Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What to do about.... Ethanol.

In an attempt to help stem the tide of Global Warming I have been buying only ethanol enhanced gas. Unfortunately that limits my choice of gas stations to around three brands. But, what is worse than that is the possibility that I may be doing more harm than good. Ethanol produced from corn is the most inefficient type of ethanol. A few months ago the producers of ethanol conceded that this type of ethanol is probably not really helping in the fight against Global Warming, it may in fact be increasing the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. However, they ask that we be patient and not abandon the use of ethanol. As more consumers come on board the process will improve and the benefits will out weight the deficits. Unfortunately the ethanol producers still seem to be fixated on using corn as the primary source of raw material for production. As a result of this increased interest in corn, the market price of corn has risen dramatically. It is estimated that the entire grain harvest of the U.S. would be needed to reach the goal of reducing American dependence on foreign oil by 20% in 10 years. If that is true than what will the people eat? Corn prices have more than doubled in some countries. In Mexico there has been food riots as the price of tortillas rocketed up by 60%. With over 2 billon hungry mouths to feed versus a mere 800 million cars worldwide, we are just seeing the beginning of a bitter fight.

So what should I do?

The price of food is going to increase, possibly beyond normal inflation rates. If the ethanol producers begin to use other raw materials, such as wood chips, and reduce the use of corn in their product that would be a good start. If they could refine the process that produces cellulosic ethanol, than some of the true benefits of ethanol may be realised. But, for all of this to work, the raw material must be grown close to the ethanol production facility. And the ethanol plant must be very close to the oil refinery where it will be mixed with gasoline. This would help reduce the carbon footprint that is part of the production and transportation of ethanol. Producing clean low carbon ethanol in the mid-west and then shipping it half way across the country would not only negate any possible carbon offset, it may increase the carbon emitted beyond what would be emitted if you simply drove with non ethanol blended gas.

There are no quick and easy answers. Today it may be better not to support the exclusive use of ethanol blended fuels. In stead we should be demanding better fuel economy. Making a litre of gas go farther is probably the best low, “no”, impact change we can make. Tomorrow we may find that better fuel economy; hybrid technology and non-grain ethanol will make driving more efficient, less harmful to the environment and cleaner.

I think I’m going to continue to demand better fuel economy and non-grain, “food free”, ethanol.

Green-fuel craze eating into supplies,


Friday, April 06, 2007

Greenpeace sideswipes the Inuit! Huh?

“Whether it be seals on the East coast or forestry on the West coast, well-funded international environmental and animal-rights groups are threatening the sustainability of Canada's rural economies in order to win political battles in their own jurisdictions and raise their profiles. The misery that this has caused to Canada's fragile hinterland communities is incalculable and simply must stop.”

This final paragraph, in an article published in the National Post on April 5th, is a prime example of manipulation. The entire article, titled Greenpeace sideswipes the Inuit , is crafted in such a way as to make the reader feel guilty if they don’t agree with this point of view. Why would anyone want to force the Inuit into poverty and despair simply to save a few Polar Bears? After all they’re not in trouble; there are thousands of them simply wandering around the Arctic ice cap. Think about it, it would be morally and ethically wrong to deny a trophy hunter his trophy fur.

The idea of hunting tags being issued to Inuit hunters is a way to first, preserve the Polar Bear population and second, to preserve the Inuit way of life. The Inuit have been hunting Polar Bears long before the Europeans arrived in North America. The fact that 56 tags where issued last year doesn’t mean that the Polar Bear population is exploding. I’m sure there are more than 56 families in Nunavut. Given that the majority of people living in Nunavut are Inuit, there is a real possibility that a majority of the families would like to continue this tradition. So, who is going without?

The argument that it is environmentalists and animal rights groups that are threatening the sustainability of any community, or rural economic group is just silly. Those who lack understanding with respect to sustainability always overreact and lash out at the “enemies of capitalism”. We cannot simply continue to abuse nature and the environment. Environmental and animal rights groups have a simple goal, to promote the sustainability of the environment and nature for future generations. Continuing to hunt without regard for the well being of any species is immoral and irresponsible.

This same argument can be used for a number of different issues, from clear cutting forests to drag net ocean fishing. Any time resource management comes up against big business and huge profits, attempts to sustain the resource will be hampered by those holding the purse strings. In the end there will be few forests, few fish and few if any Polar Bears left to keep the economy going. So, what will we do then?

For the record:
- Polar Bears, Ursus maritimus, are my favourite "animal", actually a mammal.
- The fact that there is a limit on the number of bear tags shows that there is an attempt to promote sustainability.
- The Nunavut government is solely responsible to manage the resources within its territory.
- If an Inuit hunter is willing to sell his tag rather then hunt, that's his decision to make.
- It is possible to find a balance between making a profit and sustaining the resource necessary to maintain that profit.
- This isn't an all or nothing fight.
- If we don't do something about Global Warming, this argument will be moot. whether we can hunt Polar Bears for fun, profit or sustenance will be the least of our worries.