Friday, February 16, 2007

Ethanol and Global Warming

This is a digression from matters that are purely political, but there is an environmental battle going on in Ithaca that will affect us all in mid-Michigan. Perhaps you have read the series of articles in The Morning Sun about the Liberty Corporation’s efforts to build an ethanol plant in Ithaca.

On the surface, this seems like a boon to the local economy: farmers can sell their corn to the plant where it is converted into ethanol. Ethanol is then mixed with gasoline (at present–plans are to convert completely to ethanol to power vehicles in the future) which ultimately would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Powering vehicles with ethanol would, according to the purveyors of ethanol, also reduce carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) and thus reduce a proven “greenhouse gas” that is contributing to global warming. A win-win for everyone, right? Not quite.

Scientists–pesky folk that they are–are telling us that unless steps are taken to reduce fuel usage, we’ll be using 26 million barrels per day by 2025. Even if every kernel of corn grown in the United States was used to create ethanol and none was left for food, only 1.5 million barrels per day will be produced.

Our total oil use is expected to grow from 21 million barrels per day today to more than 26 million barrels per day by 2025, but even if we used all our corn to make ethanol–with nothing left for food or animal feed–we could only displace perhaps 1.5 million barrels per day of this demand. Even with my limited math skills I can see that there is a problem here; we would still be short 24.5 million barrels per day under current estimates.

Okay, you say, so humans and livestock would no longer eat corn, but think of the reduced CO2 emissions: that has to count for something, right? Ethanol does, indeed, reduce CO2 emissions by a small percentage (8.2%), and the percentage of reduced carbon monoxide is actually a little bit higher. But ethanol still produces CO2, and the proposed plant in Ithaca would produce between 315,000 to 600,000 tons of CO2 that would be released into the atmosphere each year by Liberty’s own calculations (315,000 is actually Liberty’s number, while the 600,00 figure comes from pre-and post-production estimates that Liberty excluded) .

This means that people living in the Ithaca area will have a new experience in the summer: smog. They will be very likely to have trouble breathing, will develop many kinds of respiratory problems, and suffer the various diseases and allergies consistent with living in a polluted region. True, the farmers who grow corn will have more money and there might be more jobs for people in Ithaca, but everyone in the area will have trouble breathing the air that comes with the process that turns their corn into ethanol.

A number of states across the country are rushing to set up ethanol plants without much forethought about the ecological issues involved. In fact, there are plans on the drawing boards for more than ninety coal-burning ethanol plants: one is already working in Iowa. The regulatory agencies in Iowa are apparently blind to the serious damage that burning coal has already caused. The continuing damage this plant is causing is not just within the borders of Iowa, but around the world, just as ethanol plants is Michigan will degrade not only our Michigan environment, but the environment of the entire planet.

Contact the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and let them know that our environment has to take precedence over money. The battle being fought in Ithaca is not just about Ithaca, but about the air we, our children, and our grandchildren will be breathing. Join the fight!

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Blogger Jerome Alicki said...

Ethanol is not the solution to our energy problem. It seems to me that we could debate fuels until we're blue in the face - literally, while the answer lies not in shifting the type of fuel but in changing individual perceptions about the necessity of personal transportation. Individuals have to begin asking themselves really simple questions such as: Is it really necessary for me to drive to work? Can I walk or ride my bike? Will my boss mind if my hair is messy from my bicycle helmet? Do I need to drive to the store, or will my groceries fit in the baskets on my bicycle? How much longer will it actually take for me to ride a biodiesel powered bus to work rather than drive my own car? These are simple questions that average folk should be dealing with, they're much easier to wrap one's head around, and once folk begin to realize that ethanol isn't really a solution they might need to start asking themselves. We can solve the transportation dilemma and the obesity epidemic at the same time if we get folks to walk and ride bikes more often. Just a thought.

8:52 PM  

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