Imagine how amazing petroleum must have seemed back when it was an emerging alternative fuel in the U.S. Drill a hole in the ground in some parts of Texas and Pennsylvania, and rich black stuff would come gushing up, loaded with energy. What could possibly be the problem with such bounty?
In some quarters, biofuels inspire similar wide-eyed wonder today. They are, after all, renewable and carbon-neutral … right?
By now, most environmentalists are aware that biofuel production as currently practiced generates serious ecological problems. Moreover, it’s dominated by a few corporations that, despite billions in public subsidies, clearly place profit over ecological and social concerns.
As we wrap up the first week of our biofuels series, we’re offering three views on the country’s fuelish future. Ana Unruh Cohen, director for environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, argues that current federal policy, for all its encouragement of biofuel production, offers few incentives for sustainable practices on the farm or at the refinery. With just a few tweaks, she writes, that could change. David Morris of the Institute for Local Reliance offers his own set of tweaks for how federal policy could wrest production from corporate dominance and put it in the hands of farmers and small community investors. “Ownership matters,” he writes.
Finally, Grist interviews the biofuel movement’s No. 1 scourge, David Pimentel. The curmudgeonly Cornell professor claims that biofuels represent a fundamentally flawed strategy: vegetation simply doesn’t store enough of the sun’s energy to make an efficient fuel, no matter what the process. That view has moved him increasingly out of the mainstream, but he remains worth listening to as government investment in biofuels ramp up. “We’re using too goddamned much oil,” he says. His answer? “Conserve!”
- Keep It Green, by Ana Unruh Cohen
- By the People, For the People, by David Morris
- Biofuel Skeptic Extraordinaire: An interview with David Pimentel, by Tom Philpott
More stories in this series:
They may be hyped as the way of the future, but biofuels already count as a juggernaut. Supported by the government and embraced by the Big Three automakers, ethanol is surging in the United States. Biodiesel, meanwhile, is roaring ahead …
The way most people talk about biofuels, you’d think they were a brand-new invention. But using natural products for fuel is an idea as old as the hills, as this highly selective timeline demonstrates. Mid-1800s: Soap-makers begin to transesterify vegetable …
America devours oil like no other country in the world. Representing 5 percent of the global population, the country consumes fully a quarter of the world’s oil. Every year, to move ourselves and our goods around, we burn 140 billion …
Once upon a time, we were going to make a beautiful map for you, showing all the available biofuel pumps in the country. Then we realized: hey, there are already beautiful maps out there. Not to mention books. And articles. …
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