The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes, researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to biofuels as a response to global warming.
The key point in the paragraph is found in the last sentence when it mentions "the rush to biolfuels". To parse it even further, we have the key word "rush". Like in, "what's the rush"? Have we actually put together all the variables and looked closely at what the impact of biofuels will really be. This study says no.
The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use worldwide if ethanol from corn — and in the future from other feedstocks such as switchgrass — become a prized commodity.
"Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate global warming," concludes the study published in Science magazine.
The researchers said that farmers under economic pressure to produce biofuels will increasingly "plow up more forest or grasslands," releasing much of the carbon formerly stored in plants and soils through decomposition or fires. Globally, more grasslands and forests will be converted to growing the crops to replace the loss of grains when U.S. farmers convert land to biofuels, the study said.
Of course the Renewable Fuels Association is sure the study is simplistic pap.
But is it?
During the recent congressional debate over energy legislation, lawmakers frequently cited estimates that corn-based ethanol produces 20 percent less greenhouse gases in production, transportation and use than gasoline, and that cellulosic ethanol has an even greater benefit of 70 percent less emissions.
The study released Thursday by researchers affiliated with Princeton University and a number of other institutions maintains that these analyses "were one-sided" and counted the carbon benefits of using land for biofuels but not the carbon costs of diverting land from its existing uses.
"The other studies missed a key factor that everyone agrees should have been included, the land use changes that actually are going to increase greenhouse gas emissions," said Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and lead author of the study.
The study said that after taking into account expected worldwide land-use changes, corn-based ethanol, instead of reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent, will increases it by 93 percent compared to using gasoline over a 30-year period. Biofuels from switchgrass, if they replace croplands and other carbon-absorbing lands, would result in 50 percent more greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers concluded.
Widely divergent claims on both sides of the issue.
And the Princeton study says what it is claiming isn't true about all ethanol based fuels:
"We should be focusing on our use of biofuels from waste products" such as garbage, which would not result in changes in agricultural land use, Searchinger said in an interview. "And you have to be careful how much you require. Use the right biofuels, but don't require too much too fast. Right now we're making almost exclusively the wrong biofuels."
Sounds to me like sound advice. Slow down, consider all the factors which will be required to make biofuels and reject those which will increase the emission levels due to those cumulative factors (transportation, land use, etc). The problem, however, is that the political train has pretty much left the station (see mandates for ethanol in new Energy bill) and the easiest and fastest way to meet them is to produce the product that the study says is the worst polluter.
Sounds like government in action to me. And you want to give them your health care too?
Oh, and then there is our apparently lethargic sun and the possible consequences of that situation:
Tapping oversees the operation of a 60-year-old radio telescope that he calls a “stethoscope for the sun.” Recent magnetic field readings are as low as he’s ever seen, he says, and he’s worked with the instrument for more than 25 years. If the sun remains this quiet for another a year or two, it may indicate the star has entered a downturn that, if history is any precedent, could trigger a planetary cold spell that could bring massive snowfall and severe weather to the Northern Hemisphere.
The last such solar funk corresponded with a period of bitter cold that began around 1650 and lasted, with intermittent spikes of warming, until 1715. While there were competing causes for the climatic shift—including the Black Death’s depopulation of tree-cutting Europeans and, more substantially, increased volcanic activity spewing ash into the atmosphere—the sun’s lethargy likely had something to do with it.
Likely to have something to do with it? The sun has a lot to do with our temperature and climate. Hardly a small variable and now scientists are seeing this period of lethargy and know what that means.