Time Bashes Ethanol, Calls It 'Clean Energy Scam'

     It seems that mainstream media reporters have finally started to realize that ethanol isn’t the environmental salvation it was hyped to be.


     The cover story of the April 7 issue of Time magazine slammed the “clean energy myth” that corn-based ethanol is better for the environmental than fossil fuels.


     Reporter Michael Grunwald called the push for corn-based ethanol a “clean energy scam” that is “dramatically accelerating global warming” and “imperiling the planet in the name of saving it.” He wrote that the unintended consequences of the ethanol boom “could haunt the planet for generations.”


     Grunwald’s problem with corn ethanol isn’t that it’s driving up food prices – although he at least acknowledged the food inflation consequence. No, his main concern is that the booming artificial demand for ethanol is quickening the destruction of rainforests.


     “An explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices to record highs, which is spurring dramatic expansion of Brazilian agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming rate,” Grunwald wrote.


     Mandates for ethanol have increased demand for corn, driving up its price. As more U.S. farmers stop growing soybeans in favor of profitable corn, soybean supplies have decreased. Grunwald explained, to meet global demand for soybeans with fewer U.S. supplies Brazilian farmers are clearing Amazon rain forest for farmland.


     But according to the magazine, the deforestation of the Amazon is more than an attack on an environmentalist Holy Grail. It’s also counterproductive to efforts to reduce carbon emissions with biofuels because the vegetation in the dense forests helps trap carbon. When trees are cut down for farmland carbon dioxide is released.


     “Everyone I interviewed in Brazil agreed: the market drives behavior, so without incentives to prevent deforestation, the Amazon is doomed,” Grunwald said, acknowledging that market forces are behind commodity prices providing incentives to raze forests for farmland.


     But Time still found a way to blame business, noting that increased agricultural production is “backed by billions in investment capital, this alarming phenomenon is replicating itself around the world.”


     Grunwald noted that government mandates for ethanol use are manipulating the markets. “Robert Watson, the top scientist at the U.K.’s Department for the Environment, recently warned that mandating more biofuel use – as the European Union is proposing – would be ‘insane’ if it increases greenhouse gases. But the forces that biofuels have unleashed – political, economic and social – may now be too powerful to constrain.”


     “Someone is paying to support these environmentally questionable industries: you,” he noted. In 2007 the United States produced 7 billion gallons of ethanol, at a cost to the American taxpayer of $8 billion – about $1.14 per gallon – in subsidies, according to the article.


     “Strange as it sounds,” Grunwald concluded, “we’re better off growing food and drilling for oil. Sure, we should conserve fuel and buy efficient cars, but we should keep filling them with gas if the alternatives are dirtier.” 

     Despite criticism from conservatives for years, only recently have journalists started paying attention to the negative impacts of ethanol such as food inflation, market manipulation, higher gas prices, more harm to the environment.