The recognition of climate change as a real problem, and the realization that dependence on fossil fuels is problematic have conspired to give birth to an evil spawn of unintended consequences: Ethanol. Presently derived from several sources--but primarily corn here in the US--ethanol is being marketed as a way for us to both reduce our dependence on foreign oil while simultaneously helping limit or reverse climate change.
Unfortunately, neither are true. And I'm not an oil lobbyist.
In almost every way you can imagine--cost, environmental impact, collateral market inflation--ethanol is very, very bad idea. There are a number of reasons why ethanol has gained popularity here in the US, but they are almost totally:
- Recklessly nearsighted
- Narrowly focused
- Political in nature
There are so many bad things that are starting to happen. Clear cutting of rain forest to plant corn or switchgrass. Increased use of fertilizers. Skyrocketing prices for multi-use crops. It's a disaster.
Fortunately, a recent paper on the subject in the journal Science makes this crystal clear. Some states like California have courageously mandated that the entire impact of energy production be taken into account when evaluating how to invest in new production means. Let's hope the ethanol fad dies quickly, or as Jon Markman at MSN puts it:
Corn-based ethanol production is sure to go down as one of the greatest mistakes ever in U.S. energy policy...replacing fossil fuels with corn-based ethanol would double greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades. The studies show that switchgrass, an alternative to ethanol that's more weed than plant, would boost emissions by 50%.
Yeah. Ethanol, please die quickly.