Ethanol: The Great Big Green Fraud


Subsidising biofuels is just about the dumbest way to go.” – Todd Litman, director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute — Subsidies for 2007 est $13-$15 billion

…increasing biofuel production is a “total disaster” for starving people Jean Ziegler, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

By Stephen Leahy

Oct 20 2007 (IPS)

A raft of new studies reveal European and American multibillion dollar support for biofuels is unsustainable, environmentally destructive and much more about subsidising agri-business corporations than combating global warming.

Not only do most forms of biofuel production do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, growing biofuel crops uses up precious water resources, increasing the size and extent of dead zones in the oceans, boosting use of toxic pesticides and deforestation in tropical countries, such studies say.

And biofuel, powered by billions of dollars in government subsidies, will drive food prices 20-40 percent higher between now and 2020, predicts the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.

“Fuel made from food is a dumb idea to put it succinctly,” says Ronald Steenblik, research director at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Biofuel production in the U.S. and Europe is just another way of subsidising big agri-business corporations, Steenblik told IPS.

“It’s (biofuel) also a distraction from dealing with the real problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he asserts.

Making fuel out of corn, soy, oilseeds and sugar crops is also incredibly expensive, Steenblik and his co-authors document in two new reports on the U.S. and the European Union that are part of a series titled ‘Biofuels at What Cost? Government Support for Ethanol and Biodiesel’.

Their analysis shows that by 2006 government support for biofuels had reached 11 billion dollars a year for Organisation of Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) countries. More than 90 percent of those subsidies came from the European Union and the U.S.

These subsidies will likely climb to 13-15 billion dollars this year the report estimates.

“More subsidies are coming as the biofuel industry expands,” says Steenblik.

In fact, countries will have to spend more than 100 billion dollars a year to get biofuel production levels high enough to supply 25 or 30 percent of transport fuel demands.

And those levels of annual subsidies will have to continue because the industry is dependent on them, he says.

It might be worth it if biofuels resulted in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) but Steenblik calculates the amount of subsidies that goes into making enough ethanol to reduce emissions equivalent of a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) is between 2,100 to 4,400 euros (2,980 to 6,240 dollars) depending on the support programmes.

However, the European carbon trading markets sells a similar saved or sequestered tonne of CO2 for less than 25 euros (35 dollars) through various projects like planting trees or installing solar panels.

Various analysis that take the full environmental costs of growing, shipping and processing maize into ethanol show there is only a small reduction in GHG emissions over burning fossil fuels. Newer research shows some biofuels could even be far worse.

Rapeseed biodiesel and maize ethanol may produce up to 70 percent and 50 percent more GHG emissions respectively than fossil fuels, according to work published in September by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen and University of Edinburgh colleague Keith Smith.

They found that growing biofuel crops releases around twice the amount of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) than previously thought. The N2O results from using nitrogen fertilisers.

About 80 percent of Europe’s biodiesel comes from rapeseed and in America the vast majority is maize ethanol.

“What we are saying is that growing biofuels is probably of no benefit and in fact is actually making the climate issue worse,” Smith has said in media reports.

Last January, U.S. President George W. Bush set a biofuel target of 35 billion gallons per year by 2017, more than five times the current production of less than 7 billion gallons.

However that target would leave some U.S. waterways polluted and some regions with severe water shortages the National Research Council (NRC) said in a report released this month. The NRC is the research arm of the US National Academy of Sciences.

For complete story see Biofuels – Great Green Hope or Swindle

see also story on cellulosic ethanol
Greenest Ethanol Still Unproven

11 thoughts on “Ethanol: The Great Big Green Fraud

  1. I think ethanol and biodiesel was a quick fix, but are areas that should be explored further to see if they can reach sustainability. Unfortunately, the true solution to decreasing global warming is changing our way of life, which is where ethanol comes in. Ethanol could be used to power our automobiles just like gasoline so people wouldn’t have to adapt to a new way of living. If that doesn’t work out, there are a dozen parts of the social structure that could be altered to enforce and enable sustainable living, but that’s much more difficult.

  2. Antisocialist – thanks for the comment and you make many valid points in your biofuel take down but you really have to re-think your blind willingness to swallow the US-based fantasy that global warming is some kind of hoax. The rest of the world moved on long ago because they can see the changes with their own eyes. Pls open yours.

  3. “The rest of the world,” you say? My blind willingness (which implies that your willingness to believe is not blind)?

    Are you kidding?

    For starters, the antisocialist has never denied “global warming” qua global warming, and I’m not quite sure where you’re getting that notion. Nor am I sure where you’re getting that notion from my ethanol article. In fact, the earth’s temperature has increased: about one degree over the last century.

    (Also, out of curiosity, where derives your standard for what the earth’s temperature properly should be? Where does the universal “ideal temperature” come from? Who said? Al Gore?)

