The costs and benefits of moving out of beef and into biofuel

May 20, 2011 1 Comment by

Most beef farmers in Ireland are losing money. In view of this, some policymakers and commentators think that it would be in the national interest to encourage a lot of them to give up their loss-making hobby and to switch to growing biofuels instead. They claim that this would be doubly beneficial because the methane the cattle belch would not be released into the atmosphere and add to climate change but the use of the biofuel would reduce the tonnage of fossil fuel emissions that had to be included in the national greenhouse gas returns.

As part of its work for 2010-11, the Carbon Cycles and Sinks Network was asked by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to report on whether a policy designed to reduce beef production and increase biofuel output would really be advantageous and, if so, whether a programme could be developed which stood a reasonable chance of being successful. You can read a draft of the CCSN report here. It has some surprising results. As it has not yet been formally submitted to the department, suggestions for its improvement would be very welcome.

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One Response to “The costs and benefits of moving out of beef and into biofuel”

  1. Barry McMullin says:

    This reads as a very comprehensive and balanced report. I have no expertise in the area so can’t comment substantively. But … it would be nice if it could be accompanied with a model that could support investigation of sensitivity to particular quantitative assumptions (even just a spreadsheet might well be adequate). More generally, I’m curious as to how the analysis would be affected by significant changes in fossil energy prices (e.g., potentially arising from peak oil impact) in the near term (e.g., five years). As a separate but related issue, energy security/resiliance seems to be mentioned only in passing (or maybe I didn’t read carefully enough?). It seems like both energy and food security would be important issues in any policy discussion of a shift to biofuels. (A “classic” market economics approach might be to associate additional costs/taxes with risk, and benefits/subsidies with resiliance; though there are many practical problems with this of course…)
    Regards – Barry.
    PS: There seems to be a problem with the PDF in that in any PDF readers I have tried the “search” functionality does not work (nor does “cut and paste” or “save as text”). This seems like it may be a known problem associated with choosing to “compress” or “shrink” the file.It would be helpful if this could be avoided in any final online publication…