August 23, 2007

L.A. Times editorial against ethanol

Following the lead of the Rolling Stone diatribe against ethanol (see my response to The Ethanol Scam), the Los Angeles Times decided to devote their full August 20th editorial to an attack titled Drunk on ethanol. Such slanted media lobbying to the general public seems misplaced to me when it concerns such a multi-faceted issue as energy subsidies.

Unfortunately, I have used up my quota of letters to their editor (I wrote a published letter about illegal immigration two months ago) and I couldn't figure out how to comment online at the Times. But Treehugger helped me out by lauding the Times piece. Below is the comment I wrote in response to Bait and Switchgrass, a "bird dog" referral submitted by Lloyd Alter on the Science & Technology section of the Treehugger site.

Having attended about a dozen technological conferences this year where research labs, experts, policy makers, and developers have been sincerely exploring ALL the ethanol issues I have to say that I find the public spinning of these issues in major media a bit disconcerting.

At least the Times didn't call it an "Ethanol Scam" as Rolling Stone did. The writers apparently have no idea how global the effort to find several viable biofuel alternatives to gasoline really is.

Everyone has a right to their opinion. But to hinge one's arguments on a few studies that are singularly slanted at best (Pimental's, for instance, and Jacobson's) shows that these publications' agenda come first, science second. The bias creating public press is the last place these issues should be lobbied. Would it, for instance, surprise anyone to learn that oil companies might be pushing these arguments forward? Not that they have a vested interest or anything.

The fact is $16 billion is being spent on U.S. oil subsidies with nothing to show for it but strategic resource wars, cultural genocide, lopsided trade deficits, and ceilingless prices. Should we be shocked that knowledgeable people would like to see domestic investment to advance sciences that will make all countries self-reliant, reduce international cultural friction, and provide the best insurance against price gouging - consumer choice at the pump?

A robust, decentralized renewable energy paradigm including many kinds of biofuels for a range of applications would not only benefit and quite literally save developing countries without oil resources but would also give us a self-funding way to solve a broad range of nagging environmental issues - global warming, forest mega-fires, wildlife diversity, forest stewardship, landfills, toxic waste disposal, etc.

The broader the range of biomass feedstock that can be converted - the great majority that are non-food - the more waste problems that can be mitigated.

One place Treehugger can start is the investigation of ways to manage stewardship of our forests to reduce the amount of fire-producing undergrowth and tree density that is creating massive beetle infestations and mega-fires 10 times greater than any we have ever experienced before. There is a plume 180 miles long stretching from Ojai to Yosemite that started July 4th and is not yet contained. How much global warming is that? That certainly accounts for much of Gore's hockey stick. And we are worried about ethanol being worse that gasoline in vehicles that haven't even been designed to run efficiently on it?

Energy production of ethanol and electricity from woody biomass "tinder" can fund the vital stewardship programs of public lands we need to expand.

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Anonymous said...

Forest fires can't cause global warming because the forest grows back.

C. Scott Miller said...

Forest fires and even the decay that follows them may be considered carbon neutral (meaning that they continue the carbon cycle that exists above ground). However, if we can sequester their carbon through forest products (like paper or furniture or home construction materials) then they could be carbon negative which would be ideal.

However, the source of the carbon doesn't matter when talking about global warming. For instance, the Kyoto Accord does not credit Canada if the forests decay as much CO2 as they absorb. So the presence of trees does not offset their industrial production of GHG.

Actually, if a country wants to earn carbon credits, thinning forests and sequestering the carbon in products would be a good way to do it. The most carbon absorbed occurs during the first five years of growth.