Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ethanol Worse than Gas in Causing Global Warming


“Politicians and Big Business are pushing biofuels like corn-based ethanol as alternative to oil. All they’re doing is driving up food price and making global warming worse- and your paying for it.” These sentences are on the cover of the most recent issue of Time magazine introducing an article entitled The Clean Energy Myth, written by Michael Grunwald.

Grunwald, who is a senior correspondent for Time magazine and has written extensively on environmental issues, examines the consequences of the increased use of ethanol and evaluates ethanol’s effect on global warming.

In the past decade, the US has quadrupled the production of ethanol and the recently passed energy bill mandates another five-fold increase. Grunwald quotes studies that show that the actual effect of the increase of the use of ethanol is that it’s dramatically accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of saving it.”

One way this is happening is that the push to produce more ethanol is resulting in clearing of the Amazon rain forest. When the rain forest is destroyed, the act of deforestation releases carbon emission and this deforestation accounts for 20% of all current carbon emissions.

In addition to making global warming worse, in the process we are also destroying the most ecologically diverse places on the earth at an alarmingly accelerated rate, not only in the Amazon but also in Indonesia and other places in the world.

Another point Grunwald makes is that producing fuel from corn provides only a modest gain in net fuel. It takes almost as much energy to create a BTU of energy from corn as is produced.

Other points he the article makes are these:
Only sugarcane-based ethanol is efficient enough to cut carbon emissions by more than it takes to produce the fuel. The rest of the “green fuels” are net carbon emitters.
The U. S. leads the world in corn and soybean production, but if 100% of both crops were turned into fuel, it produces only enough fuel to replace 20% of the gas consumption.

The author is unequivocal that “biofules aren’t part of the solution at all. They’re part of the problem.”

How in the world could we be so irrational as to be mandating ethanol in order to deal with global warming? That is like an alcoholic who switches from beer to bourbon to deal with his drinking problem. The evidence is clear, that as the author says, “we’re better off growing food and drilling for oil.”

It is not as if the truth about ethanol was not known before the new Congress passed the recent energy bill. Rational environmentalist knew this all along but ethanol is trendy and the feel-good environmentalist want it. The rational environmentalists are too few and too timid to counter the feel-good environmentalist and the activist of the environmental movement. The environmental community, with few exceptions, celebrated the passing of the recent energy bill by the newly elected Democratic Congress.

It is disheartening that we are pursuing a policy that is making global warming worse in the name of fighting global warming, but most politicians are willing to give stupid people what they want. The fact that the nations first Presidential nominating contest is in the corn-growing state of Iowa probably plays a roll in the popularity of ethanol also. Candidates for President, of both parties, pander to the Iowa voters by endorsing ethanol. In 2000, John McCain was the only politician with the courage to speak the truth about the folly of ethanol, but apparently McCain wants to be President more than he wants to tell the truth, so this time around he also jumped on the ethanol bandwagon.

I don’t see much hope for curtailing global warming. Everywhere you look, the only news about global warming is bad news. Lofty goals are not met, and the rate of carbon emission continues to grow. Rationality on the issue seems to be in short supply. On the one hand, you have the global warming deniers and on the other hand you have the feel-good enviournmentalist who are happy as long as we do “something” even it that something is worse than doing nothing.

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