May 28, 2009

Dirty oil's direct land change impact

Photograph by Peter Essick for National Geographic magazine.

Once considered too expensive, as well as too damaging to the land, exploitation of Alberta's oil sands is now a gamble worth billions.

So intones an article in this month's issue of National Geographic magazine titled "The Canadian Oil Boom: Scraping Bottom." Its opening shot shows how arbitrary standards that attribute direct and indirect land use change factors can be when comparing fossil fuels vs. biofuels created from cultivated crops.

Corn and energy crops are being held to a high standard in new Low Carbon Fuel Standard legislation passing through California's legislature. This standard is reflected in U.S. EPA presentations which assign an arbitrarily high factor in assessing the indirect (aka "international") land change impact of producing the fuel (shown in bright green in the graph above). Without the assessment, even the worst case scenario for producing ethanol (dry mill using coal for heat) including the GHG tailpipe emissions passes the standard set by gasoline tailpipe emissions alone.

But there is no attribution for direct land use change from gasoline production even though this article provides clear evidence that there is for mining Canadian tar sands. This is the kind of arbitrary comparative accounting that has biofuel producers claiming that the standard that applies land use factors is, at best, artbitrary and, at worst, biased.

As a native Californian, I too think that CARB is being incredibly arbitrary on defining indirect effects. What if, in addition to indirect land use change (iLUC) CARB considered a new factor – “indirect cultural abuse change” (iCAC). If they did, the oil benchmark would be pushed up off the chart.

The argument would be that our addiction to oil wreaks cultural abuse worldwide – including military manufacturing and logistics expenditures, war damage to existing utility infrastructure, pollution from sabotaged wells during conflict, and the transfer of wealth from democracies to tyrannies – who exploit natural resources and have much less stringent environmental and workplace controls than most democraciees do. Surely these add carbon to the atmosphere (not to mention carnage, health, environmental, and human rights abuse).

Bottomline – until we deploy emerging technologies and a progressive infrastructure path to distribute alternative products we should build upon what already gives us options and makes us more self-reliant. Otherwise we have no choice at the pump and we remain pawns to those who profit from and control the status quo.

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Car Reviews said...

I have read this post and found it very interesting.

betty said...

Wonderfully informative site-thank you-Betty

betty said...

Great site!!! Check it out-Google CEO Schmidt says punching down into the earth to capture natural and clean geothermal energy could help move the United States away from it's dependence on petroleum-Dec.16,2008-Betty

Curtis Grinn said...

For a little over 1-year now I have been reviewing all of the various comments, blogs and reports regarding the renewable and clean energy discussion. Anyone that is truly interested in advancing the use of alternative energies needs to understand that it can actually happen if and only if, they start appealing to individual’s “common sense”.
When spoken about from a Political tone or even from a Social and Environmental voice, people tend not to want to listen. The fact is most people are disgusted with the political overtures thrown around the country. Once they get a sense that a politician is speaking of the subject, whether it be for the good or not, they tune out and the movement goes nowhere. The same rings true if spoken by an environmental activist type. The fact here is, most people do not want to be thought of as some “environmental greenie” type. Although, if the discussion were framed as an appeal to one’s “common sense” such as: 1) do you think we should STOP buying/importing oil from overseas…? Everyone spoken to would without a doubt answer emphatically YES! 2) Mention, are you aware that the U.S. uses 25% of the world’s oil but, can only produce 2% - so unless we do something else, we cannot stop importing the oil needed to survive. 3) Ask, are you aware that the U.S. Government, especially the military are currently using all sorts of renewable and clean energy to conduct their various businesses. 4) Express to the U.S. public that in China, only 1% of the population owns a car, yet the Chinese Government is aggressively pushing with big incentives its’ citizens to purchase automobiles, and that China’s population of course, is 3-times the size of ours – then ask, where do you think gasoline prices are going once their driving citizens get onboard? 5) Explain how by going renewable your electric bills will decrease. Of course however, if there is not a great demand for the renewable energy source, the prices are initially higher to the consumer but, if the demand were to arrive, prices would ultimately decrease, alas the way of “flat-screen televisions”.
The tone of the conversation must change if there is to be any headway made in the advancements of renewable energy. EVERYBODY would welcome the change if and only if, the texture of the discussion was different. Take a peek at a new site I discovered online,
It is my understanding that they are trying to change the texture of the discussion. Good for them, but better for the American people because, the current dialog hasn’t and isn’t getting us anywhere.

C. Scott Miller said...

I agree with you Curtis. I run into some "environmentalist" sites that are decrying biofuels as creating hunger in Africa, deforestation in the Amazon, destroying the soil, and oh, by the way, worse than oil for GHG emissions. All I can say is - are they being funded by the oil industry? Their foolish claims makes them right of Bush - who is a Texas oilman President who admitted "We are addicted to oil." They then turn around and say they don't mean all biofuels - but by then the damage is already done. All current technologies can be improved, but dismissing them now does nothing but limit our paths to the future.