Ethanol sounded like a good idea, but it wasn’t

Making room for biofuels destroys huge swaths of forests.

Making room for biofuels destroys huge swaths of forests.

Since it’s been seven months since the Iowa caucuses and it’ll be another three-plus years until that hell is fresh again, this is the best time to talk about ethanol.

Just in case you didn’t know, ethanol is very popular in Iowa and other corn states, which is why most presidential candidates swear once every four years that they love ethanol so much they’d marry a jug of it if they could. If only for a moment, loyalty to this government moonshine becomes as fraught with political symbolism as a gay wedding in which both grooms refuse to wear American flag pins while declining to stand for the national anthem in support of our troops.

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that for a little while, so let’s tell the truth: Ethanol is stupid, wasteful and bad for cars (because it’s corrosive), the economy and the environment. The main case for biofuels is twofold. It’s supposed to be better for the environment, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. The assumption was that converting plants into fuel was “carbon neutral,” and since we can do that at home, every gallon of oil we replace with corn is one less we have to buy from overseas. The fact that it also lines the pockets of agribusinesses and the politicians who love them is supposed to be a total coincidence.


A new study from the University of Michigan confirms what pretty much everyone knew all along. Researchers found that biofuels actually create more greenhouse gases than simply using petroleum, because plants absorb only a fraction of the carbon dioxide released by burning the fuels in the first place. Moreover, ethanol production and distribution is energy-intensive, throwing off even more greenhouse gases.

“When you look at what’s actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what’s coming out of the tailpipe,” University of Michigan professor John DeCicco said. “When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline.”

A study last year by the University of Tennessee found that in the decade since the U.S. imposed the Renewable Fuel Standard — and after $50 billion in subsidies — corn-based ethanol “created more problems than solutions” and hampered research on other kinds of biofuels.

But even if you think, as I do, that caring for the environment means more than climate change, ethanol is a horror. Growing corn for inefficient fuel takes up farmland, raising food prices and encouraging deforestation. Science writer Matt Ridley has estimated that if all of our transport fuel came from biofuel, we would need 30 percent more land than all of the existing food-growing farmland we have today.

All of the corn we grow requires vast amounts of fertilizer, which runs into our waterways and out to the Gulf of Mexico. Every year that runoff creates a massive dead zone that kills sea life in one of our most valuable fisheries. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization, “Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.” This year’s dead zone will be the size of Connecticut, researchers say.

Meanwhile, in places such as Brazil, CO2-absorbing rainforests (among the biggest sources of biodiversity) are being clear-cut to make room for biofuel crops. The Nature Conservancy’s Joseph Fargione estimated a few years ago that converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands for biofuels releases 17 to 420 times more CO2 than it offsets by displacing petroleum or coal.

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    Ethanol, lust like solar, wind & nuclear power, and “sustainability”, is a crony capitalist, subsidy-driven scam that will end badly.

    Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels use does not materially affect climate. Maybe climate is warming. It is supposed to be warming, because earth is in an interglacial period. Which begs the question why some scientists and government agencies seek to deceive by “adjusting” prior-period temperature data.

    Nature converts ambient CO2 to limestone. Carbonates form in seawater and soils through calcification (ie. cyanobacteria and coccolithiphores). The simplified formula is CO2 + CaO => CaCO3. Anyone can make calcite quickly in a kitchen by mixing carbonated water with quicklime.

    Its simple. Nature sequesters CO2 as limestone (calcite). The higher the atmospheric CO2 partial pressure, the faster it becomes limestone. 99.84% of all carbon is sequestered in sediments. Earth absorbs ambient CO2 quickly.

    Climate change results from a combination of (non-CO2) causes, such as sunspots, solar orbital variations, cosmic rays’ effect on clouds, and plate tectonics (well documented elsewhere). But it cannot be caused by CO2 arising from fossil fuels use, because nature efficiently recycles CO2 as carbonate minerals.

    Only 3% of CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels use. Most of the rest arises from rotting vegetation in swamps and jungles. Carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuels use are beneficial, and climate change is a false premise for regulating them. See Changes in temperature cause changes in CO2 emissions from these sources, and are not caused by them.

    CO2 is in equilibrium. Mineral carbonates are the ultimate repository of atmospheric CO2. Anyone who passed 10th grade chemistry can know this using public information. Limestone and marble are familiar forms of mineral carbonate. CO2 is an essential component of mineral carbonate (CaCO3, for calcium). See the paper

    The theory of human-caused climate change is based on a false premise. All the cost and hysteria of the global warming movement is a colossal waste, and results in poor economic growth. Tens of trillions of dollars wasted on foolish superstition, when hard working people are deprived. Energy policy as fashion goods. The dead hand of the state, picking winners & losers.

    Coal is the lowest-cost and most reliable primary energy source for electric power generation. A modern coal plant emits few air emissions except water vapor and carbon dioxide.


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