Friday, August 17, 2007

Rather than supporting Ethanol powered cars...

Why don't you just plant a tree? You will probably do more good for the environment. (See Science news article here.)

Basically, forestation of a piece of land X will sequester (take out of the atmosphere) 2 to 9 times the amount of carbon dioxide that we avoid producing by using that piece of land for production of corn, sugar cane, and other ethanol-producing crops, using a variety of estimates. Plus forestation helps with loads of other things, like not driving animals to extinction by taking away their habitats, keeping soil fertile, and apparently even stabilization of regional weather patterns. Which implies that to best fight global warming (and all sorts of problems that we cause in the environment), we should convert the farmland that is not being used for food into forested land rather than farmland being used for ethanol production (of course, there are even more complicated elements here because adult forests take a very long time to grow; plant succession and all of that). BUT! The point is, supporting industries like solar/wind powered electricity to reduce carbon emissions and planting more trees will (in the long term certainly and the short-term probably) do more good for the environment than supporting research into plant-based substitutes for gasoline and diesel fuel.

In conclusion; what you were taught in elementary school was right at base -- if you want to help mother nature, plant a tree. Or, if you can, plant a forest.


Duff said...

Well, I am all for converting farmland to forests, mainly cause I like forests, and we verge on over production of food anyways, but their are several (I'd say extremely) important political factors that this argument overlooks. Namely another compelling reason to end oil dependence is the havoc it would cause countries like Iran and Chavez in Venezuela. Indeed, a lot of the money that goes into the Middle East and helps fund their sometimes suicidal habits would dry up.

That said, I am skeptical that solar and wind power can actually make up the energy difference that oil produces. Further, it would seem that planting more forests and creating wind farms are also antagonistic activities. Japan for instance, has not met the Kyoto protocols, and their population is shrinking.

Of course, I am evil for thinking this, but our best bet seems to be nuclear power. Particular given new reactor designs, like the AP1000 by Westinghouse.

Elizabeth said...

Actually, I read somewhere that if properly harvested, the energy of the sun in one day could power the world for a year. Or something like that. I think that a large part of the reason that we have ethanol fuels getting a lot of positive advertising is the same reason we have so much high fructose corn syrup in our foods -- government subsidies for certain farmed goods. Other viable energy sources, like solar power, don't have the same lobby that corn does, or even hydroelectric or nuclear power does, and therefore are a bit short-shrifted.

John said...

Yeah; it's sort of a given that properly harvested solar power is more efficient than ethanol or other biofuels, right? Because ethanol and other biofuels is solar power to the known efficiency of the chloroplast. Not that I think either of you said anything disagreeing with that, but meh :-P

Also, you mentioned that trees take a while to grow up, etc. Interesting to note that while adult trees are the best in terms of stabilizing weather patterns, anchoring soil, etc, it's juvenile (and therefore rapidly-growing trees) that sequester the most carbon, perhaps for obvious reasons. Which is why places like Costa Rica, which earns lots of money selling Kyoto carbon emission credits (and then passes some of that money along to individual land-owners) pays more for a growing forest than an established forest. Which works out well for some logger-type people, as they can plant a forest, wait for it to grow up, cut it down for lumber and re-plant a young forest, getting paid for having a young forest the whole time. It doesn't work out all that well for conservationists though, as they would rather there be more places the animals can live undisturbed. (Though Costa Rica will pay for "adult" undisturbed forests, just not quite as much.)

Duff said...

One could also plant switchgrass, which it seems is better than corn for ethanol anyways, having a much higher yield (people harp on corn cause of the stupid corn lobby). Nice thing about switchgrass is that that it grows where trees can't grow anyways. It is a viable crop even in places like Utah.