Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Saying it is Green Does Not Make it Green

It is obvious that the prices of all that we purchase, including food, are affected by the price of oil. Food production requires fossil fuels for farm machinery, fertilizer, transportation and processing. It is equally obvious that when agricultural products are diverted for fuel production that the supplies of food are decreased, the price of food rises. No one knows exactly how much the price of food has increased due to biofuel production, but it is certain that biofuels have a real impact. The grain required to produce 100 litres of ethanol (240Kg of maize) could feed one person for a year.

The actual burning of ethanol may be cleaner and greener than gasoline. However you must add the greenhouse gases (GHG’s) of farming, processing and transportation of corn and the distribution of the ethanol produced. The vast majority of the studies that I have read put the carbon foot print of ethanol from corn as close to or even greater than gasoline. The reduced supply of food with the price increases it causes has also lead to deforestation for agriculture which dramatically adds to GHG’s. Although indirect, this is attributable to biofuel production.

Biofuels need high fuel prices to be economic. Rising fuel prices lead to higher feedstock prices which are already rising due to increased demand. Presently biofuel programs survive due to subsidies, direct tax incentives, and loan guarantees. These use already scarce government funds. There is no good evidence that ethanol has led to lower fuel costs. If it was more cost effective we would not need mandated ethanol content in gasoline. The cost of reducing CO2 emissions with ethanol from corn is about $550/ ton which is 30 times the cost of purchasing CO2 offsets from the European climate exchange.

After objectively examining all of the direct and indirect effects of ethanol from corn and after reading countless studies, I have come to the conclusion that this technology is bad for the environment, bad for the economy and bad for all people especially the most vulnerable. Conservation is far more cost effective and beneficial for our economy and environment.

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