Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Attack on Ethanol's Climate Benefit

This is one of the topics I was constantly battling about when I worked within the environmental community. For an odd array of reasons, most environmentalists HATE ethanol. After going round and round with many of them for 2 years, it was clear to me -- and some of them even admitted it, that they would just rather have oil as "the devil they know."

Oil -- yes, oil -- the LEAST sustainable, MOST carbon-intense transportation fuel possible -- they prefer it. Again -- do we see some alliances with the oil industry here? Maybe environmentalists need oil to keep doing what they are doing?

See the news blurb below from National Public Radio -- talking about the latest assault on the only potentially sustainable, low carbon fuel we have right now -- brought to you by those who claim to be defenders of the environment.

This is one of the KEY examples of a lack of pragmatism in the existing environmental groups today -- and yet another reason why a new coalition must emerge -- one based on solving problems rather than demonizing possible solutions to environmental problems.

Does ethanol have potential environmental problems -- sure. Do those problems outweigh what it has to offer NO NO NO!!!

The gist of the new attack on ethanol's climate credibility is that an expanded ethanol market will drive international farmers to burn down the rainforest to grow more corn -- and as a result, more GHG emissions will occur than without the higher ethanol demand.

There are so many crazy things about this study, I don't know where to begin.
  1. Show me the system that allows us to control what other countries will do on anything! If Brazil is going to cut down its rainforest because the U.S. expands its ethanol use/demand -- WHAT'S TO SAY THEY WON'T DO THIS REGARDLESS OF WHAT WE DO??
  2. Show me that this study actually factored in expected gains in yield that are predicted in the future based on biotechnology and new seed traits that are in development
  3. Why is this study assuming that corn ethanol will be the only form of ethanol when one of the main drivers for ethanol, the Renewable Fuels Standard, focuses most of the demand increase on cellulosic ethanol -- coming from ag residue or switchgrass
If you want to influence what other countries are going to do -- how about giving them a market incentive to do the "right thing" -- i.e. setting up a low carbon fuel standard and creating a way for them to get value out of producing low carbon fuels -- or work toward creating a global carbon market where developing countries can get rewarded for keeping their rainforest intact?
Of course, that would be a lot of work and would require actually focusing on the solution to a problem.
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Study: Corn Fuels Hurt Climate More Than Gasoline

National Public Radio

All Things Considered, February 7, 2008 · Here's some shocking news for the ethanol fuels industry — and the climate. A new study finds that the climate would be much better off if we burned gasoline instead of corn-based ethanol. The report in Science shows that the biofuels industry is fueling substantial deforestation, particularly in the tropics. And when you take that into account, the industry is actually driving a big increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Federal law requires new biofuels plants to prove that they are good for the climate — taking into account land-use changes. If this study holds up, it could but the brakes on crop-based biofuels in the United States.

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