The Failure of Ethanol

As the race to find alternative sources of energy speeds up amidst the panic of global warming, biofuels are becoming increasingly lauded as a viable way of reducing carbon emissions. Probably the most well known of these fuels is ethanol, a form of ethyl alcohol extracted mainly from corn and soybeans. However, far from being the cure-all that it was once imagined to be, ethanol is fast becoming an enemy of the fight against global warming, putting the planet in even worse danger as its production releases more carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Just a few years ago, ethanol was hailed as a savior. Supporters said it both provided rural jobs and helped to curb the energy crisis. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine, the US has quintupled its funding of ethanol in the last decade to keep up with the new trend. However, this investment is backfiring in more ways than one. First, ethanol production actually contributes to a net increase in carbon emissions. According to a recent Time Magazine article on March 28 entitled “The Clean Energy Scam,” countries such as Brazil are undergoing massive deforestation projects in order to clear more land for ethanol growing. However, the trees that are being cut down in these initiatives absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With their loss, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, which might otherwise have been absorbed by the deforested trees. Therefore, according to this article, deforestation for ethanol growth is responsible for twenty percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Despite this frightening statistic, other countries such as Malaysia continue to clear away massive chunks of forest. India has bulldozed so much wetland in order to grow palm trees that, according to Wetlands International, they have jumped to the third worst emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. Second, the fact that corn crops are now being used to produce ethanol instead of food has also raised food prices all around the world and increased hunger rates. The UN World Programme calls rising food prices due to ethanol “a global emergency.” The organization says that it needs about 500 million dollars in additional funding to counteract the problems created by ethanol. Plus, since ethanol increases the prices of staples such as rice and wheat, and these crops are often used to feed livestock, meat prices also increase, along with milk and egg prices. These soaring prices have led to international turmoil, such as protest marches in Mexico and the firing of the Haitian prime minister due to rising rice prices. The situation isn’t getting better, either. President Bush recently claimed that the US will be producing 35 million gallons of ethanol a year by 2017. It gets worse. As stated by a recent MIRS newsletter, ethanol only curbs carbon, not the possibly more lethal toxic ozone. In fact, it may produce more ozone than simple gas. The same article also stated that more energy is used producing ethanol than the energy that is conserved later when the fuel is burned. Therefore, ethanol is actually an energy consumer. Finally, the recent ethanol surge has given U.S automakers ample reason to justice production of more gas-guzzling cars. There is only one tiny flaw in that argument — only 101 stations in the US sell E85 (85 percent ethanol) ethanol. Therefore, ethanol is simply a catalyst in environmental destruction. Finally, the costs of ethanol itself are skyrocketing, even surpassing already hefty gasoline prices. It is obvious that this source of alternative energy is worsening the environment. The use of ethanol as an alternative fuel has the potential to wreak utter havoc across the world. Supporters will claim that biofuels are a weapon in the fight against climate change. Still, the last time I checked, increased emissions were a problem, not a solution. It is said that ethanol production opens up jobs in agriculture, but at what cost? These few jobs are resulting in widespread hunger, as far away as Egypt and as close as Mexico. Despite all this, production is still in full force. Hopefully, world leaders and global citizens alike will soon see ethanol for what it really is– a failure. Chris Meyer is a Junior.