The Biofuel Illusion

Julia Olmstead writes an interesting peice on the peirls of the new found love affair with “biofuels” and its potential to address global warming. She makes a number of points about the focus on producing more biofuels rather than encouraging more energy efficiency, including:

  • The United States annually consumes more fossil and nuclear energy than all the energy produced in a year by the country’s plant life, including forests and that used for food and fiber, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy and David Pimentel, a Cornell University researcher.
  • To produce enough corn-based ethanol to meet current U.S. demand for automotive gasoline, we would need to nearly double the amount of land used for harvested crops, plant all of it in corn, year after year, and not eat any of it. Even a greener fuel source like the switchgrass President Bush mentioned, which requires fewer petroleum-based inputs than corn and reduces topsoil losses by growing back each year, could provide only a small fraction of the energy we demand.
  • Improving fuel efficiency in cars by just 1 mile per gallon – a gain possible with proper tire inflation – would cut fuel consumption equal to the total amount of ethanol federally mandated for production in 2012.

George Monbiot has made similar points in his columns about the disasterous affects of increasing biofuel production on the world stage.

The focus on producing more energy overlooks the current technologies and designs we could implement today to reduce energy demand (such as with more efficient appliances, heating and cooling systems, cars, land use patterns). Doing more with less energy input has never been more possible or more imperative.

You can read her full essay in the Denver Post and the Prairie Writers Circle.

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