Badger Blog Alliance

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ethanol Boosts Greenhouse Gases

Jo Egelhoff brought this link to our attention in the comments to a previous post on ethanol. Given our elected representatives' continued insistence on forcing ethanol upon us all with AB 682, I think a few excerpts from the New York Times article are appropriate.

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

Wonder why ethanol interests want to shove this through? Perhaps it has something to do with that increased scrutiny.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions — for refining and transport, for example.

I'm a doubter of man made global warming, but a lot of you out there are not, and if you think I'm wrong for doubting, then this should really upset you. And still, your representatives, Republican and Democrat alike, want to force more ethanol use and production on you. These mandates will not allow you to make your own economic or green decisions on the matter.

But, you ask, how does a little extra corn grown in Wisconsin make any difference? Well, here's how:

Likewise, Dr. Fargione said that the dedication of so much cropland in the United States to growing corn for bioethanol had caused indirect land use changes far away. Previously, Midwestern farmers had alternated corn with soy in their fields, one year to the next. Now many grow only corn, meaning that soy has to be grown elsewhere.

Increasingly, that elsewhere, Dr. Fargione said, is Brazil, on land that was previously forest or savanna. “Brazilian farmers are planting more of the world’s soybeans — and they’re deforesting the Amazon to do it,” he said.

This would seem to be a prime example of the slogan "Think Globally, Act Locally," don't you think? Opposing ethanol mandates, while not necessarily opposing ethanol completely, would seem to be one, maybe the only, common cause between environmentalists on the left and some of us on the right who are concerned about other effects of a mandate.