Tuesday, April 10, 2007

West Wing and Real Life - Ethanol in Iowa

In the episode I'm thinking of, Alan Alda's character stuns a roomful of farmers in Iowa (I think) by refusing to take the Ethanol pledge.
Well, Castro is encouraging everyone to follow Alda's example, and the Economist agrees with him.
It will be interesting to see how the real Presidential candidates manage this one.


Castro was right

Apr 4th 2007
From The Economist print edition

As a green fuel, ethanol is a good idea, but the sort that America produces is bad


IT IS not often that this newspaper finds itself in agreement with Fidel Castro, Cuba's tottering Communist dictator. But when he roused himself from his sickbed last week to write an article criticising George Bush's unhealthy enthusiasm for ethanol, he had a point. Along with other critics of America's ethanol drive, Mr Castro warned against the “sinister idea of converting food into fuel”. America's use of corn (maize) to make ethanol biofuel, which can then be blended with petrol to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, has already driven up the price of corn. As more land is used to grow corn rather than other food crops, such as soy, their prices also rise. And since corn is used as animal feed, the price of meat goes up, too. The food supply, in other words, is being diverted to feed America's hungry cars.


Corn-based ethanol, the sort produced in America, is neither cheap nor green. It requires almost as much energy to produce (more, say some studies) as it releases when it is burned. And the subsidies on it cost taxpayers, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, somewhere between $5.5 billion and $7.3 billion a year. Ethanol made from sugar cane, by contrast, is good. It produces far more energy than is needed to grow it, and Brazil—the main producer of sugar ethanol—has plenty of land available on which to grow sugar without necessarily reducing food production or encroaching on rainforests. ... There is a brighter prospect still out there: cellulosic ethanol. It is made from feedstocks rich in cellulose, such as wood, various grasses and shrubs, and agricultural wastes. ... Eventually, it might even allow countries with lots of trees and relatively few people, such as Sweden and New Zealand, to grow their own fuel rather than import oil. That is still some way off. In the meantime, America should bin its silly policy. If it stopped taxing good ethanol and subsidising bad ethanol, the former would flourish, the latter would wither, the world would be greener and the American taxpayer would be richer.



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