Suspicious of Ethanol

 | February 21, 2008 4:58 PM

George Bush Oil

In 2006 George Bush made the remarkable statement that the U.S. needed to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and pushed forward programs to promote the production of ethanol.

Though I was pleasantly surprised that an oil man like George Bush would make such a statement I was also suspicious of this ethanol proposal for several reasons.

  1. George Bush and much of his cabinet have deep relations with big oil (U.S. Energy independence? Don’t bet on it).
  2. I don’t like the government picking winners and losers in the market, I’d rather the free market determine what is the best technology.
  3. The oil companies are the ones doing the investing in ethanol and stand to benefit from this government program, along with the many other handouts from the government to them.
  4. Ethanol is much less efficient than gasoline so more ethanol has to be consumed.

Now as I do more reading I have learned that ethanol production is actually destructive to the environment.

San Jose Mercury News – Study: Ethanol may add to global warming

The study said that after taking into account expected worldwide land-use changes, corn-based ethanol, instead of reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent, will increases it by 93 percent compared to using gasoline over a 30-year period. Biofuels from switchgrass, if they replace croplands and other carbon-absorbing lands, would result in 50 percent more greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers concluded.

We should be focusing on our use of biofuels from waste products” such as garbage, which would not result in changes in agricultural land use, Searchinger said in an interview. “And you have to be careful how much you require. Use the right biofuels, but don’t require too much too fast. Right now we’re making almost exclusively the wrong biofuels.”

Here’s another article from one of my favorite columnists, George Will.

The Biofuel Follies

Will ethanol prevent more carbon-dioxide emissions than would have been absorbed by the trees cut down to clear land for the production of crops for ethanol? Be that as it may, governments mandating the use of biofuels are one reason for the global rise in food prices, which is driving demand for more arable land. That demand is driving the destruction of forests—and animal habitats.

The argument that biofuels are important for reducing our energy dependence on unreliable or dangerous Middle Eastern nations (the two largest sources of U.S. oil imports are turbulent Canada and militant Mexico) is mocked by the 54-cents-a-gallon tariff penalizing Brazilian ethanol.

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