Monday, May 4, 2015

Too Corny for Words

Ethanol - has it solved any problems?  Not really, in case you hadn't heard.
“Increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity”  (WGIII).  That's the polite version from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It turns out that the environmental impact is different, but not better.  Land use, forest clearing for farming, competition for food uses, government subsidies and price spikes ... any benefit was lost in the cloud of dust along with the tradeoff between direct vs. indirect emissions.  No improvements, but a visibly troublesome downside.  Oh, well; it had seemed like a good idea.  I hear even Al Gore has pulled the plug on this one.

The timing was really bad, by the way, for taking one sixth of the world's corn crop out of the food market.  As the biofuel initiatives began, the 2007-8 market crash exaggerated the impact, and corn prices doubled.  Production couldn't keep up, and folks who live primarily on maize meal (cornmeal) starved.  They don't have alternatives; they don't even have grocery stores.  Millions went hungry and hundreds of thousands died in the first year.  (We were close enough to see some of the heartbreaking results.)

As is continually true, we'll perhaps need to adjust if we're going to minimize the damage and achieve the goal we were reaching for in the first place.  Fortunately, there are alternatives to competition between food crops and fuel crops.
It's difficult to balance the issues, isn't it.  Preserving a healthy world for our children vs. feeding mankind vs. preserving our lifestyle ... are we adequately clear on what 'values' we hold?

Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a “biofuel carbon debt” by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. (Ref.)

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