The April 7th issue of Time Magazine features a cover story that attacks the biofuels industry in general and corn ethanol in particular.
I have written about irresponsible media attacks before (i.e., Rolling Stone Magazine's The Ethanol Scam) and when the Science magazine "Land Use Change" research article started being trumpeted in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal I even organized two Bioenergy and Communications side events at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference. The plague of headline seeking writers to play gotcha journalism with incredibly important technological developments knows no bounds. What is surprising is the desperation with which "responsible" media grab and attempt to parlay slanted research into public lynchings.
My personal response to Time's "Inbox" was a brief rewriting of their cover headline (vainly hoping they would actually print it without butchering it too badly):
There are plenty of Clean Energy Myths but I think Time magazine has been duped. The cover story subhead should have read: "Mainstream Media and Big Oil are bashing biofuels like corn-based ethanol as alternatives to oil. In addition to driving up food prices and making global warming worse they are paving the way for future energy resource wars like Iraq - and you're paying for it."
The paradigm shift from fossil to renewable liquid fuels is imperative. We need alternatives at the pump and ethanol is already contributing as a clean oxygenate alternative to toxic MTBE's. Meanwhile biofuel feedstocks are shifting from cultivated food crops to greenhouse gas producing environmental disaster debris like landfills; knocked-down, bug-infested, and fire-ravaged forests; toxic waste dumps; and disease-infested marshlands. Leaders in government, environmental groups, private industry, and academia are working together to create ecologically and economically sustainable solutions. Why don't your writers do something constructive, rather than sensational, and report on those efforts?
Other, more reasoned responses have been issued by 25x'25 and the Ethanol Promotion Information Council (EPIC)...
April 2, 2008
25x'25 Responds to Time Magazine Biofuels Article with Letter to the Editor
by Congressman Thomas W. Ewing
Responding to widespread inaccuracies in this week's Time magazine cover story, the 25x'25 National Steering Committee is responding with a letter to the editors of Time expressing disappointment with the questionable characterization of biofuels and their role in the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in "The Clean Energy Scam," by Michael Grunwald. The letter was authored by steering committee member and former Congressman Thomas W. Ewing, who is also the Immediate Past Chairman of the USDA and DOE Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee. The entire letter follows:
As a former Member of Congress and a leader in a diverse alliance of agricultural, environmental and conservation organizations working together to advance clean energy solutions, I am greatly disturbed with Time magazine's April 7th feature story on biofuels. In this article, Michael Grunwald criticizes biofuels yet offers no alternative to using petroleum to meet our energy needs - much of which comes from the Middle East.
Members of our alliance share the author's anxiety for the continued health of the Amazon rain forest and other "carbon sinks" that nature has provided around the globe. As champions of many forms of land-based renewable energy (biomass, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and hydropower, in addition to biofuels), we agree that environmentally sensitive lands should not be exploited in pursuit of renewable fuels.
Unfortunately, the story's message of concern is undermined by misinformation about biofuels and an over-simplified analysis of complex systems. The implication that biofuel production is responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rain forest ignores the reality that ever increasing worldwide demand for food and fiber is the primary cause of land use change in this and other regions. Simply eliminating biofuels will not stop land use changes from occurring, and in countries like Haiti that have already lost their forests, biofuels could help reestablish forests and offer more affordable and sustainable energy options. Similarly, information in the story about a recent study, which claims land-use changes brought about by increased biofuel production are producing more greenhouse gas emissions (Searchinger et al.), only tells half the story. What is missing is that Searchinger's methodologies have been widely questioned by respected biofuel life-cycle analysis researchers such as Michael Wang, with the Center for Transportation Research at the Argonne National Laboratory, who counter that Searchinger et al. used outdated, if not incorrect, data to reach their conclusions.
The story's reference to a UN food expert's dramatic condemnation of biofuel production fails to mention that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization almost immediately distanced itself from the remarks. The head of the UN Food Program recently noted that higher energy costs, erratic weather and low stocks are big factors contributing to the high cost of food around the globe.
Of particular concern is the ready dismissal of emerging technologies that will allow us to produce next generation biofuels from non-food feedstocks sustainably grown on underutilized and marginal lands not suited for food production. Conservation tillage and other agriculture and forestry residue management practices used to produce biomass energy feedstocks can also provide a constant buildup of soil organic carbon. Researchers at Ohio State have concluded that the total potential of carbon sequestration in U.S. soils, counting croplands, grazing lands and woodlands, is nearly 600 million metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of more than 2,200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions - about 33 percent of total U.S. emissions.
We encourage the editors of Time to contribute to a much-needed discussion of the role renewable resources will play in improving national security and the environment while moving us closer to energy independence. We simply ask that they demand a basic level of accuracy and balance from the stories that they run.
EPIC's Executive Director Toni Nuerenberg response to Time article entitled "The Clean Energy Scam"
technorati BIOconversion, bioenergy, biofuels, ethanol