Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

April 19, 2007

Save The Planet! Oppose Ethanol!

by Brad Warbiany

Environmental science is one of those fields that I’ve always looked at with a fair amount of distrust. The planet’s ecosystem is an incredibly complex system, with a lot of inputs and outputs that we neither understand nor really predict. That’s why we went from 1970, when everyone was scared about global cooling, to 2004, when everyone was scared about global warming, to our current situation, where the shift is now to be scared of “global climate change”, because change is bad… (Odd that it’s the conservatives who accept that the climate changes, and it’s the “liberals” who are scared of that change, huh?)

So we hear all their prescriptions for a “problem” that they can’t even agree is occurring and can be fixed. We decide to move away from oil in favor of ethanol, which has all sorts of unintended consequences I described yesterday. Now we go one step farther. The magazine Scientific American reports that ethanol will actually cause more pollution than gasoline!

Environmental engineer Mark Jacobson of Stanford University used a computer model to assess how the air pollution in the U.S. would react if vehicles remained primarily fueled by gasoline in 2020 or if the fleet transferred to a fuel that was a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, so-called E85. Under the latter scenario, levels of the cancer-causing agents benzene and butadiene dropped while those of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde rose: In other words, a wash.

Because burning ethanol can potentially add more smog-forming pollution to the atmosphere, however, it can also exacerbate the ill effects of such air pollution. According to Jacobson, burning ethanol adds 22 percent more hydrocarbons to the atmosphere than burning gasoline and this would lead to a nearly 2 parts-per-billion increase in ozone. This ozone, which has been linked to inflamed lungs, impaired immune systems and heart disease by prior research, would in turn lead to a 4 percent increase in the number of ground level ozone-related deaths, or roughly 200 extra deaths a year. “Due to its ozone effects, future E85 may be a greater overall public health risk than gasoline,” Jacobson writes in the study published in Environmental Science & Technology. “It can be concluded with confidence only that E85 is unlikely to improve air quality over future gasoline vehicles.”

So let’s see where our ethanol mandate has gotten us. Higher price for tortillas? Check. Higher price and less supply of meat? Check. Higher milk prices? Check. More air pollution? Check!

Of course, perhaps this is what we should expect when we decide to elect a bunch of lawyers (no offense, Doug) to Congress to create regulations on environmental science, economics, technology, and all the other things they’ve stuck their grubby fingers into. As Walter says in The Big Lebowski, “You’re out of your element.”

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  • trumpetbob15

    Brad,

    Actually, this fits in with the enviromentalists’ plan. Now they have a reason to ban cars. “See, we even tried to find a safe fuel but that didn’t work.” Though I wonder if any of them have ever lived with horses. Although I haven’t, it isn’t something I really wanted to try.

  • Cyrrik Dresden

    Yeah, gasohol/ethanol seems to be a pretty poor choice as an alternative energy source for a number of reasons.

    But the focus of your post seems more concerned with impugning liberals than with ethanol.

    I must have stumbled into the wrong chat room!

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    Cyrrik,

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m impugning conservatives too… After all, this whole ethanol mandate is a big giveaway from Republicans to the farming interests. The conservatives and leftists worked together to screw us on this one, with conservatives helping farmers, and leftists preaching about the environment.

  • MrX_TLO

    Dedicated E85 fuel is foolish because it would not only outstrip domestic supply but also requires new cars, tanks and pumps.

    Transitioning all gas to E10 in an orderly manner is a much more efficient tactic because it works with existing vehicals and fuel delivery infrastructure.

    It also cuts oil imports faster because 10% of all gas for all cars is alot more than 85% of gas for only a fraction of new vehicals.

    At 10% ethanol has other benefits as well. It replaces detergents in keeping the engine cleaner and anti-knock agents for reducing engine ping and allowing higher compression ratios meaning more power out of the same size engine.

    So it’s not the ultimate solution to our oil dependency but it helps now and we can do it now with the cars and equipment we have now, not some at some constantly receeding 10 year horizon like Hydrogen has been for decades. (feel free to look it up, 30 years ago they told us we could have Hydrogen cars in 10 years)

    Yes E10!

  • http://blog.sciam.com Christopher

    Not to mention the fact that switching to ethanol won’t necessarily reduce our carbon emissions. This is a pretty clear example of how promoting one technology over others is a dumb idea–what’s really needed are proper incentives so that the market can work out what’s the best solution. (Like better CAFE standards or a carbon tax.)

  • Marilyn

    Please take notice of what our Creataor states about those ruining the earth!

    “But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, …… and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) From 1914 onward the nations of the world have fiercely expressed their wrath against one another, against God’s Kingdom.
    Throughout history the nations have been ruining the earth by their incessant warfare and bad management. Since 1914, however, this ruination has escalated to an alarming degree. Greed and corruption have resulted in expanding deserts and tremendous loss of productive land. Acid rain and radioactive clouds have damaged large areas. Food sources have been polluted. The air we breathe and the water we drink are contaminated. Industrial wastes threaten life on land and in the sea. At one time, the superpowers threatened complete ruination by way of nuclear annihilation of all humankind.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    You know, quoting Revelation to an atheist doesn’t get you too far… But I have to take issue with you on this…

    “Greed and corruption have resulted in expanding deserts and tremendous loss of productive land. Acid rain and radioactive clouds have damaged large areas. Food sources have been polluted. The air we breathe and the water we drink are contaminated. Industrial wastes threaten life on land and in the sea.”

    All this, and we’re living longer, healthier lives. Food output is high enough that we have to pay farmers not to farm. What pollutants are in the food supply? And I’d say with the recent organic craze, you have plenty of choices for “non-polluted” food, if you’re actually worried about it. Our water is quite clean. Not sure what damage have been caused by acid rain and radioactive clouds; it doesn’t seem to be affecting any aspect of life that I can find. Not sure what life is threatened by industrial wastes, as I sit here looking out at a clear blue sky and lush, healthy foliage right outside my window.

    So while you’re making some wonderful accusations about just how bad things have gotten, it seems to me that things are constantly getting better. About the only thing we may agree on is that warfare is generally bad and damaging to both economies and the environment. But I guess when you start giving governments huge amounts of money, they need to justify their existence. Wars do a great job of that, don’t they?

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