There's a fantastic op-ed on ethanol in today's Washington Post that pretty much sums it all upon this issue. "Ethanol Hype: Corn Can't Solve Our Problem" is exactly what I've been arguing for a long time now. I'm really glad to see an ecologist (and member of the National Academy of Sciences) and an economist from the University of Minnesota make such a strong case against not just corn-based ethanol, but also soybean and Brazilian sugarcane from newly cleared lands. Here are the main points:
*"Lost in the ethanol-induced euphoria, however, is the fact that three of our most fundamental needs -- food, energy, and a livable and sustainable environment -- are now in direct conflict."
*"Our most fertile lands are already dedicated to food production."
*"If every one of the 70 million acres on which corn was grown in 2006 was used for ethanol, the amount produced would displace only 12 percent of the U.S. gasoline market."
*"The destruction of rainforests and other ecosystems to make new farmland would threaten the continued existence of countless animal and plant species and would increase the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
*"...it takes a lot of "old" fossil energy to make it: diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizer and, of course, fuel to run the refineries that convert corn to ethanol."
*Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is good, EXCEPT "that isn't the case for sugar-cane ethanol or soybean biodiesel from Brazil's newly cleared lands, including tropical forests and savannas...[which] releases immense amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, because much of the material in the plants and soil is broken down into carbon dioxide."
*"There are biofuel crops that can be grown with much less energy and chemicals than the food crops we currently use for biofuels...[and] can be grown on our less fertile land, especially land that has been degraded by farming."
There is so much misinformation about ethanol out there, it is great to see an article like this by two people who obviously know what they're talking about. Now, can we stop wasting our time and money on ethanol idiocy and get with a crash program for increased energy efficiency and renewables - as Al Gore recommended the other day - that actually work (wind, solar, geothermal, cellolosic ethanol in cases where it is economical and environmentally friendly)? Oh, and can we please stop using food needed for a poor, hungry world to instead feed our cars and SUV's? All while actually HARMING the environment (see Washington Post article)? If that's not immoral, I don't know what is.