Sustainable Biofuels: The Brazilian Experience and Opportunities Ahead

The Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) has sponsored, in partnership with the Wilson Center on the Hill and the Brazil Institute, a series of conferences over the growing importance and role of biofuels in the international market.  The conference, “Biofuels: Food, Fuel, and the Future?” was held in July to discuss the impact of ethanol production and development.  Following the conference, a subsequent publication of the same name was released, and in September, the event Classifying Biofuels Subsidies” focused on the global trade impact of ethanol production.

The following summary is from the Brazil Institute’s event on sustainable biofuels held on November 10th.  The video archive of this event, and the presentations discussed therein, can be viewed here.

On Nov. 10, the Brazil Institute hosted a seminar on biofuels, energy demands, and their implications for global climate change viewed from a Brazilian perspective.  Ambassador André Amado, undersecretary-general for energy and technology with the Ministry of External Relations, discussed the benefits of biofuels, most specifically sugarcane ethanol.

Biofuels have stimulated economic growth in rural areas, as sugarcane production has increased– creating 835,000 jobs, 95 percent of which are in the formal sector.  This expansion has also had substantial labor input, improving the standard of living for many rural laborers.  Also, ethanol production has proven not to require subsidies and can fill gaps created by other renewable energy sources.  Most importantly, increased production of ethanol has occurred alongside a substantial increase in food production, allaying fears that food production would be displaced the biofuels expansion.  To further prevent this, Brazil recently passed agro-ecological zoning laws, which vastly restrict the amount of land that can be used for sugarcane production.

Ambassador Amado pointed out that the potential benefits to be gained from increased use in biofuels are an environmental incentive: the use of sugarcane ethanol over the past 30 years has saved 850 tones of carbon from being emitted.  As demand for energy increases due to economic development, more renewable resources will be needed to meet this demand in a responsible manner.  The current world energy matrix is less than 10 percent renewable, whereas in Brazil it is closer to 50 percent.  Politically, the bulk of the world’s petroleum resources are controlled by a small number of countries, giving them an enormous amount of leverage over world energy prices – a potentially dangerous situation.  Since sugarcane can be grown in so many parts of the world (over 100 countries), increasing the number of producers would be geostrategically advantageous.  In conclusion, he pointed out the remaining barriers to bioethanol becoming a world commodity– chiefly, the lack of international cooperation and the threat to vested business interests that this new industry represents, namely the oil, food, and car industries.

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Ranking the “New Economy”

A new report released by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and the Kauffman Foundation found that “Unless the United States addresses its fundamental economic competitiveness challenges, it will be difficult for the U.S. economy and, by extension, individual economies to thrive.”  The report, entitled, “The 2010 State Economy Index: Benchmarking Economic Transformation in the States,” ranks all fifty states using twenty-six indicators to asses their economic capacity and to what extent they are “knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven, and innovation-based.”

Success in what the authors deem the “New Economy” stems from individual states’ ability to adapt to new economic cycles and promote innovation.  The report, which ranks the states in categories ranging from workforce education to the level of foreign direct investment, argues that “if the recent economic recession has taught economists anything, it should be that economic growth and stability stem from a mix of highly productive and innovative industries.”

Four of the five states that have most demonstrated these attributes are in the Northeast, with the fifth being from the Pacific Northwest.  Taking the top rank for the fourth time is Massachusetts, which enjoys a strong network of different technology sectors supported by a plethora of top-rated universities.  Washington state, number two in the rankings, benefits from large corporations such as Microsoft and especially Boeing, but also from its strong investment in digital technology.  Coming in at third, Maryland benefits from a large concentration of well-educated workers who are employed in Washington, D.C.  New Jersey and Connecticut, fourth and fifth respectively, rank high due to their educated workforce while benefiting from strong defense and financial industries and high foreign direct investment.

The report points to the need for high levels of innovation, as seen in the top ranking states, in order to jumpstart an economy in which “Highly innovative economies are characterized by a diverse mix of high-paying, capital-intense, and productive industries.”  While the top ranking states enjoy many of the same attributes they are not all in lockstep.  Washington, for example, ranked 43rd in job-churning and 34th in high-wage trade services.

While the report focuses on the domestic ranking of individual states, a prior blog entry examines the role of competitiveness on a world scale.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, TechFlash

Photo Credit: “Innovation” courtesy of flickr user Thomas Hawk

Book Launch: The Terrific Rise and Terrible Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger: European Debt and the Future of U.S.-style Globalization

“Ireland is in the midst of a tremendous crisis,” opened David J. Lynch, Senior Writer with Bloomberg News at his book launch When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out: The World’s Most Resilient country and its Struggle to Rise Again. On November 9th at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Lynch painted a historical mosaic of Ireland’s economic and social transformation over the past few decades. Told through five different individuals’ accounts of Ireland’s economic boom and bust, his story recounts Ireland’s once prosperous, export-driven economy and its devolution into export-dependency, alongside a subsequent housing bubble and construction boom.

Following brief introductory remarks by Kent Hughes, Director of the Program on America and the Global Economy, Lynch began by stating that he wanted to tell a story of the Irish people and Irish identity. Characterized by a distinct cultural duality, he professed, the Irish people- “brilliant failures” as described by Oscar Wilde, have “tremendous gifts without much to show for it.”  Prior to the mid 1990’s, Ireland had “two realities”- the “real society and a society of pretense”- an ostensibly socially conservative society in which divorce was illegal yet family dysfunction was clearly present. Lynch noted that the features of this society included a government rife with corruption and the near universal emigration of its educated labor force in search of employment opportunities.

