming, but decided to corroborate the claimed of "scientific consensus", and discovered that the science is far from settled. The book is a collection of very interesting accounts and published materials from scientists in different fields with different degrees of skepticism and legitimate questions and criticism; most of them, believers of the anthropogenic global warming theory, but not of the exaggerations nor the alarmist or catastrophic predictions, and above all, who do not considered that the science is settled and concerned about the dogmatic position taken by most GW advocates. The book reads fast (just 213 pages) and all the materials are fully referenced, including web addresses for easier follow-up, allowing you to check the facts by yourself. Solomon left his opinion on this controversy for the final chapter, short and very sincere.

Among the so called "deniers", Richard Lindzen, Paul Reiter, and Eigils Friis-Christensen are known from their part in the controversial The Great Global Warming Swindle (DVD) documentary, but quite a big difference does it make when the approach is serious as Mr. Solomon did. These and other respectable scientists show several of the weaknesses and prevailing uncertainties of the "consensus" theory. Among the most reputable scientists cited by Solomon, renowned physicists Freeman Dyson and Antonino Zichichi stand out, their point of view is presented in Chapter 8: Models and the Limits of Predictability, summarizing the most solid criticism presented in the book. Both scientists question the validity and confidence of the forecasts produced with climate simulation models, particularly regarding the "fudge factors". Also they are strongly opposed to the intolerant scientific consensus, as such consensus is not part of the scientific method, and in practice is just a device to thwart any rebuttal, thus endangering the freedom and the objectivity of what would have been a normal scientific discussion. This is a main criticism to the consensus, as not many scientists want to risk or can afford to be labeled a "heretic", a luxury they can afford because of their age and brilliant carriers. As Karl Pooper said "only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff".

Among the several weaknesses identified in the book, there are two fundamental flaws that are worth mentioning, and both have to do with the crucial role the climate simulation models play in the anthropogenic global warming theory: (i) attribution of the causes for the observed warming, as criticized and highlighted by both Dyson and Zichichi; and (ii) the lack of falsifiability of a theory based on simulation modeling, as raised by Hendrik Tennekes, also in Chapter 8. The latter refers to the possibility of demonstrating that a theory can be proven false by experiment of by observation, a basic requirement of any valid scientific theory. In the case of man-made GW, such ability of being falsified is hindered by the fact that simulation models use parametrization to compensate for the climate physical effects not directly simulated or when lacking enough data, and mainly because the models are calibrated to adjust for historical trends and available measurements, then, by tweaking the models, the goodness of fit for the past is guaranteed, and the reliability of the prediction might be even good for short term forecasts, but as time goes by, the models are calibrated again, so the mid and long term predictions always get adjusted. This permanent fine tuning can be confirmed by anyone simply by looking at the evolution of the predictions in consecutive IPCC Reports for the past 17 years. A good summary is presented in Figure 1.1 of the IPPC's 2007 Report (AR4) Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007) (a PDF version is available for free through the web). The first IPPC predictions from 1990 (FAR) were completely off target by 2000, and significantly overestimating what is now a historical record, even without considering the fact that mean global temperature stopped increasing since 2001 (the recent and now controversial cooling trend). Thus, when forecasts do not fit reality, climate modelers can always claim that the data fed into the model was faulty or insufficient; or that the modeling has since been significantly improved; or that their predictions are good for the long term, or any other excuses, and in the end, they continue building more complex models but always avoiding fasifiability, just as have witnessed for the last 20 years. The transcription of Popper's ideas presented in the book makes clear that this approach is "not only false but dangerous, leading to undisciplined, arrogant, and worst of all unfasifiable predictions masquerading as science."

The second major flaw is related with attribution or establishing the most likely causes for the detected warming. As explained in the book, and in more detail in Section 1.3.3, Chapter 1 of the IPCC's AR4, the theory of anthropogenic global warming or climate change established this fundamental cause and effect relationship exclusively on the basis of the results obtained with climate models, through simulations with and without man-made greenhouse emissions. Chapter 8 explains at length why these models are not reliable for this purpose, and so, you are left without proof of attribution. "There exists no sound theoretical framework for climate predictability studies."

