Wednesday, August 13, 2008

We Will Now Sacrifice Tennessee to the Gods of Driving

Tom Philpott has an excellent article showing just much corn is going into fuel.

We have doubled the amount of corn we turn into ethanol since 2006. This year, 4.1 billion bushels of corn will go into fuel. How much corn is that? The fields for that corn equal the size of Tennessee. That is a Tennessee-sized portion of the United States sacrificed for our car addiction. This is also 13% of the entire world's corn supply. With recent subsidies from the government, this is likely only to rise.

This is a huge problem. It is bad for the land, bad for food prices, bad for the world. It also strengthens the stranglehold that farm state politicians have over the rest of the nation. Perhaps the only benefit is that it lowers the price of fuel slightly since we rely on less oil, but only a bit. Ethanol adds a lot of polluting gases to our skies, gives incentives to turn more forested, mixed-use, and stream bordering land into intensive industrial production, destroying bird populations and overall diversity. It also does nothing to help us kick our habit of cars.

Ethanol also is a huge contributor to climate changing greenhouse gases. Philipott writes:

Let's think about fertilizer use now. Nitrogen fertilizer is a huge emiter of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon. Corn, in turn, is a huge user of nitrogen fertilizer. This USDA report [PDF] tells us that in 2005, U.S. farmers used about 12 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer, and that "42 percent of total nitrogen used during the period was attributed to production of corn."

So that tells us that in a typical year, the corn crop takes up about 5.2 million tons of nitrogen. If we use a third of that crop for ethanol, we're using 1.7 million tons of nitrogen. That's actually a low estimate for 2008, because a) farmers devoted more land to corn this year than they did in 2005; and b) the June floods washed away untold amounts of fertilizers, forcing many farmers to reapply.

Anyone out there have any idea of the greenhouse gas implications of 1.7 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer?

For the love of all things holy, will someone stop the corn-based ethanol insanity?