17 February 2009

Biofuels Are Not Green

I was on the Treehugger website yesterday, and I was surprised at the number of self described environmentalists who endorse a car dominated lifestyle. They believe that we can continue to live our drive-thru lifestyle by just modifying the fuels used. They fiddle with MPG, ethanol, and battery powered cars. I think they are fooling themselves. Although it is not the reason I live here, it seems obvious to me that living in the city is more green.**

...the biofuel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less green than oil-derived gasoline.
Biofuels do slightly reduce dependence on imported oil, and the ethanol boom has created rural jobs while enriching some farmers and agribusinesses. But the basic problem with most biofuels is amazingly simple...: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon.
Enviro initiatives often have these perverse effects. I remember the protests against the Moscow nuclear power plant in the 70s and 80s. The result is a coal burner and more strip mining in Kentucky. But jobs in Harlan County were a talking point by enviros then.

Plus the math on "growing" BTUs just doesn't work:
...powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year's supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

**Clarification. What I am referring to is the attempt to "save the planet" and through purchases of more energy efficient stuff. However, green choices can come naturally while making everyday decisions. If it pleasant, healthy and cheaper, then maybe it is also green. For example having the choice of walking, lowering heating bills, kids learning about composting, old buildings, reusable items, buying local produce etc... those are the green initiatives I can support.

Update: Here is an article about urban living being more green: City Journal


Anonymous said...

Here's the solution: http://www.monomobile.com/

CityKin said...

Yeah, mini monorail, that's the ticket.

But can you take them to the McDonalds Drive thru?

Really though, the answer is staring us in the face: build walkable cities.

Quimbob said...

Even with the bio-fuels, ya still gotta manufacture the vehicles which involves mining and the use of coal to make the steel.
As far s the drive thru goes, go back to your weird-ass semi-lattice model & Mickey Ds would just set up stores at bus/trolley/monorailstops.

bsherm said...

I've always heard the argument that it is American nature to want the independence of the automobile, that mass-transit was for Europeans and socialists. I'm starting to form my own opinion that we have set up a system that encourages sprawl and car use. Starting to wonder how socialist road projects are. Mainly because that way of thinking would piss off my auto-uber-alles friends :-)

Isn't bio-fuels just another way to try to put off tough choices? I italicize because I didn't find it that tough without a good infrastructure to support me. Just think if we created infrastructure to support transportation, not just automobiles.

There is a good article comparing I-75 project to streetcars at Soapboxmedia.