Second Generation Ethanol: Not Good Enough for Enviros

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the tip on this one:



For over a year now, corn-based ethanol has been maligned and blamed for everything from liver spots to ugly babies as the food-marketing universe looked to scapegoat food price inflation onto the backs of the nation’s corn growers. The corn industry, for its part, played along by promoting corn-based ethanol as the gateway to newer and potentially more novel “second-generation biofuels” like cellulosic ethanol.



Now not even that, it seems, is good enough for environmental wing of the scientific community. Not content with pushing us into a global warming induced panic that the oceans are going to rise and reclaim vast portions of New York, Florida, and California, these activist researchers are now attempting to convince us that even if we adopt cellulosic materials as our main feedstuff in the biofuels industry, ethanol will still cause fits, warts, and freckles.



Researchers at MIT this week released a study warning that – without proper oversight and scrutiny – one of two things will happen with the advent of commercial scale cellulosic fuel: two potential consequences of diverting usable land to biofuel production: either existing agricultural operations are intensified, or large areas of natural forest are cleared to increase cropland. Sound familiar?



These are two of the same arguments they’ve used against corn-based ethanol, too. On one hand they have this great fear that the agriculture industry will grow and prosper, which for the life of me I can’t fathom as a negative consequence. On the other, they foment this concept that some evil corporate farmer will start clear-cutting the rainforest to make way for cellulosic crops. Give me a break: this is the same nonsense these radicals have been pushing since the Captain Planet cartoons of my youth. It was hog-hooey then, and it’s hog-hooey now.



For one thing, the vast majority of farmers now selling corn to ethanol plants will most likely take advantage of the opportunity to sell their crop residue – corn stalks and cobs – to the ethanol plant that can process those materials into fuel. Beyond that, those same producers will take advantage of the opportunity to use some less-sensitive conservation lands to achieve two goals: maintaining the conservation benefits of the land’s intended use in that respect while also harvesting a “second” crop in switchgrass or some similar plant determined to be a sufficient source of the cellulose used in fuel production. This concept would allow producers to use land they already own, rather than fostering this b-movie version of the death of the rainforest.



As I’ve said before, there is a segment of the population – I call them the elitists in many cases – who don’t understand their relationship to agriculture. The farmers of our nation feed the world, provide us with fiber and environmental stewardship, and now also generate fuel that is helping to give us more domestic control over our fuel needs.



Just when we think we’ve given them a viable alternative to their dreamed-up fears and hysteria‚Ķ