Save The Planet! Oppose Ethanol!

Environmental science is one of those fields that I’ve always looked at with a fair amount of distrust. The planet’s ecosystem is an incredibly complex system, with a lot of inputs and outputs that we neither understand nor really predict. That’s why we went from 1970, when everyone was scared about global cooling, to 2004, when everyone was scared about global warming, to our current situation, where the shift is now to be scared of “global climate change”, because change is bad… (Odd that it’s the conservatives who accept that the climate changes, and it’s the “liberals” who are scared of that change, huh?)

So we hear all their prescriptions for a “problem” that they can’t even agree is occurring and can be fixed. We decide to move away from oil in favor of ethanol, which has all sorts of unintended consequences I described yesterday. Now we go one step farther. The magazine Scientific American reports that ethanol will actually cause more pollution than gasoline!

Environmental engineer Mark Jacobson of Stanford University used a computer model to assess how the air pollution in the U.S. would react if vehicles remained primarily fueled by gasoline in 2020 or if the fleet transferred to a fuel that was a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, so-called E85. Under the latter scenario, levels of the cancer-causing agents benzene and butadiene dropped while those of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde rose: In other words, a wash.

Because burning ethanol can potentially add more smog-forming pollution to the atmosphere, however, it can also exacerbate the ill effects of such air pollution. According to Jacobson, burning ethanol adds 22 percent more hydrocarbons to the atmosphere than burning gasoline and this would lead to a nearly 2 parts-per-billion increase in ozone. This ozone, which has been linked to inflamed lungs, impaired immune systems and heart disease by prior research, would in turn lead to a 4 percent increase in the number of ground level ozone-related deaths, or roughly 200 extra deaths a year. “Due to its ozone effects, future E85 may be a greater overall public health risk than gasoline,” Jacobson writes in the study published in Environmental Science & Technology. “It can be concluded with confidence only that E85 is unlikely to improve air quality over future gasoline vehicles.”

So let’s see where our ethanol mandate has gotten us. Higher price for tortillas? Check. Higher price and less supply of meat? Check. Higher milk prices? Check. More air pollution? Check!

Of course, perhaps this is what we should expect when we decide to elect a bunch of lawyers (no offense, Doug) to Congress to create regulations on environmental science, economics, technology, and all the other things they’ve stuck their grubby fingers into. As Walter says in The Big Lebowski, “You’re out of your element.”