In the United States, ethanol comes overwhelmingly from corn, a much less suitable raw material. In fact, corn is such a poor source of ethanol that researchers at the University of Minnesota estimate that converting the entire U.S. corn crop — the sum of all our ears — into ethanol would replace only 12 percent of our gasoline consumption.The right will argue, "Man, even when Bush attempts to do something good environmentally, the left just doesn't cut him a break!" That's because given the choices, he always chooses the least effective or the ones backed by industry (in this case, Archer Daniels Midland). As Krugman states, why not the much more powerful alternative, conservation? Because it doesn't have the backing of big business and it's too wimpy -- not macho enough for these swaggering idiots.
Still, doesn’t every little bit help? Well, this little bit would come at a very high price compared with the obvious alternative — conservation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that reducing gasoline consumption 10 percent through an increase in fuel economy standards would cost producers and consumers about $3.6 billion a year. Achieving the same result by expanding ethanol production would cost taxpayers at least $10 billion a year, based on the subsidies ethanol already receives — and probably much more, because expanding production would require higher subsidies.
What’s more, ethanol production has hidden costs. Even the Department of Energy, which is relatively optimistic, says that the net energy savings from replacing a gallon of gasoline with ethanol are only the equivalent of about a quarter of a gallon, because of the energy used to grow corn, transport it, run ethanol plants, and so on. And these energy inputs come almost entirely from fossil fuels, so it’s not clear whether promoting ethanol does anything to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Meanwhile, conservation doesn’t have anything like the same natural political mojo. Where’s the organized, powerful constituency for tougher fuel economy standards, a higher gasoline tax, or a cap-and-trade system on carbon dioxide emissions?
Can anything be done to promote good energy policy? Public education is a necessary first step, which is why Al Gore deserves all the praise he’s getting. It would also help to have a president who gets scientific advice from scientists, not oil company executives and novelists.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
In Paul Krugman's latest column, he illustrates how even when Bush seemingly goes "green," it's very much a farce:
Posted by Grey Matter at 6:12 AM