In the past few weeks, I've started reading about the environment and alternative energy sources. I'm starting to see that this is a very complicated issue with potentially far-reaching consequences.
An article came out yesterday which gives a very interesting summary of the current state biofuel production. It's a pretty long article, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested. It paints a rather grim picture.
According to the article, a significant portion of US government funding into alternative energy is directed at the production of ethanol from corn. Although I'm pleased to see the US government taking an interest in alternative energy, corn-based ethanol is arguably not the best solution. There's probably not enough cropland on Earth to grow enough corn to rival the energy produced by burning fossil fuels. More importantly, using so much corn to generate ethanol takes away (and drives up the price of) an important source of food: this may begin to deprive many people in poor nations of a staple of their diet. I was especially appalled to read this in the article: "...filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV
with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn -- which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year."
There is also evidence that using corn-based ethanol has only a small benefit over fossil fuels in the creation of greenhouse gases: "The full cycle of the production and use of corn-based ethanol releases less greenhouse gases than does that of gasoline, but only by 12 to 26 percent."
But the US government seems somewhat fixated on corn-based ethanol, due in part to the lobbying efforts of companies like the Archer Daniels Midland Company (adm). I don't like criticizing adm, because they're a big supporter of public television. But they make a lot of money turning corn into ethanol, and they carry a lot of clout in Washington.
The environment has gotten a lot of press lately, and I'm glad that awareness of these issues is increasing. But I'm starting to think that it's just not happening fast enough. I think we should all try to find ways to conserve resources and to help our governments find ways to better prepare for the future. I think the US and Chinese governments should start pouring money into researching and developing solar power, wind energy, and cellulosic biofuels (which is made from wood chips, trash, and other stuff no one wants).
This has turned into more of a rant than I intended, so I'll end with the addresses of a few interesting Web sites I've recently discovered (they all have RSS feeds):