Gore Admits Corn Ethanol Support Was A Mistake

Tue, 2010-11-23 10:39Emma Pullman
Emma Pullman's picture

Gore Admits Corn Ethanol Support Was A Mistake

At a green business conference on Monday, Al Gore admitted that his support for corn ethanol subsidies was a mistake. This news comes weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.

U.S. tax breaks for ethanol make it profitable for refiners to use the fuel even when it is more expensive than gasoline.  Total ethanol subsidies reached $7.7 billion last year according to the International Energy Agency. In fact, biofuels worldwide received more subsidies than any other form of renewable energy.

Gore argued that “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for [U.S.] first-generation ethanol”.  Giving extraordinary subsidies to first generation feedstocks was a mistake, he says.  “The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.”

Mr. Gore is not alone in thinking that corn-based ethanol is a losing proposition.  Several environmental groups have voiced concerns that the market sets food and fuel needs in direct competition.  In addition, there are concerns about accelerating the conversion of rainforests and conservation lands to farmland.  In California, regulators were prepared to declare corn biofuel’s carbon footprint too large to help the state fight climate change after new tough emissions standards passed.  As the Daily Climate noted, greenhouse emissions and loss of the carbon sink associated with deforestation and disruption must be counted towards the biofuel’s total emissions, qualifying them as dirty.

Numerous studies suggest that corn ethanol is among many crop-based biofuels that encourage land-use changes that are, on the whole, detrimental to both environment and climate.  According to the Sierra Club and World Watch Institute, next-generation biofuels - derived in less energy-intensive ways, and from non-food sources like switchgrass - are potential future solutions.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences corroborates the astounding impact of corn ethanol in its finding that Brazil risks incurring a 250-year carbon debt based on the deforestation expected by 2020 as it expands production of sugarcane ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

Gore noted that a major roadblock to getting rid of these multi-billion dollar subsidies has been corporate lobby groups. “It’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going”, he noted.  

One such lobby group has been the corporate-funded Renewable Fuels Association.  According to Matt Hartwig on their blog, corn ethanol is more efficient than ever, and does not compete with the food supplies. That’s not what the prevailing peer-reviewed literature says, according to David Tilman, a University of Minnesota professor of ecology who has studied biofuels’ conflict with food crops.  According to Sourcewatch, the Renewable Fuels Association is a supporter of the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy whose other members include Archer Daniels MidlandDeere & CompanyDuPont and Monsanto. Interestingly, Matt Hartwig is also involved with the Astroturf group Center for Science and Culture that seeks to “defeat Darwinism”. Maybe fanciful lies are his specialty.

The corn ethanol of here and now has a hefty ecological footprint, and is creating an ecological headache. Kudos to Gore for speaking out that his support for the subsidies was based on votes, and not science. 

Image credits: Renaissance Ronin.


Ethanol generates more ozone and other pollutants than gasoline.


More info at a blog named WitsEnd

Another interesting and largely unexplored issue about ethanol has to do with emissions. Gasoline and coal emit volatile organic compounds that become ozone when they react to UV radiation. Ozone is known to be toxic to humans, causing cancer, emphysema, and asthma. It is even more poisonous to plants. NASA and the US Department of Agriculture estimate annual crop yield reductions from ozone damage in the billions of dollars. Trees and perennials exposed to cumulative damage season after season are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate.

What of ethanol emissions? Are they the same, better, or worse? Nobody really knows, because the government decided to mandate its use without even asking the question, let alone studying the answer. The only research I have found is by a Stanford scientists, Mark Jacobson, and his publications indicate that ethanol emissions are WORSE for human health.

Nobody that I know of has looked into what acetaldehyde and peroxyacetyl nitrates do to vegetation. I wish somebody would, because for some reason, trees are dying a breakneck speed starting about three years ago.

www.witsendnj.blogspot.com has links to ozone research at the top of the page, "Basic Premise"

Al Gore, please take a look at "Another, Even MORE Inconvenient Truth" which is that the ecosystem is in freefall collapse from fuel emissions!

What I love is how this illustrates the difference between someone like Al Gore, who is truly interested in finding solutions to the climate change problem, and the "deniers" who are truly interested in convincing everyone there is no climate change problem: Al Gore, along with real scientists, continue to look at their data, and are willing to change their minds and publicly admit an error, and then go look for a better answer. Deniers, on the other hand, keep clinging to their perverted version of 'reality' even when it is bursting into flames in their hands.

Sadly, we may all go up in flames with them.

ya,what grace say its true.Keep cligning to their perverted version of 'reality' even when it is bursting into flames in their hands.