Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Are Biofuels Really The Right Choice?

With all the talk about biofuels—which includes ethanol, one would have to assume that they are the better choice for the environment; that they are “green.” The prevailing thought seems to be that all oil and gas is wrong and all biofuels are right. In fact many environmental extremist groups are actively working to halt all oil and gas production in America. Startlingly, they have had initial legislative success in their campaign. While most everyone agrees that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, completely eliminating oil and gas from the energy mix and replacing it biomass fuels is an exercise in destruction, not conservation. (Maybe it would conserve, but it would conserve oil and gas making them available once the biomass proponents have discovered the error of their ways and spent huge sums of money generating these new production facilities and infrastructure.) Read this interesting piece and think it through to its possible end game. Once you think about, please share your thoughts here.

Ecologist: “Increased Use of Biomass Fuels Criminal”

Our fear of global warming has now become the biggest threat to the world’s wildlife and forests, warns
Jesse Ausubel, one of the nation’s pioneer ecologists.

American farmers are clearing trees and draining wetlands to grow millions more acres of corn for ethanol, even though the United States would need to plant corn on virtually all of its 1.9 billion acres of land area to “grow” our gasoline supply. That would wipe out our forests and wild species.

Europe is importing massive amounts of palm oil for biodiesel from steep Indonesian slopes that used to be covered with tropical forest and endangered wild species—and where the annual monsoon rains deliver 100 inches of massively erosive rainfall in three months each fall. This is conservation? Of what?

New York City would have to turn all of Connecticut into wind farms to power its furnaces, air conditioners, computers and plug-in phones. The U.S. would need wind farms covering the land area of Texas—312,000 square miles—even under the false assumption that the wind would always blow at the right speed to generate power. Allowing for wind variability, would we need 640,000 square miles of windmill farms?

Canada would have to dam the land area of Ontario—360,000 square miles—behind concrete walls 60 feet high, to get from hydropower just 80 percent of the electricity that currently flows from its 25 nuclear power stations. How many species would be drowned out?

We’d have to take 150 square kilometers from nature, and “paint them black” with photovoltaic cells to match the output from a single 1000-megawatt nuclear station. Wouldn’t these massive solar arrays change the ecology?

“Renewable fuels may be renewable, but they are not Green,” says Ausubel. “As a Green, one of my credos is ‘no new structures’ but renewables all involve ten times or more [structures] per kilowatt than natural gas or nuclear,” he laments. “Increased use of biomass fuels in any form is criminal.”

Getting the electrical equivalent of one nuclear power plant would require corn from 2500 square kilometers of prime Iowa farmland, says the Rockefeller University researcher. That’s because an acre of corn yields only about 50 gallons worth of gasoline per acres per year, against the annual gasoline demand of 134 billion gallons.

That’s why Ausubel says building enough wind farms, damming enough rivers and growing enough biomass to meet global energy demands will wreck the environment.

This from a man who helped organize the first UN World Climate Conference in 1979. He is a fellow of both the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Resources for the Future.

Ausubel notes that power sources such as natural gas and nuclear power gain from economies of scale. Renewable fuels, he says, are just the opposite: the best land for wind, hydropower, biomass and solar power will be used up first, leaving land without much sunlight for more solar panels, and non-windy areas for additional windmills.

DENNIS T. AVERYFormer senior policy analyst for the U.S. State Department, co-author Unstoppable Global Warming--Every 1500 Years

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