Thursday, January 03, 2008

More ethanol madness

Despite their widespread carping about global warming, Smithsonian is one of my favorite magazines. In the November 2007 issue, Richard Conniff took a critical look at biofuels. Conniff makes a damning case against ethanol production in the US, but it is the abuse of the earth in pursuit of "clean energy" outside of the US that is astounding.

Other countries are also rapidly surrendering habitat to biofuel. In Indonesia and Malaysia, companies are bulldozing millions of acres of rain forest to produce biodiesel from oil palm, an imported species. The United Nations recently predicted that 98 percent of Indonesia's forests will be destroyed within the next 15 years, partly to grow palm oil. Many of the new plantations will be on the island of Borneo, a mother lode of biological diversity.

Apart from the effect on wildlife, critics say Indonesia's forests are one of the worst places to grow biofuels, because they stand on the world's richest concentration of peat, another nonrenewable fuel. When peat dries out or is burned to make way for a plantation, it releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide. Indonesia, despite its undeveloped economy, already ranks as the world's third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the United States. When you add the peat effect into the equation, according to the conservation group Wetlands International, Indonesian palm oil biodiesel is up to eight times worse for the environment than gasoline.

Oh, and one final irony. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that because of the way U.S. biofuel laws are written, foreign tankers loaded with Indonesian biodiesel can stop briefly at an American port, blend in a splash of regular petroleum diesel and qualify for a U.S. subsidy on every gallon. It's called "splash and dash," because the tankers generally push on to Europe to collect additional subsidies there. All in the name of greener fuels.

Wow, you cannot make this stuff up.

In order to "save the planet" from global warming, use of a fuel is promoted that results in clear cutting rain forests, wiping out rare plant and animal species, and release of more carbon to the atmosphere than conventional fuels. And this biofuel is subsidized by US taxpayers, but is never even used here.

Thank you Al Gore.

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