    If, however, what you’re saying is that the antisocialist calls catastrophic, man-made global warming a hoax, then you’re absolutely correct. In fact, it’s nothing but a hoax. It’s also more scare-mongering, a power play. Quote: “It should be realized that the goal of global limits on carbon dioxide and other chemical emissions, as called for in the Kyoto treaty, easily lends itself to the establishment of world-wide central planning with respect to a wide variety of essential means of production. Indeed, an explicit bridge between socialism and environmentalism is supplied by one of the most prominent theorists of the environmental movement, Barry Commoner, who was also the Green Party’s first candidate for President of the United States…”

    Do you know where that quote comes from? (Hint: you agree with him.)

    Presumably, though, when you say “the rest of the world,” you’re excluding the more than 17,000 North American scientists who signed the Oregon petition. And when you say “the rest of the world” you’re presumably excluding the more than 40,000 scientists world-wide, ranging from climatolgoists, to geophysicists, to oceanographers, who resoundingly reject the idea of catastrophic, man-made global warming. In other words, then, to avoid this, as you say, “blind willingness,” as you yourself have sagely avoided it, one must ignore all these thousands of experts and all the reasoning of these thousands and thousands of people (such as the brilliant Doctor John Christy who was recently put on the stand in New Hampshire, pitted against that complete fraud of a scientist named Jim Hansen, whom cross-examining exposed, and who statedly refuses to “talk to anyone who doesn’t support man-made, catastrophic global warming” but was forced to because of court-order), and instead just go with you because you say we must rethink our “blind willingness.” Presumably, by “the rest of the world” you also exclude those many who recently attended the global warming debate, put on by the New York debating society, the vast majority of which attendees went in believing in catastrophic, man-made global warming and came out persuaded the other way, by rational argumentation, and presumably by “the rest of the world” you exclude the redoubtable Doctor Bill Gray, who lives in my hometown, who is universally known as one of the greatest climate scientists of them all. In fact, to even believe that “the rest of the world,” as you say, accepts this catastrophic premise, we must ignore the thousands and thousands of scientists who have publicly come out against it, including Doctor Gray when he’s across from us, explaining climate science. And to do this, you say, to ignore all these people, is not “blind willingness”? In other words, to avoid “blind willingness” we must shut off rational discourse, and reasoning, and, in short, the scientific method, because people like you wish to strong-arm those of us who listen to and are persuaded by aruguments from the other side, and instead we must swallow the premise you accept, because you say so, and thereby avoid this, as you say, “blind willingness.” Is this a paradox? We avoid “blind willingness” by blindly accepting what you consider axiomatic, but what others — scientists, no less — don’t?

    Well, you’ll forgive the antisocialist if he favors a more logical approach for now — rather than this shutting off of all conversation that’s repeatedly called for (“Silence! The debate is over”), and all the other fraudulent non-science and poltical propagandizing, like:

    “No matter if the science is all phony, there are still collateral environmental benefits [to global warming scare-mongering]” said Christine Stewart, Canada’s environmental minister.


    “On the one hand, as scientists, we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.… On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place. To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we ourselves might have….Each of us has to decide” (as opposed to letting the actual facts dictate) “what the right balance is between being effective and being honest,” (said environmental high priest Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, and also director of Atmospheric Science in Boulder, Colorado, speaking to Discover Magazine, p. 47.)


    “The environmental movement is just repackaged Marxism,” said Patrick Moore, co-founder of Green Peace.

    And of course:

    “Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen.” Mr. Albert Gore, ladies and gentlemen, Grist Magazine.

    • Antisocialist: I hope you’ve changed yr views since you wrote this. It is denialist blather like the Oregon petition which was a fraud and been debunked many times. You speak of logic but ignore real facts and measurements. Temps are up 0.8C and continuing upwards, sea level as well, Arctic ice is melting etc, etc. and the rates of change are accelerating. It’s not too hard to see where this is all going…

  4. Issues of concern expressed are:

    1. Global warming
    2. Food for Fuel
    3. Cost benifit
    4. Environmental impact.

    My response ;

    Environment has carrying capacity for anything excess. When the limit exceeds there are bound to be adverse effects.

    There Saline/Sodic lands man made or otherwise unfit for cultivation food crops. But some energy crops like Sugarbeet can certainly grown and value added bioethanol could be produced. There are reports suggesting
    Ethanol is sustainable. How do you view this argument particularly in view of the fact that Oil prices have reached almost $100 a barrel.

    Can I expect your response to my email id above.

    Thanks in advance & regards


    • Mohan: Not aware of any studies showing grain-based (corn etc) ethanol is sustainable. All are heavily subsidized by govts and science shows the do not result in net carbon emission reductions. and then there is the impact on food prices. Not discounting that sugar cane, sugar beets might result in less emissions but where is the extra land going to come from to grow them? There is no spare land on a planet of nearly 7 billion people

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