From Grist, the environmental blog. This is worth reading.
Biofuel: Is it a greenhouse gas, gas, gas?
By all accounts, biofuels deliver startlingly modest reductions in greenhouse gases. In a relatively generous assessment of the environmental benefits of ethanol and biodiesel released last year, University of Minnesota researchers credited corn-based ethanol with 12 percent less net greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline, while finding that soy-based biodiesel emits 41 percent less.
But here's the catch: It takes so much corn to produce a gallon of ethanol, and so much soy to produce a gallon of biodiesel, that the net GHG advantages are likely to be almost nil.
And that's just what we already knew. Now comes a new study that says that simply growing the crops that become biofuel is dangerous - more dangerous than using gasoline in the first place.
(The study) claims that biofuel production emits far more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas some 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide, than has normally been assumed. The source is artificial fertilizer, a potent source of nitrogen. When farmers apply it to soil, a certain amount of it -- between 3 percent and 5 percent, according to the study -- enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide.
But despite all this, corn farms are going gangbusters, getting top dollar from the market, which seems to think biofuel is going to the great and profitable environmental savior, and from the government, through automatic annual subsidies to farmers. To feel sort of sick about the whole thing, read this article from today's Washington Post.
So where are we in our lackluster quest to save our planet as painlessly as possible? Nowhere, it appears. Maybe we're like alcoholics who have to hit bottom before we realize that, hey, there's really no easy way out of the mess we've made. We're going to have suffer, a little or maybe a lot. We're going to have to give up some stuff. Is there anything idea in the world that Americans resist more vigorously? Without real, evangelizing leadership, we're doomed.