For a deeper understanding on the limitations and the real confidence we can put on the global climate simulation models and any long term prediction, I strongly recommend reading The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction. For an honest and detailed account on how the anthropogenic global warming theory evolved to its present state, I recommend reading The Discovery of Global Warming (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine). For a serious but still work in progress alternate theory for GW read The Chilling Stars, 2nd Edition: A Cosmic View of Climate Change. For the latest contribution to this debate by Freeman Dyson see his piece entitled "The Question of Global Warming", at the website of the New York Review of Books, June, 12, 2008.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2008 4:23 PM GMT

Universe: Complete Season 1 [DVD] [2007] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Universe: Complete Season 1 [DVD] [2007] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ David Ackroyd
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £11.98

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!!! This is Sagan's Cosmos updated and improved, 25 April 2008
I highly recommend this miniseries set, especially if you are interested in science, or if your kids and youngster are interested in astronomy and cosmology. This series is of the same quality and content as the famous Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" but updated and improved, taking full advantage of the images taken from the Hubble space telescope, the robotic missions and all information recollected from space research during the last twenty years. All these images come to life through excellent computer animations and simulations, with amazing results. Congratulations to the History Channel.

The "bonus" documentary "Beyond the Big Bang" is the best summary I have ever seem on the history of modern astronomy, and it also presents an outstanding recount on how real science works, everything in just one hour. It shows us how science progresses; how science benefits even from mistakes; how one theory competes with other; how science conflicts with dogma; in short, the documentary presents quite an example to be followed, particularly on these days of politicized science and commercialized research. The explanations of more complex concepts such as Einstein's relativity, the Big Bang, the expanding universe, and others, are presented with very simple (and sometimes even funny) dramatizations and analogies, making the contents accessible to all audiences. A+++

Einstein: His Life and Universe
Einstein: His Life and Universe
by Walter Isaacson
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man and the genius. Isaacson let's you know how he did it, 25 April 2008
This is an excellent Einstein biography. I really love it; a real page-turner, completely captured my attention for several of days, until I finished with a sensation of wanting for more. No doubt it was very well researched, and includes new details uncovered from Einstein's letters recently made available for the public. Very well written, and Isaacson ability to explain complex science is outstanding, although my guess is that more than a bit of basic knowledge of physics is required to fully grasp the scientific discussions of relativity, quantum mechanics and the like.

The book is particularly insightful in recounting how Einstein developed his theories, just with thought experiments; his rebellious attitude toward authority of any kind; his endless fight against quantum theory (now I do understood what he meant and why he died thinking that God does not play dice); the controversies and interactions with the other scientific giants of his time; and his failure to develop a unified field theory, all of these aspects leading smoothly to the understanding on how he developed not only his revolutionary theories, but his philosophy about science, education, politics, and God. Also, the book goes into deep details on how he went from apolitical to an activist on Zionism, and from a pacifist to a supporter of the US entering WWII; his limited but key role on the US development of the atomic bomb, and afterwards, his regret; closing with his stand against McCarthyism. And because nobody is perfect, the biography shows his main weakness, throughout his life he was a lousy father and husband.

Coming back to the science, I had always been curious in understanding how Einstein came up with his theories without experimentation; even Newton did experiments to develop his laws. This biography explains in minute detail how he did it through his clever thought experiments. Also, the recount presented provides a good idea on how science progresses, from Einstein's fight against the prevailing paradigms in the beginning of his career, to Einstein's stubborn skepticism against the new paradigm he himself contributed to develop, quantum mechanics. Also I found fascinating how the more he used his thought experiments in trying to falsify quantum mechanics, the more the theory got reinforced. A good example on how the real scientific method works, illustrating the importance of an open debate for science to get closer to the truth. Also a really good historic example for those who believe that scientific theories can be proven by consensus.

I highly recommend this book for those interested in modern physics, cosmology, the history of science, philosophy of science, or just Einstein's admirers.

