Friday, April 6, 2012

A Contract with the Earth 6: Alternative Fuels

On pages 48-49 of A Contract with the Earth, Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple sound a lot like Barack Obama. Like Obama, they want to wean "industrial societies from their dependence on fossil fuels". They lament that "Although the United States makes up only 5 percent of the world's population, we consume 28 percent of the world's energy." They note that petroleum is a "limited resource" and that foreign oil often puts us at the mercy of anti-democratic regimes. They see promise in algae-based compounds, crop waste, and soy diesel. And they compare the government taking the initiative to promote alternative energy with sending astronauts to the moon.

I have heard Barack Obama say these sorts of things, and I have also heard right-wingers (such as Rush Limbaugh) mock Obama for that. Even Newt Gingrich has criticized Obama for not supporting drilling, enough. Would Newt consider that to be inconsistent with what he says in A Contract with the Earth? Probably not, for Newt has said that he supports an "all of the above" approach to energy independence, which encompasses drilling and also alternative energy.

Newt and Maple tout ethanol as something that can provide "economic opportunity for corn producers". I do not like ethanol for a variety of reason. For one, mixing ethanol into our gasoline increases the price of both gas and also food (see here for my explanation of that). Second, ethanol subsidies primarily benefit big agri-business rather than smaller farmers. Consequently, I like what Newt and Maple say on page 49, when they talk about the benefits of cellulosic ethanol:

"Unlike corn-based ethanol, planting, irrigation, fertilizers, or pesticides are not necessary to convert this raw material for fuel, although the grain crop may require such preparations. Moreover, no farmland is taken out of production because cellulosic ethanol can be made from waste discarded during the retrieval of grains. Wheat straw converted into biofuel reduces vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent. There is good reason to advance these products so consumers can exercise their preferences in the marketplace."

As you can see, Newt and Maple believe that cellulosic ethanol does not have the same problems as corn-based ethanol. But I'd like to highlight two other points. First, Newt and Maple say that wheat straw can dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Does this imply that they believe global warming is human-made, on some level? Why else would we want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles? And, if Newt does believe that global warming is partly caused by humans, how does that square with his support for more drilling? Second, Newt and Maple say that products should be advanced so that "consumers can exercise their preferences in the marketplace." In my opinion, this differs somewhat from what Rush Limbaugh says: that the predominance of oil in the marketplace is due to our demand. That may be partially true, but how can we choose an alternative when it isn't even offered to us?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog