Kellogg faculty debate practical, ethical implications of biofuelsBy Aubrey Henretty
4/7/2008 - Kellogg School Professors Tim Calkins, Adam Galinsky and Ben Jones took part in an April 3 panel discussion on the ethics and efficacy of biofuels in the fight against global warming.
Moderated by Lynne Kiesling, a senior lecturer in the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program, and sponsored by the Social Impact Club, the event drew hundreds of interested observers — primarily Kellogg students and staff — to the Donald P. Jacobs Center.
“We were extremely pleased with the turnout; it was a testament to students' interests in alternative energy and the popularity of the professors who participated,” said Nathan Kadish ’09, one of the students who organized the debate. “Everyone thinks about the pros and cons of ethanol, and we wanted to hear about how some of our favorite professors use their expertise to approach the topic.”
Each professor approached the issue in terms of his own subject. Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing, discussed the “first-strike” marketing advantage currently enjoyed by a powerful U.S. farm lobby. By pitching corn-based ethanol as a simple, environmentally friendly solution to oil dependency, corn growers and ethanol proponents have captured the public imagination and drowned out the more nuanced arguments of their opponents, he said.
Some of those arguments — including the point that more energy is required to produce ethanol than the fuel itself provides — are practical while others are ethical. Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Management and Organizations, addressed a few of each type. With corn-based ethanol’s inefficiency and potential to drive up global food prices, said Galinsky, widespread adoption of the fuel could simultaneously harm the weakest (i.e. poorest) members of society and fail to benefit the world’s population as a whole.
Jones, an associate professor of management and strategy whose research concerns economic growth and new technology and whose teaching specialty is international development, was skeptical that corn-based ethanol would be a primary influence on high global food prices, which he attributes mainly to “rapid growth in emerging markets.” Jones argued that while ethanol can’t replace oil in the global energy market, it may be a valuable addition to a diverse world energy portfolio.
Following the discussion, the panel took questions from the audience.