PD: Finally, a word of advice for some readers in order to avoid disappointment based on the majority of positives reviews. Me and the other reviewers who gave five stars to the book might have been carried away, but I think it is very likely that most of us have a decent background on physics, and/or have read a lot about cosmology, or just have a good grasp of hard sci-fi. Readers have to be aware of the complexity of several of the scientific explanations. So, despite Isaacson's clarity in explaining the science, some parts of the book are not Carl Sagan stuff. If you have read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time", or Paul Davies' "God and the New Physics", or any similar books on modern astrophysics and cosmology, and didn't like them, couldn't understand much, or simply got bored, then this caveat might apply to you. But if you are really interested in Einstein's life and achievements, my advice is to try and just skip the more technical parts, the book is still very interesting without the technical stuff.

Sustainable Ethanol: Biofuels, Biorefineries, Cellulosic Biomass, Flex-Fuel Vehicles, and Sustainable Farming for Energy Independence
Sustainable Ethanol: Biofuels, Biorefineries, Cellulosic Biomass, Flex-Fuel Vehicles, and Sustainable Farming for Energy Independence
by Jeffrey Goettemoeller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The book you should read before taking sides on the food versus biofuel controversy, 25 April 2008
This book is truly a crash course on the subject. The Goettemoeller brothers present a brief but very comprehensive account of the ethanol evolution, beginning with a concise history of the oil and ethanol industries, through farm subsidies, the economics, environmental impact, greenhouse gases, ethanol and world hunger, all the flex-fuel vehicles available (E10, E85, E100 and the Brazilian full flex-fuel vehicles), improving fuel efficiency, ethanol production from several crops, the energy balance, to close with a discussion about a key question, is ethanol renewable? All of it in just less than 200 pages, not surprisingly the book reads fast, the facts are presented almost like bullets, with web addresses and references for easy follow-up.

The successful Brazilian experience is also presented, explaining the 30 year process that led to this country's leadership in farming productivity, ethanol fuel production and distribution, and the development and manufacturing of full flex-fuel vehicles, with the same sales price as E-10 cars. And all of these achievements without government subsidies, or sacrificing food production, and even with a sharp increase in grain and food exports thanks to China's voracious appetite for commodities. The authors also debunk the deforestation myth. Sugar cane is produced mainly in São Paulo state, some 2,500 Km away from the Amazon forest, in areas previously used for farming, and the entire state's area is just 3% of Brazil's territory. Whenever possible, a comparison with the U.S experience is presented, and key differences are highlighted, such as Brazil's superior productivity rates in farming sugar cane.

My only disappointment with the book is that the Brazilian case is not presented with the same depth as the American experience; instead, information about Brazil is spread throughout the book in very short paragraphs, and based mainly on interviews with Brazilian English-speaking executives. It seems the language barrier hindered a deeper coverage of this successful story. That's why I did not give the book the five stars. And incidentally, the book does not mention the fact that today the price of hydrated ethanol (Brazil's biofuel) is around 30% cheaper than standard gasoline, more than enough to fully compensate for the lower energy content in ethanol, and thanks to the fully flexible fuel technology, auto users are free to choose the proportion of each fuel depending on market prices. Usually, between sugar cane harvest seasons, you simply go back to gasoline.

As oil approaches US$ 120 per barrel, and as the oil industry and OPEC countries are ironically echoing the concerns of some international bureaucrats and environmental groups (yes, the same supporting the Global Warming cause!) regarding the alleged responsibility of ethanol production for the recent increases in food prices, I think this is a book you definitively should read before taking sides on the food versus biofuels controversy.

The problem is complex; there are several causes, and agricultural subsidies in rich countries are chief among them, in particular when highly subsidized corn crops for ethanol production became more profitable than producing other cash crops for food. This subject is out of the scope of the book, but if you are interested on this controversy, read the masterpiece article in the Economist's April 17th 2008 issue, entitled "The Silent Tsunami". That will be a good starting point to understand the real causes and the paradoxes behind world hunger and poverty.

Also, the latest two books from Joseph E. Stiglitz have some chapters explaining how agricultural subsidies in the U.S. and several European countries, together with trade barriers, are among the real culprits for the poorest developing countries not being able to produce what they eat, and how many other countries are being barred from entering the "free" global market and developed by themselves. Just read "Making Globalization Work" and "Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development". At least inform yourself properly and get the facts right before taking sides on this new global controversy. Happy 2008 Earth's Day!

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