Tag Archives: environmentalism

Ethanol fuel = bad, pt. 2

Ah, look at this: the New York Times has a story about a major study supporting my previous assertations. Note: I’m not claiming to be any kind of thought leader; clearly, that’s not the case. It’s just fun to be ahead of the mainstream bubble for a teeny bit. Note two: Thanks to Dad for the link to the story.

Here’s the gist of the story:

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

I’m glad to see this thinking make it to the mainstream media, but we all know what’ll happen next: someone will find the next great “cure” for our energy needs while trumpeting environmental benefits that don’t really exist under close inspection. I’m pretty certain that in the final analysis, we’ll find that as a species, most of our problems stem from one of two basic problems: too many people, too little education. I’d add “too much greed” to that list, but I think a decent argument can be made for greed descending from scarcity and under-education.

At any rate, there’s no cause for undue alarm: while it won’t be pretty, the above combination is inherently self-limiting.

Ethanol fuel = bad

E-85 is selling for $2.65 a gallon up here in Wistucky these days. It’s significantly cheaper than standard gas ($3.09 as of yesterday), but it has less available energy per unit than does petro-fuel, so consumers end up buying more of it. That means more land will go into corn production, more corn will get fermented, and more small towns will have their men and women-folk revert back to their vocational roots: moonshiners, albeit with government sanction this time.

It’s the land going into corn production that worries me; I’m all for more small-town moonshiners. Call me kooky, but I’d assume that the vast majority of land that gets converted to corn production, either from previously fallow land, or from a different crop, is going to be managed conventionally, ie. with insecticides and fertilizers based on petroleum. That’s a whole lot of petro-energy to put into growing a crop for bio-fuel. Then there’s additional energy input into the process when you talk about actually using the corn to produce ethanol. In fact, based on this study from the University of California at Berkley, we’d be better off putting the energy it takes to produce ethanol straight in the tanks of our SUVs.

While it’s true that ethanol burns significantly cleaner than petro-fuel, we’re just creating other problems (further degrading agricultural lands, skewed agricultural policy, and throwing away energy to make energy [ignorance of the laws of thermodynamics is no excuse!]) in our quest to mitigate one: global warming.

I’ll give you this: global warming is a potentially big problem. But does it make sense to keep rushing around with blinders on and creating more problems than we solve? I say we break with tradition, admit that we lost this round, and slow down while we figure out smart ways to mitigate the damage we’ve done while slowly, intelligently reversing the changes we’ve unwittingly engineered.

Something, but not an environmentalist, necessarily

Thinking about the world and my place in it, I’ve come to realize something: I’m not necessarily an environmentalist.

This may not come as a great shock to the folks who regularly spend time with me these days, but it was eye-opening for me. For the longest time, I’ve assumed I was an environmentalist, but I’m not sure I fit the bill anymore.

I’m all for clean air and clean water. I’m against corporate usury and greed. I think everyone should have a shot at the good life, provided they don’t trample other people in the process. I like to consider the downstream effects of my actions.

However.

People who drive 30 miles to work but think leaving their computer in “sleep” mode overnight is “wasteful” drive me nuts. People who preach about native vs. invasive species don’t see the forest for the trees. And folks who drive hybrid cars because they’re “saving oil” need to refresh their knowledge of physics, ecology, and economics.

Lately, “environmentalism” seems to have become just another way to sell stuff. You’ve got your “green” this and “organic” that, all significantly marked up because if it’s not expensive, it couldn’t possibly be good for the planet. What used to be people taking independent, thoughtful action has been co-opted by the suits at the corner of Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

No matter what label I use for myself (and why, really, do I feel the need to label myself?), there are a few things that I hold sacred. Critical thinking (especially when combined with common sense) is chief among those. Next comes justice, compassion, and personal responsibility. Only after that is a pristine environment any good to me, and really, shouldn’t that flow from the whole “critical thinking” bit?