Okay, I’m as much for burning cleaner fuels as the next guy, but we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security about biodiesels or ethanol. To do so is both bad science and bad public policy. A switch to these fuels must **still** be coupled to a reduction in overall consumption (i.e. much tighter regulations, alternative multi-head transportation, higher fuel economies) or we will have twice the disaster on our hands.
World demand continues to rise. At least with fossil fuels our collateral damage is somewhat limited in nature, scaling (discounting secondary effects) linearly with consumption. Not so with biofuels. Imagine a world in which we don’t curb demand—every last rainforest clear cut, food crops for the world’s hungry being stamped out by fuel crops, which consume 10 times the amount of water and provide little nutrition in comparison. Soil erosion, a complete disruption of biodiversity as nearly the entire surface of the planet is reformed into one of two topologies: the road ecosystem and the fuel growth ecosystem. There will be nothing left. Nothing. No water, no fertile soil, no oxygen production infrastructure, nothing. Our wars will not be fuel vs. nations, but rather fuel vs. food and water—in short, the wealthy (among whom one will find the fuel growers of the future like ADM) will destroy the planet utterly on the backs of the poor at a much greater rate than they do today.
Biofuels are better than fossil fuels, true, in terms of raw cleanliness and immediate sustainability. But to switch to biofuels entirely without also implementing the strongest of conservation policies around the world as demand continues to rise exponentially is to bring about a level of devastation that fossil fuels never could (since we would have run out) as every “emerging market” across the globe gradually seeks to reach the one-car-per-person superindustrialization that we in the US enjoy.
I’d rather have the food, the water, the oxygen, and the forest than a planet whose entire surface is dedicated to the ultrarationalized industrial growing of corn so long as we can sustain it (and if we don’t preserve the forests and conserve water, we won’t for very long). But that’s me.
All we’d have to do is switch back to bicycles… which would also solve the metals/mining problem, the obesity problem, the greenhouse gas problem, the rapidly escalating global corn allergy problem (do you know how many products, from paper to portable computers, are dependent on corn byproducts today?) and probably a dozen other problems, too.
Conserve, please—don’t just get excited about corn-based fuel and switch problems.