ETHA-NO-L

April 29, 2008
By
With the economy being number one on the minds of many Americans, environmental protection has lost its place as the main topic of debate among the 2008 presidential hopefuls. Even so, environmental protection is still gaining ground in the minds of Americans. However, many of us in the U.S. think that corn ethanol will be the solution to our emission problems.
To acknowledge this, many of the presidential candidates are claiming that they will increase ethanol and biofuel production. For example, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both propose that 60 billion gallons of home-grown biofuels should be available for cars and trucks by 2030. That means nearly 749,250 gallons must be produced by the U.S a week! However, a rising question is: Will using ethanol actually reduce our emissions? Some well-known people such as Al Gore and publications such as Discover Magazine have brought this point up.
To actually obtain the space to grow acres and acres of corn to meet that demand, many trees and forests will have to be sacrificed. These will be the trees that buffer our reckless CO2 emissions, the trees that absorb the CO2 and incorporate the excess carbon into their structure. When these are cut down, all the carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
Another reasonable concern of planting acres and acres of corn is that the groundwater in the farming area might be completely depleted. While groundwater does not usually spark the attention of many people, it is quite important to the United State’s fresh water supply. In 2000, about 26 percent of the freshwater used in the United States was from ground-water sources with that number getting higher as the dry Western states get taken into account. For domestic use that number sometimes even gets as high as 98 percent.
Several studies have also shown that ethanol provides much less power than is used to produce it. This brings up a problem because most of the machinery used to process, ground, convert, and then transport the corn-made fuel requires carbon emitting fossil fuels.
Many people consider corn ethanol a renewable resource. However, planting acres and acres of corn is not truly renewable. While soil can retain its richness for a few years, the soils’ fertility will drop exponentially as corn is constantly grown in the area. After the soil is deemed unfit for growing crops, more land will need to be cleared away to replace the earth that we have rendered useless for both corn as fuel and corn as food! While the area will eventually gain back the richness in the soil, it may take as long as a decade for that area to add to our supply of ethanol again. The decrease in land available for food could lead to a shortage of domestically grown food and could lead to an overall rise in food prices.
If we had a domestic food shortage, then what would our options be? One of our options would be to raise our food prices to the point at which the basic necessities of life are very unaffordable or we can grow it somewhere else. To actually grow it somewhere else, however, the US would have the option of converting government land to grow crops or to have our food imported from other countries. Both these options have major setbacks. The land conversion itself could lead to even more emissions which would entirely defeat the purpose and importing food from other countries could lead to another one of the original problems. Except instead of foreign oil dependency, it would be foreign food dependency. President Bush has said that because of our foreign oil dependency, the US is vulnerable to terroristic threats to our fuel supply. But if we have foreign food dependency, our food supply line could be cut in times of war. No one has ever died of lack of oil, but we can definitely die of lack of food.
While corn ethanol has its setbacks, the overall view on biofuels should not be butchered. There are many good alternatives to corn ethanol and just as long as more research is put into this area, new methods of obtaining clean energy will be revealed. There is a Confucius quote that says, “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”





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