The Washington Post yesterday reported on a study looking into the ramifications of using ethanol and other bio-fuels as a tool in the fight against GHG-induced global warming. Their finding? By the time you clear off all the land necessary grow the crops , you might as well just burn gasoline.
One study -- written by a group of researchers from Princeton University, Woods Hole Research Center and Iowa State University along with an agriculture consultant -- concluded that over 30 years, use of traditional corn-based ethanol would produce twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as regular gasoline. Another analysis, written by a Nature Conservancy scientist along with University of Minnesota researchers, found that converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands in Southeast Asia and Latin America to produce biofuels will increase global warming pollution for decades, if not centuries.The climate change problem needs a bold set of solutions. Ethanol has always been presented as a kind of half measure. Now we know it's worse than that. Like Kevin Drum says, now that the Iowa caucus is long gone, maybe we can get away from pandering to the corn crowd with policies that won't work.
Tim Searchinger, who conducts research at Princeton and the D.C-based German Marshall Fund of the United States, said the research he and his colleagues did is the first to reveal the hidden environmental cost of producing biofuels.
"The land we're likely to plow up is the land that we've had taking up carbon for decades," said Searchinger, the lead author. Estimating that it would take 167 years before biofuel would stop contributing to climate change, he added, "We can't get to a result, no matter how heroically we make assumptions on behalf of corn ethanol, where it will actually generate greenhouse-gas benefits."