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A Better Alternative? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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Everyone can agree that we have an enormous problem on our hands: the environment’s rapidly deteriorating health. Ozone depletion, desertification, and deforestation are only a few problems on an ever-growing list that threatens to destroy our planet.

Our dependence on fossil fuels, in particular, has created an increase in greenhouse gases. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere. This phenomenon, known as global warming, could have potentially devastating effects. Raising the temperature just a few degrees can damage Earth’s delicate equilibrium. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the entire Arctic ice cap could melt as soon as 2020. Worse, not only does this have a drastic effect on our climate, but the lack of Arctic ice would also further speed global warming in a vicious cycle.

Recently, environmentalists proposed a way to halt additional fossil fuel emissions. Biofuel, namely ethanol, has been heralded as a “clean” alternative to fossil fuels. Ethanol, mostly produced from corn and sugar cane, can be used to power cars and does not give off harmful greenhouse gases. Already in many areas across the U.S., fuel mixes of up to 10 percent ethanol are used.

Even better, ethanol is renewable. With soaring fuel prices and concerns about the dwindling supply of fossil ­fuel, this seems like the perfect solution to our problems, right?

Wrong. In fact, not only is ethanol not a better alternative to fossil fuel, it actually damages the environment. This paradox has been largely hidden by the fervent enthusiasm of many who favor ethanol. Its appeal derives from the fact that it makes us feel good. By using ethanol, we can convince ourselves that we are finding a way to help the environment; however, we are in fact harming it.

Ethanol is contributing to a global food crisis. With more corn crops diverted to producing ethanol, less is going to animal fodder and to our tables. According to TIME magazine, “The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year.” Corn is not the only crop facing shortages. Farmers who have traditionally planted other crops, including wheat, are switching to corn, causing those stockpiles to decline.

This is causing an overall shortage of food at a time when the world’s population is growing at an exponential rate. ­Riots have broken out, especially in poor areas. Joachim von Braun, who is head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says that if leading ­nations drop the use of biofuel, the price of corn will decline by up to 20 percent and the price of wheat will decline by up to 10 percent.

Ethanol production requires farmland – lots of it. With overpopulation already looming, where will all this land come from? The answer: our forests. Investors and governments (including ours) pushing for increased ethanol production have caused farmers to raze forests for land on which to grow corn. Deforestation in areas like the Amazon rainforest is adding to concerns about protecting wildlife. Worse, by razing forests, these investors are also demolishing the greatest carbon storage tank in the world. This carbon, because of deforestation, is added to the atmosphere – the very same process that ethanol was expected to eliminate. A study in Science concludes that corn ethanol produces nearly twice the emissions of gasoline, primarily from the ­destruction of forests for farmland.

So is corn ethanol really a “clean” ­fuel? At its current level it definitely is not, and it actually causes greater destruction to the environment than do fossil fuels. Maybe someday production of ethanol can be perfected so that it does not create problems like deforestation and food shortages.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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wall-e said...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 9:35 pm:
it is perfect, i like it and you know it really goes back to pollution, we have to think, you know maybe after twenty years, we will know when we will never see daylight again
 
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