19 July 2007

Green Energy "Dangerously Oversold"

The Rush to Ethanol: Not All Biofuels are Created Equal [Network for New Energy Choices]Last month we were warned that the rush for biofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage. We now learn that not only will the rapidly growing and heavily subsidised corn ethanol industry in America cause significant environmental damage, it will not significantly reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels either!

A comprehensive new report by the environmental advocacy groups Food & Water Watch, the Network for New Energy Choices, and the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School analyses hundreds of previous studies and concludes that even if all corn grown in the US was used for fuel, it would only offset 15% of the country's petroleum use. Yet, the same reduction could be achieved simply by increasing fuel efficiency standards for all cars and light trucks by just 3.5-miles-per-gallon. Instead, 27% of the country's entire corn crop is earmarked for biofuels this year — a level that is already beginning to put a squeeze on corn for food production. Worse news still, all recent attempts to assess the total carbon footprint of biofuels conclude that, once farm equipment and refineries are factored in, biofuel production can lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions than the so-called "dirty fuels" they are intended to replace.

Mississippi Dead Zone [Credit: Scientific Visualization Studio at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center]
Reds and oranges represent
low oxygen concentrations,
making it very difficult for
marine life to survive [NASA]
It is further feared that development of a corn-based ethanol market will exacerbate problems already associated with large-scale corn production, such as groundwater depletion, soil erosion, algae blooms, and the formation of "dead zones" in waterways inundated with pesticide and fertiliser runoff (such as the 6,600 square mile "dead zone" pictured by NASA in the Gulf of Mexico).

Somewhat scathingly, the report concludes: "What looks like an attractive solution — farmers gaining from higher corn prices, agribusiness and investors increasing profits, and politicians pleasing their constituents by going green — could be a political move to avoid the truly effective measures that will result in genuine public benefits." Constructively, having recognised that "the continuing reliance upon foreign oil is one of the greatest threats to U.S. national security and economic stability," it makes eighteen recommendations ranging from promoting local ownership and farmer-owned cooperatives, through increasing fuel efficiency, to promoting smart growth in urban planning.

If we in Britain are to ensure the future provision of reliable and affordable energy supplies, our politicians would also do well to explore such "truly effective measures that will result in genuine public benefits" rather than simply "pleasing their constituents by going green."


Eric Bird said...

I agree entirely.
Fossil fuels seem to have become almost demonised but I suspect they were put there for wise, not wasteful use.
Green fuel is a misnomer.