Ethanol and Deforestation

From an AP report:

The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions
as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes,
researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to
biofuels as a response to global warming.

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change
have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use
worldwide if ethanol from corn "” and in the future from other
feedstocks such as switchgrass "” become a prized commodity.

"Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate
global warming," concludes the study published in Science magazine.

Promoters of biofuels often hold up Brazil as an example of a model ethanol mandate.  Forget for a moment that in fact ethanol still makes up only a small percentage of the transportation fuel market in Brazil.  Think of all those satellite photos we used to see of farmers burning the Amazon to expand cropland:

1016nasa

I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this land clearing, which has always one on, really accelerated after the Brazilian ethanol mandates and subsidies.  My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for a lot of the destruction of the Amazon on ethanol.

Moonbattery has a fitting conclusion:

The study's findings aren't likely to change government policy, since
ethanol mandates are a political boondoggle that only dupes expect to
have any effect on the climate. If the first caucuses were held in
Hawaii, they'd be forcing us to run our cars on macadamia nuts instead
of corn.

  • Dan

    This report makes complete sense. I'm sorry the New York Times buried it in today's edition. Should be on the front page.

  • Bearster

    Of course, global warming is itself a political boondoggle that only dupes believe in. So there is little point in pointing out that ethanol subsidies won't help it. Nothing will, except more media attention to the brave scientists who are risking their careers to show that the politically-correct juggernaut is based on faith and not science.

  • Rufus

    Iowa farmers cause rain forest deforestation.

    Man, talk about having to believe five impossible things before breakfast.

    BTW, the cane ethanol that supplies FORTY PERCENT of Brazil's transportation fuels is grown ONE THOUSAND MILES SOUTH of the Rain Forest.

  • Rufus

    I think that if I were going to write an article about computers I would start with today's models, and those under development, Not the 1980's Zenith. Why do all rabid biofuels bashers insist on looking backwards? Oh, never mind. Anyway, here's an excellent "rebuttal" post that looks at what's really HAPPENING, TODAY, and is getting ready to happen TOMORROW.

    http://biopact.com/2008/02/new-land-use-techniques-boost-benefits.html

  • http://www.alfin2100.blogspot.com Al Fin

    Agree with Rufus. The NYT article could have been written ten years ago and it might have done some good. In 2008 it is bound to be misinterpreted by many as saying that the pursuit of bio fuels is a huge boondoggle.

    Biofuels like algal biodiesel, cellulosic alcohols, biomass combined heat/power, and pyrolitic conversion of biomass, are all going to be beneficial. But that is all new technology, which was ignored by the NYT.

  • DKN

    But Rufus, how many decades will it be before hundreds of thousands of desperately poor Juan Valdez's stop slashing and burning the Amazon, and adopt the "new" way? And why would the big shots down there invest in the new way, when the old way maximizes profits (and tax revenues for the gov't) for the foreseeable future?

    Today's needs rule the lives of most people, culture has enertia, and politics makes deals with the Devil. In the meantime, the forest is gone.

  • TJIT

    Rufus,

    Iowa farmers plant corn to harvest the subsidies for ethanol. This cause a reduction of land available for soybean production in the US and an increase in soybean prices.

    So rainforests and prairies in Brazil are destroyed to plant soybean to replace what the US corn farmer used to raise.

    Rufus, I believe if ethanol production was found to kill people you would still continue to cheerlead it.

  • TJIT

    Al Fin in blockquotes,

    he NYT article could have been written ten years ago and it might have done some good. In 2008 it is bound to be misinterpreted by many as saying that the pursuit of bio fuels is a huge boondoggle.

    The pursuit of biofuels may not be a boondoggle but the current system certainly is.

    Biofuels like algal biodiesel, cellulosic alcohols, biomass combined heat/power, and pyrolitic conversion of biomass, are all going to be beneficial. But that is all new technology, which was ignored by the NYT.

    These technologies may be useful in the future but they are not commercially or technically feasible right now.

    An unfortunate part of the existing ethanol boondoggle is that it will make the commercialization of those technologies more difficult if not impossible.

  • http://chennaikaran.blogspot.com raj

    You say “I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this land clearing, which has always one on, really accelerated after the Brazilian ethanol mandates and subsidies. My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for a lot of the destruction of the Amazon on ethanol”

    In one paragraph, you manage to protect yourself from charges of rushing to a conclusion ( I know that correlation is not equal to causation), but don’t hesitate to predict that “careful academic work will pin the blame for the destruction on ethanol”.

    Why then are you consistently critical of the proponents of climate change theory who say the same thing, “I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this climate change really accelerated after the Co2 emissions from power plants increased. My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for the climate change on CO2”?

  • Rufus

    Maybe Brazil should just enforce their "no burning down of the rainforest" laws, eh?