Nearing the end of 1994, he went on, Ireland’s economy was paralyzed by an 18.5% unemployment rate, a debt to GDP ratio of approximately 133%, and a huge budget deficit. Describing the economic climate as bleak, compounded by violence in Belfast and other parts of the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland, Lynch stated that Ireland’s social stagnation caused it to become a “country looking backward.” Read more of this post

Paradigm Lost: New Policy Models for Innovation Mavens

On November 10th, 2010, the Program on America and the Global Economy hosted Dr. Jerald Hage to take part in a ‘Tuesday’ Innovation Policy Group discussion. Dr. Hage, a Professor at the University of Maryland and Director of the Center for Innovation presented “The Evolution of Science and Technology and the Need for New Policy Models.”  As the title of his talk suggested, Hage highlighted a new policy model for science and technology development and contrasted them the present model.  Dr. Hage’s presentation was based on his forthcoming book Restoring the Innovation Edge: Driving the Evolution of Science and Technology, which looks into how innovation processes can be better managed, especially among policy makers.  Kent Hughes, director of the Program on America and the Global Economy, introduced Dr. Hage and moderated the event.

Dr. Hage began by noting that the rapid increase in the amount of expenditures on RDT and the increasing number of countries involved in research means that there is now global competition over innovation.  To compete effectively we need a new policy model.

Two different policy models for science, technology, and innovation were presented. The first being the present policy model, which focuses on input-output and market regulation and draws upon neo-classical economics.  The second model focuses on the management of innovation or the throughput at the sector level and is evolutionary rather than static with network governance.  Dr. Hage argued that the U.S. faced a crisis in innovation.  Signs of this included lost employment and the growing negative trade balance in advanced technology products. Dr. Hage argued that eight obstacles have to be overcome to restore the innovation edge including more public-private partnerships and less stove-piping of information between labs.  He stressed that “innovation is concerned with the solving of problems and thus very different from a concern about productivity or the conservation of resources.” Read more of this post

Breaking the STEM Gender Gap

The National Science Foundation has estimated that roughly five percent of the workforce is engaged in STEM related jobs, a relatively small vital sector in our economy.  Historically, these fields have been dominated by men.  The gap however, is rapidly closing.

Almost thirty years ago, there was a 13:1 boy to girl ratio for gifted 12-14 year olds who scored 700 on the SAT math exam, today it is closer to 3:1.  This is one of the many examples that a recent study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) entitled “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” demonstrates.

With women obtaining only 20 percent of the STEM related degrees issued, the study shows that early education must support and continually encourage girls in math and science.  The study argues that, “[…] believing in the potential for intellectual growth, in and of itself, improves outcomes,” specifically in the early stages of cognitive development.  Improvements in education and tackling social taboos have seen high school females surpassing their male peers in both science and technology grade point averages.

The STEM workforce is also changing, but disparities continue. For example, while women represent about 53 percent of biologists, only 10 percent of civil engineers are women.  In response, colleges have changed course descriptions and the number of female faculty members has increased, as have tenure levels.

Independent groups are helping to empower females and to break barriers as well.  The HerWorld program, which has teamed with DeVry University, runs a forum to encourage girls to explore STEM careers.  As of now, over 7,200 high school girls in over fifty locations take part in the career development seminar and activities in the hopes of “opening the door to exciting STEM career opportunities that they may never have imagined possible.”

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: AAUW, Cognitive Daily, Devry, SentinelSource

Photo Credit: math problems for girls Courtesy of flickr user woodleywonderworks

Financial Follies and the Future

The following, Financial Follies and the Future, is the cover story for the December issue of the Wilson Center’s newsletter Centerpoint.

Overview and Summary:

The Woodrow Wilson Center is increasing its focus on the aftermath of the global financial crisis and on the domestic and international debate over how to prevent another economic debacle.

The issue is not new to the Center.  Last year, David Wessel, the economics editor of The Wall Street Journal researched and wrote his In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic while a Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center.  Working with the Center’s regional programs, the Center’s Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) has explored how other countries and regions dealt with the crisis.

As part of the renewed focus on finance, PAGE and Wilson Center on the Hill program hosted a meeting on Capitol Hill to discuss The Squam Lake Report: Fixing the Financial System, coauthored by fifteen leading financial economists.  On November 9, PAGE hosted David J. Lynch to discuss his just published When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out: The World’s Most Resilient Country and its Struggle to Rise Again.  Lynch, who covered the global economy for USA Today and is now a Senior Writer for Bloomberg News, wrote his book while a Public Policy Scholar at the Center.

On December 8 and 9, the Asia Program (AP), with its partner in Tokyo, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, will host a conference to explore the future of Japan-U.S. partnership in strengthening the international economic and financial system.

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Multimedia Now Available: When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out

On November 9, 2010 the Wilson Center’s Program on America and the Global Economy hosted David Lynch as he launched his first book, When The Luck of The Irish Ran Out: The World’s Most Resilient Country and Its Struggle to Rise Again.

Click here to watch the video of this event.

Posted by: PAGE Staff

David Lynch is a Senior Writer for Bloomberg News. He is the author of the forthcoming “When The Luck of The Irish Ran Out: The World’s Most Resilient Country and Its Struggle to Rise Again,” an account of modern Ireland’s journey from rags to riches and back again.

Photo Courtesy of David Hawxhurst: Woodrow Wilson Center